Seares: To veto or not. Finance committee chief Wenceslao doesn’t think Mayor Rama will veto: ‘no more time.’ It’s P25.18 billion, not the P100 billion he wants. Veto will reenact 2023 budget, scrap all new projects.

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Photos of Councilor Noel Wenceslao with Councilor Joy Pesquera (City Council
photo) and former city administrator Nigel Paul
Villarete (SunStar photo)
Photos of Councilor Noel Wenceslao with Councilor Joy Pesquera (City Council photo) and former city administrator Nigel Paul Villarete (SunStar photo)

CEBU City Mayor Michael Rama had proposed a P100 billion budget for 2024, arguing that it is “ambitious but achievable.” The City Council, ruled by members of his party Barug, saw it as “unrealistic and impractical.” The councilors thus decided to slash the total amount to “not more than P50 billion,” voted for P22 billion, and ended up with P25.18 billion.

The mayor was earlier upset over the special budget for the bonus of City Hall’s workforce December, which the City Council reduced from P35,000 (regular and casual workers) and P10,000 (job-order hirees) to P20,000 and P5,000 per employee.

Rama asked for a transcript of the session on employees’ incentives, “to dissect” and find out why. Later, he said he’d also ask for the minutes on the session that passed the general budget, where the fund cuts were bigger and wider, to see it “from the point of view of the executive.” Then, the mayor said, he’d call a press conference “first thing in January.”

RIGHT TO VETO. The mayor may veto totally or partly the budget ordinance, as amended. That’s the chief executive’s right under the process that also allows the City Council to override the veto. But has the executive department considered the time element for the move it will take?

Councilor Noel G. Wenceslao, chairman of the committee on finance, explained this via the city-government-owned CCNI Facebook page: A total veto would require a new budget and the last working day of the year was Friday, December 29; so, that’s out. Veto of some items would revive the amounts allotted for them in the 2023 budget, Wenceslao said.

Mayor Rama said he’d confer on the budget issue with City Administrator Collin Rosell and budget & finance adviser Jerone Castillo and announce his decision at a presscon “first thing in January.” January, did he say? By then, the 2023 budget will have already been reenacted, is that correct?

REENACTED BUDGET. Councilor Wenceslao told me Friday, December 29 that reenactment of last year’s budget is automatic once the veto is made. ”I think di niya -veto kay wala naman time. Ma reenacted ang budget kon e-veto niya.”

Also Friday, I asked former city administrator Nigel Paul Villarete He said: With no approved budget (if the mayor would totally veto the 2024 appropriations ordinance), by the end of

December 31, “last year’s budget will automatically get reenacted: same items, same amount but without programs and projects.”

Villarete said personnel salaries and operating expenses (MOOE) become active, same amounts as last year. Capital outlay will also be there: same amount but with no projects, since projects cannot be duplicated.”

WHY REENACTMENT OF 2023 BUDGET IS ‘BAD.’ Wouldn’t a veto give Mayor Rama more -- P50 billion, the total amount in the 2023 budget -- instead of the P25.18 billion in the 2024 budget?

It looks like it would. But, Villarete said, “Vetoing is a subtractive act, never additive.” If the mayor wants to insert, he needs to veto the entire thing first, then submit a new budget for the SP’s enactment.” But then, if the legal cut-off is the last working day of December 2023, or even midnight of December 31, a veto in January would no longer have any effect, unless the legal effect starts upon actual date of veto -- or the veto on official paper is ante-dated.

When this year’s budget is reenacted to serve for 2024, it means technically, Villarete said, “(It’s) funding the same things but projects cannot be repeated or duplicated. Placing unfinished projects (as carry-over from 2023) in the list means repeating.” One may argue they’re just finishing a project “but that’s supposedly using a previous budget, as CO (capital outla) doesn’t expire..” At any rate, he said, there’s “big possibility” of suspension or disallowance by COA.

Reenactment of the budget will scrap programs and projects that are aimed to benefit the people, Villarete said. Government officials and employees will continue getting their pay and benefits. But “zero new programs and projects for the people.”

RAMA’S POINT, GAME PLAN. Bugging City Hall watchers must be the question why the mayor asked for and might insist on a P100 billion budget when in the just-concluded 2023 fiscal year, for which he got P50 billion, expenditure was just “below P10 billion.”

The City Council disagreed with the mayor on the amounts the City could collect and spend for 2024 and thus reduced the amount he wanted and proposed. Yet it has been a disagreement not waged in open war, not with bitter words by one branch against the other, at least not yet. The obvious reason is that the legislature is dominated by Mayor Rama’s people, his Barug party-mates.

Wielding the butcher’s knife are administration stalwarts Councilors Jocelyn Pesquera and Wenceslao, majority floor leader and budget and finance committee head respectively. The struggling opposition BOPK led by Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival didn’t have to do any fighting this time, as the Barug heavy hitters were doing it with remarkable speed and efficiency.

Barug leaders both, Pesquera and Wenceslao slashed away, apparently without consulting the mayor but clearly also not attacking the mayor. Which would’ve been unavoidable if the executive and legislative departments were controlled by opposing parties.

‘LAUGHING STOCK AMONG ALL SPs' Villarete said Pesquera -- “good in budget preparation and enactment, who worked with us before in the Local Finance Committee (LFC) ” -- “knows what’s sound and (what’s) ridiculous.” The 2024 budget was prepared by the LFC, basing on last year’s actual spending with “reasonable increment estimated from those expenditures and economic growth figures.”

He said the 2024 budget “does not rhyme with current DBM practices and usual local government procedures.” I asked Villarete -- a key staffer of Tomas Osmeña, former mayor and Rama’s long-time political enemy who has rebuffed Rama’s offer of peace - what must have been the reason for the mayor to ask for the “stratospheric” amounts. The former city administrator said the game plan is “showing off, to prove he can do it.”

The mayor managed to make the City Council approve it last year, a P50 billion budget, but with less than P10 billion actual spending, “the SP is now the laughing stock among all the SPs in the country.”

Perhaps not totally, as the City Council, through Pesquera and Wenceslao, set up controls -- tying actual spending to actual collection of revenue and requiring prior approval by the Sanggunian -- both aimed to avoid deficit. Those controls were in the 2023 P50 billion budget and are in the 2024 P25.18 billion budget.

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