Seares: Suspended Mayor Rama laments in English and Tagalog: ‘No due process, not normal… ang bilis, (one for) Guinness Book… they’re after my neck… I don’t deserve this… Ano ba yan?’

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Seares: Suspended Mayor Rama laments in English and Tagalog: ‘No due process, not normal… ang bilis, (one for) Guinness Book… they’re after my neck… I don’t deserve this… Ano ba yan?’
Photo by Amper Campaña

[1] A LOT OF TAGALOG, ENGLISH. First on why Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, preventively suspended by the Ombudsman for six months on criminal and civil complaints of four City Hall employees, spoke a lot of Tagalog mixed with English in an interview Thursday, May 9, 2024.

The reason: Mayor Rama was speaking on the Pastor Apollo Quiboloy-owned SMNI (Sonshine Media Network International), with panelists from Manila, including former press secretary Harry Roque, and a national audience.

The mayor landed in national media because of his suspension -- with his city administrator, Colin Rosell, and six others -- which to the nationally oriented journalists was the third upheaval among local officials of the country in recent days. Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib was suspended by Malacañang for 60 days starting April 11 while Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba was disqualified again last April 24 by a Comelec division from the 2022 election he had won.

Mayor Mike thus brought across the nation his message, amplifying it but with the same theme as in his initial response the day before. Namely: He didn’t know, he was clueless, he said again, regarding the multiple complaints of abuse of authority, misconduct and oppression. 

[2] ADDITIONAL ALLEGATION, ASSEMBLY OF SUPPORTERS. In addition to the repeated claim that he didn’t know about the complaint of four regular employees of City Hall who hadn’t been paid for 10 months, Mayor Mike alleged was not given due process and the handling of the case was “not normal.” It was resolved speedily --“ang bilis!” and “hindi ko talaga naintindihan” -- which, Rama indicated, could land it in the Guinness World Records.

In Manila when interviewed, the mayor said he’d fly home to hold an assembly of his political supporters where they could pray and he could talk about his “directions.” He said it would be peaceful (“I’m not a troublemaker”); there would be no placards, “just prayer: dasal, dasal, dasal.” (He did hold the assembly Thursday afternoon, May 9, a late report reached me; it was a mixed crowd of City Hall workers and barangay leaders.)

Not talked about and not asked during the SMNI broadcast was whether he’d resist the order by holing in at City Hall. Probably, the SMNI broadcasters thought it was covered already by Rama’s statement that he wasn’t a troublemaker. But clarifying it on record would’ve been reassuring to Cebu City residents and others in the country fearful of unrest at a seat of power.

[3] HAS POLITICS GOT TO DO WITH IT? Harry Roque asked Mayor Rama if the rally held by the Duterte camp in Cebu had anything to do with the suspension order or if it wan an offshoot of the mayor’s quarrel with Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia.

Mayor Mike didn’t address directly the national politics factor, explaining he allowed the Dutertes’ Cebu rally as it was the organizers’ constitutional right, saying he’d want the Duterte and Marcos camps to work together for the country “in peace, progress and prosperity,” and he didn’t know (“hindi ko alam”) for sure if they were quarreling. 

On local politics though, he said “we can’t dissociate this as a political matter” and railed on Governor Garcia’s alleged intrusion (“dipped her fingers”) into the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and the Metropolitan Cebu Water District.

[4] THE ‘CLUELESS’ CLAIM. Mayor Rama harped again -- this time spiced with Tagalog expressions such as “Ano ba ‘yan” and “hindi ko naintindihan” -- on not knowing about the case. “I only read about it in the newspaper,” he said, which led him to order his city administrator Colin Rosell to investigate. He said he knew that withholding the pay was “unconstitutional,” aside from being oppressive. He had even offered to pay the unpaid salaries. The four employees were paid, he said, but were pressing for the remaining amount.

However the problem grew into the preventive suspension stage, prosecutors and judges look warily at the “being clueless” defense. For one, notice to the mayor’s lawyer/s is notice to the mayor himself. The mayor is deemed to know.

The paper trail should tell who in the executive office received the various communications from and to the Civil Service Commission -- Cebu City, regional and national -- and the Ombudsman. Somebody or some people have the job to act on complaints and other legal action against the mayor. And the mayor has the duty to see to it that these complaints are addressed, failure of which can lead to consequences he can’t dodge or deflect by claiming ignorance. 

When Mayor Rama said he didn’t know, probably he was not adequately told or he had just left the matter to his trusted people. Or he didn’t follow legal advice, being himself a lawyer who has a lawyer for a son. But defense of actual lack of knowledge and its twin, lack of due process, often don’t prosper. 

[5] WHAT-ABOUTISM. Why Mayor Rama’s case had zoomed past ordinary roadblocks in the litigation system may be a source of wonder and justify the mayor’s questions about the cases he himself had filed, including a complaint against Governor Garcia before the president’s office or the case of plunder regarding the multimillion-peso contract at City Hall.,

Yet that wouldn’t directly address the complaint filed against him by the four unpaid employees. “What about other cases, why do they take ages to resolve, why is the case against me so quickly done?” is justified curiosity but it’s not a defense.

[6] ONE CEBU, ONE CEBU ISLAND. Interestingly, the SMNI interview brought up the difference between “One Cebu” and “One Cebu Island.” What would happen to the publicized effort of Cebu leaders to unite?

Roque, whom Mayor Rama claimed to be a “best friend,” said in his wrap-up bit that One Cebu is the political party led by Governor Gwen while “One Cebu Island” is the concept that Cebu’s political leaders won’t quarrel on matters of common good.

That may need more unpacking as the dispute is usually on what constitutes the common good. 

Not mentioned was the fact that the division in Cebu could be lopsided, if based on the governor’s claim that all political leaders in the province and cities of Cebu island support her or are with her, “except Durano and Mike Rama.” Just Danao City and Cebu City although Cebu City, a former city official told me, happens to the hub of the island.

[7] WHEN THE ORDER TAKES EFFECT. Per the Ombudsman order, the suspension takes effect immediately. Even if Mayor Rama has not yet been served the Ombudsman document, what happens is that any act he does until the suspension is lifted may be questioned. Officials and employees and the general public may be deemed to know about the Ombudsman order and won’t be in good faith if they still transact with the mayor.

The damage is done, Mayor Rama said in the SMNI broadcast. That includes the slash of his time and resources as mayor while preparing for the 2025 elections, which will be more widely noticed during the filing of candidacy certificates in the first week of this October.

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