Seares: One-Island-Cebu dream may be dashed by ‘tsunami’ of lawsuits. Few places in the country where the prime city’s mayor is locked in virtual combat with the governor. Mayor Mike sues before the president’s office Guv Gwen who in turn backs anti-Rama complaints of MCWD and CPA.

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Seares: One-Island-Cebu dream may be dashed by ‘tsunami’ of lawsuits. Few places in the country where the prime city’s mayor is locked in virtual combat with the governor. Mayor Mike sues before the president’s office Guv Gwen who in turn backs anti-Rama complaints of MCWD and CPA.

[] Seven takeaways from the feud, which most likely will overhaul plans and strategies in the 2025 local elections:

[1] WHAT LIT UP THE QUARREL. A catchphrase in Sinulog 2024, displayed on streamers and stage backdrops during the Cebu City-run festival last January, was “Still the One-Cebu Island.”

The descriptive “still” announced the city’s effort to save the earlier-much-touted alliance of leaders of local government units comprising Queen of the South Cebu.

On one side is the embattled mayor with his “batteries of lawyers” and on the other is the governor, with a massive phalanx of mayors and congressmen and congresswomen (“all of Cebu’s political leaders except Mike Rama and Durano”) behind her.

Since 2023, a dispute over the site of the Sinulog parade and finale -- the tried-and-tested Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) in the city’s midtown or the South Road Properties (SRP) grounds on reclaimed land -- has created a rift between the leaders of Capitol and City Hall. Specifically, the chief boss, the “capo di tutti capi” of each power enclave: Gov. Gwen Garcia in the province and Mayor Mike Rama in the city.

[2] ISSUE OF AUTHORITY. There must be other causes of the rift but the Sinulog venue was the bone of contention the public saw Mayor Mike and Guv Gwen tangled over. The skirmish has then spilled over to the issue of authority:

-- Garcia allegedly intruding into Cebu Bus Rapid Transit Project (CBRP), the project that Guv Gwen said she was preventing from “destroying” the Capitol’s heritage and history as a building;

-- Rama allegedly intruding into the affairs of the local water district MCWD and Cebu Port Authority (CPA), which led to alleged “invasions” by City Hall officials and personnel into their respective premises.

Mayor Rama filed an administrative complaint with the Office of the President against Guv Gwen, using as principal evidence her executive order to the CBRT contractor to stop work in areas owned by the Province.

Guv Gwen found no specific act over which she or the Province could sue the mayor. Instead, she has supported the separate administrative complaints filed also with the president’s office by MCWD and CPA, which served as surrogate for hitting back at the mayor.

[3] ‘TIT FOR TAT’ IT IS BETWEEN MIKE, GWEN. That means inflicting an injury in return for one that has suffered. Not “tete-a-tete,” a private conversation between two persons, usually lovers, which the mayor, then the vice mayor and City Council’s presiding officer, reportedly confused with “tit for tat.”

Mike sues Gwen before the president’s office. Gwen supports MCWD’s and CPA’s complaints before the president’s office. Each complaint carries the risk of preventive suspension, which recalls past incidents in their political careers that temporarily removed the governor and the mayor from office.

Gwen, also a governor then, was suspended from December 2012 to June 2013, or a period of six months, for grave abuse of authority. Mike was suspended twice, but only for 60 days each, in December 2015 and again in April 2016. The president in the three instances was Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

Related story: Seares: Mayor Rama was suspended twice, in 2015 and 2016. Governor Garcia suspended once in 2012, SunStar of March 22, 2024.

It wouldn’t be new experience for each LGU leader. Perhaps, should anyone of them be suspended again, there won’t be a cry of “Over my dead body!” as each then reportedly reacted to the order of suspension.

[4] CAN LGU’S LAWYERS SUE FOR OR DEFEND MAYOR OR GOVERNOR? Last March 20, 2024, the Supreme Court announced a ruling of the SC’s second division that legal officers of a local government unit may not represent public officials of the LGUs they are serving in cases against such officials before the Ombudsman. The reason: conflict of interest.

“A basic conflict of interest exists when a government lawyer represents another public official before the Ombudsman,” the SC said, citing the 2016 case of Fajardo vs. Alvarez. On alleged acts constituting crimes and administrative offenses, they are “no longer deemed as official acts of the LGU they serve and thus fall beyond the ambit of the functions of the legal officer…”

The lawyer’s act of representing the governor, or mayor, “in the administrative and criminal cases constitutes unauthorized practice of law for which the lawyer should be administratively liable.” It would seem that the high court included administrative cases, not just criminal cases, in the realm of prohibition.

The LGU heads may do well to ascertain the limit of prohibition, whether he could lawfully use services of city-paid lawyers or hire his own.

[5] PIO UNITS JOIN THE FRAY. The respective public information offices of the Cebu Provincial Government and the Cebu City Government are very much involved in the propaganda part of the Capitol-City Hall feud.

The Capitol PIO, through its “Sugbo News,” and the City Hall PIO, through its CCNI (for Cebu City News & Information), have been publishing stories that tell the side of their respective LGU leaders. Which proves useful to private media seeking the official position of the LGU.

The government media competition provides a chance for constituents to see if the LGU media can tell it as it is, without distorting or exaggerating. CCNI has remarkably told the mayor’s stories without always shutting out the other side, thus providing some context to the reportage.

[6] DEFECT OR INADEQUACY OF THE LAW has proved to be a major cause of the quarrel over MCWD (Can the mayor terminate a board director?), the spat between MCWD and OBO or Office of the Building Official (Is CPA required to secure a building permit for a construction within its territory?) and Capitol “intrusion” into Cebu City affairs (Can the Provincial Government issue a “cease and desist” order against a Cebu City project?)

[7] MECHANISM FOR SETTLING DISPUTE IS NOT WORKING -- AND THERE’S THE POLITICS OF IT. Under Presidential Decree #242, “all disputes and claims solely between government agencies and offices, including government-owned or -controlled corporations, shall be administratively settled or adjudicated by the Secretary of Justice, the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, depending on the issues and government agencies involved.

Apparently, that mechanism has failed in the cases of MCWD and CPA in their disputes with the City Government. An opinion was sought from the justice secretary, another from the solicitor general and yet those were disregarded by the party/parties not favored by the opinion.

The politics in the MCWD turmoil is clear. The Local Water Utilities Act aims to keep politicians out of the water districts. Yet at MCWD, they’d want Mayor Rama to back off but would coddle with the “fired/suspended” board chairman who admits he’d run against Rama in 2025.

Apparently, the theory of freeing water districts from politics, at least in the MCWD experience, has not been working.

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