Seares: Nothing to correct in 2024 Cebu City budget override, says Councilor Joy Pesquera. On record: 'All members voted for it.'

Seares: Nothing to correct in 2024 Cebu City budget override, says Councilor Joy Pesquera. On record: 'All members voted for it.'

[] Mayor Rama raps legitimacy of Zoom session, questions authority to call it, actual number of members physically present in the city

[] No DILG ban on Zoom or under Sanggunian House rules, says Councilor Gealon.

PREVIOUSLY, ON MAYOR'S BUDGET VETO. Last December 20 and 27, 2023, the Cebu City Council passed the 2024 annual budget for the City Government: first, slashing the P100 billion proposed by Mayor Michael Rama to P19 billion plus, then restoring P4 billion plus, finally settling with P25.833 billion plus.

On January 11, 2024, Mayor Rama approved the budget "subject to veto," rejecting three provisions that would limit spending on unutilized capital outlay and would reduce funding for government offices and agencies under 11 accounts. Rama said the restrictions and reductions were "prejudicial to public welfare" and violated statutes.

Last January 17, the City Council passed a resolution that overrode the veto, thus nullifying the mayor's veto and retaining only his approval of the budget, meaning all that the Saggunian had previously approved would stay "as is."

Monday, January 29, at a press-con, the mayor trained his guns on the January 17 over-ride resolution, wanting to shoot it down but not saying exactly how.

RESOLUTION 'NOT LEGITIMATE.' Mayor Rama said the Sanggunian override of

his veto failed because the January 17 resolution was "not legitimate," alleging it was passed:

[] In a session conducted online by Zoom, not with the actual physical attendance of the City Council members;

[] With the requirement of two-thirds vote not having been met, as some councilors were out of the city and others out of the country ("Can there be a session when people are outside the country?");

[] With the authority to call the session not having come from the mayor, adding that "it should be signed," without being clear on what "it" referred to: the call for the session or the resolution passed during the session.

[] With the Sanggunian not being "decent enough" to provide the executive with "necessary information" before the executive could finalize its position, which implies the legislative should've initiated a liaison with the executive on such a major and controversial piece of legislation.


[] "Pesquera defends council's override of Rama veto" (JJL, AML);

[] "Seares: Override of Mike Rama's veto rejects mayor's wish"

USE OF ZOOM AND THE VOTING are related issues here since the attendance of some councilors who were physically out of the city or country last January 17 was being questioned along with the holding of an online session. Physical presence was not required by the City Council on that day because the session's mode allowed its members to take part in the deliberations by digital technology.

Is there a legal requirement that the councilors must be physically present at City Hall for their votes to be counted and their other acts deemed valid? And is there a prohibition on online sessions?

Sessions by Zoom were done a number of times during the pandemic; there was a health emergency then. But there was no emergency on January 17; was there an "exigency," which means "an urgent need or demand" for the online session? And who decides on the exigency?

NO BAN. Councilors Jocelyn Pesquera and Rey Gealon told me separately Wednesday, January 31, there is no prohibition on the use of Zoom: clearly none during the Covid-19 emergency and apparently none after the pandemic was controlled and tamed.

Pesquera said she's "not aware of" any DILG ban on Zoom sessions. In the House rules, she said, "we can have Zoom session in the exigency of public service." The City Council proceedings, she said, are based on the House rules. Those rules have been "already in existence" since she joined the Sanggunian in 1998. The City Council just revised some rules "to adapt to new technology and present situations."

Gealon said he believes the Zoom session is allowed and there's "no prohibition by DILG on the matter" and in the Sanggunian's House rules. News archives and memoranda from the Department of the Interior and Local Government have so far not yielded a department rule on the legality of local legislature sessions by Zoom. On the contrary, published materials refer to government meetings and court trials conducted by Zoom during the pandemic.

HOW MANY VOTED FOR OVERRIDE. "On the resolutions that overrode the mayor's veto," Atty. Chappy Piramide, Sanggunian secretariat chief, read from the City Council record, "they were all carried unanimously with all the members present."

Required by law to reject the mayor's veto: 12 or two-thirds of 19 members. Considered members are 16 elected councilors, two de officio councilors (from ABC or Association of Barangay Councils and the youth sector SK) and the vice mayor, who's considered, according to a Supreme Court ruling, as a Sanggunian member though he/she can't vote except in a tie.

RAMA'S NEXT MOVE. The mayor might raise the issue with Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and DILG, or go to court, especially on the issue of statutes prohibiting restrictions on the executive in implementing the budget.

In his veto message, Mayor Rama said he approved the budget ordinance but vetoed three sections of it and 11 outlays, under the authority of "prevailing laws and jurisprudence."

His two "legal luminaries" -- City Administrator Collin Rosell and budget-finance chief Jerone Castillo -- along with the Local Finance Committee stoutly have criticized the "colatillas" as a violation of law and practice.

Rama waved vigorously this principle: After the ordinance is approved, the legislative role "comes to an end," a dictum that apparently clashes with the City Council's right to shoot down the mayor's veto.

If the Sanggunian is barred from tinkering with the budget after it is approved, why is it given the right to override the mayor's veto? The local legislature must have that power of review and rejection; otherwise the process would end with the mayor's veto and not revert to the City Council.

HOW ABOUT RATIFYING OVERRIDE? I asked Councilor Pesquera if they'd consider ratifying the override vote, to wipe out any blemish on the manner of its passage, given the mayor's question about its legitimacy, arising from the allegedly dubious use of online session and the votes cast.

The Sanggunian, starting a session without a quorum, would ratify, once the required attendance number is reached, the acts made prior to the roll call. Would it do that?

Pesquera's reply was short and blunt: "There's nothing to correct."

WHEN VETO IS REVIEWED. To reconcile the seeming conflict, the process may be interpreted thus: The ordinance is not yet totally approved and the legislator's work is not yet done if the mayor vetoes parts of the ordinance. By his veto, the mayor extends the process and the ordinance is sent back to the City Council, where the veto is accepted or rejected. Sanggunian review of the mayor's veto -- and the chance of an override -- is still very much a part of that legislative process.


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