Seares: When would Mike Rama or Raymond Garcia declare independence from each other? New lament from suspended mayor against acting mayor ramps up speculation of breakup on or before filing COCs in October.

Seares: When would Mike Rama or Raymond Garcia declare independence from each other? New lament from suspended mayor against acting mayor ramps up speculation of breakup on or before filing COCs in October.

[] Rama publicly complains anew against changes at Cebu City Hall being made by Garcia. None, acting mayor says, he pursues same purpose, direction of suspended mayor: public benefit.

[] Garcia apparently embraces the law’s concept of the job of acting mayor: like a full-fledged mayor, with all the powers of an elected mayor. Rama may have another: the VM is bound to party and personal obligations to his mayor.

LAST May 31, 2024, or 18 days from Acting Mayor (AM) Raymond Alvin Garcia’s first day in office, suspended mayor (SM) Michael Rama complained of changes in policies and directions at Cebu City Hall. What is going on, Mike Rama wailed in Cebuano-Bisaya, “I’m not yet dead, not yet dead.”

On June 7, or 32 days from Rama’s actual exit, the suspended mayor went further in his gripe, this time alleging “greed for power.” Four days later, in another media interview (on SunStar’s Galarpe-Morallo “Beyond the Headlines”), Rama went as far as expressing disappointment in picking Garcia as his vice mayor in the 2022 race and taking offense at the charge implied by Rama that he and his group were making money from the 2024 Palarong Pambansa.

The problem -- it would seem from Rama’s statements and Garcia’s replies -- is that they have dissimilar expectations of the role each occupies during the six months of being preventively suspended, for Mike, and serving as acting mayor, for Raymond.

WHAT MIKE RAMA MUST HAVE EXPECTED. The suspension is preventive, not punitive, just to keep Rama away from the seat of power while the investigation of the complaint against him, namely alleged gross abuse and misconduct over the withholding of salary and mistreatment of four City Hall employees, would be investigated.

SM Rama must expect that he is still the titleholder and keeps at least residual powers while his case is being looked into by the Ombudsman.

If under the law AM Garcia is not bound not to change policies and directions of SM Rama, as Mike’s elected vice mayor and Partido Barug party-mate, Raymond might be bound to respect Rama’s policies and directions by keeping them intact or consulting him during the period of suspension. After all, Mike must be thinking, he’s the party leader, this is Barug’s administration, and Raymond is part of the Partido that Mike still leads, even if the leader is temporarily out of office.

WHAT RAYMOND MUST BELIEVE. As what AM Garcia has been saying to foil SM Rama’s laments over the way City Hall has been run since May 6, he’s not changing “directions and policies” as he and Mike shared the same objective of achieving public good.

On the sports event Palaro, for example, Garcia said he “trimmed down” the budget “as part of accountability,” wanting “people’s taxes to be used diligently.”

STICKLER FOR THE LAW? AM Garcia has the edge: he’s following the law regarding the powers he must exercise.

As I reported here (Seares: Suspended mayor bewails policy changes, June 1, 2024), the Local Government Code provides that the acting mayor “can perform all the powers and duties pertaining to the office of the mayor,” including the power to appoint, suspend or dismiss employees -- which Garcia couldn’t have exercised if the suspension didn’t exceed 30 days. And on top of that empowering provision, an amending law (Republic Act 4065, June 18, 1964) provides, thus: all acts performed by (the acting mayor) “shall not be reversed, modified or otherwise revised by the mayor upon the latter’s return.”

Raymond has all the legal power and there’s no reason under the law he cannot do what he has done.

And yet, besides the explicit law, there’s the protocol, written or not, in Barug, as it must be in any other political party, under which the party leader lays down the purposes of the organization. Doesn’t the elected vice mayor, when acting as mayor, owe it to his mayor and other members of the party to pursue the directions of the mayor’s administration? A point that may be raised by anyone on the suspended mayor’s side, which isn’t being done yet, is whether party and personal considerations apply to the Garcia-Rama situation.

Would Garcia have made those changes if he were not acting mayor? Of course not, a former City Hall official told me Wednesday, June 12, saying Raymond didn’t even raise it, at least not publicly, when Mike was the sitting mayor. “Would you say, Mike is only entitled to deference or respect as party leader if he’s still in office. And yet Mike still is, he’s only on leave, forcible as it is; he is bound under the law to return.

NATURE OF MAYOR’S SUSPENSION. SM Rama says that his suspension being preventive does not take away all his powers and his being still alive does not empower his temporary substitute to change his policies.

The suspension does remove, albeit not permanently, Mike’s powers as mayor. What he only keeps is the power to return to office after six months from May 6, 2024 or earlier, if ordered by the Ombudsman or the court.

As acting mayor, Raymond has all the powers the office gives and the suspended mayor can only watch and fume, as Mike has done in at least three public forums. He cannot even change Raymond’s changes per the law. Former Cebu City administrator Paul Villarete told me though that whenever then mayor Tomas Osmeña returned after a medical leave to the US, he wouldn’t complain about the changes made by his acting mayor, guess who, then vice mayor Mike Rama. Tomas would “simply go back to his previous policies” upon his return.

Rama wonders why people think he’d be away for six months. Because that’s the period the Ombudsman publicized and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) enforced. Because, so far, his attempt to appeal the Ombudsman order was shot down by the Court of Appeals.

Rama has been removed physically from City Hall, stripped of the mayor’s duties and perks. But he’ll be back -- God, Sto. Nino, the Virgin of Guadalupe and the powers in Manila permitting -- before the end of the year.

'INDEPENDENT MAYOR.' And Rama is still the leader of Partido Barug, over which, theoretically at least, he rules. Unless (a) he has made good his puzzling statement last May 24 that he declared himself an “independent mayor” and (b) Garcia and colleagues have heeded his self-anointment as a party-less mayor.

Unless he has actually been behaving “independently,” without planning and consulting with his party-mates on plans for the Barug administration and the 2025 election, SM Rama can tap their support in the preparations.

TALK OF RAMA-GARCIA BREAKUP has been brewing even while AM Garcia was still not showing as much divergence from the Rama path as he already has.

The display began wider and clearer when the acting mayor did the opposite of what Rama did while still in office, such as: paying the four complainants the salary that Rama withheld; sitting down and talking with MCWD and Cebu Port Authority, which Mike snubbed and denied City Hall permits; consorting with Governor Gwen Garcia, whom the mayor slammed for interfering with Cebu City affairs.

In a June 6 Frank Malilong column in SunStar, titled “Into the Dustbin,” a covenant of leaders of the three local political parties -- Rama of Barug, Garcia of Kusug, and Joey Daluz Panaghiusa -- formed a coalition of forces against the common enemy, Tomas and Margot Osmeña and the couple’s BOPK.

That was in August 2021, Atty. Malilong wrote, when they were preparing for the May 2022 election. Given the current developments, which could lead to all three leaders running against one another, Malilong said “the piece of paper signed in 2021... is well on its way to the proverbial dustbin of history.”

PUBLIC GOOD IS COMMON GOAL, a purpose that AM Garcia says he shares with SM Rama and most elected officials share or profess to share.

Raymond is right. But what SM Rama must mean, if he opts to be clear about his messaging, is that the means or ways to achieve the purpose differ radically.

Mike thought the four City Hall employees must have violated department rule and thus were denied their salary. Raymond ordered them paid at once, even as the case, for which the mayor was suspended, was still being investigated and litigated. Mike denied CPA building permit. Raymond talked with them and granted, or would grant, them the permits. Mike sued the governor, telling Governor Gwen to back off city government matters. Raymond coordinated with Capitol on the Cebu BRT problem, enhancing public perception of wind change with a Capitol media photo of the acting mayor locked in an embrace with the governor.

In the series of decisions the acting mayor made, inevitably the images of good mayor, as against those of a bad, or not-as-good, mayor are painted. The common goal is still there but the means or ways of reaching it -- never mind the style of governance -- are vastly different.

Could these two top leaders of Barug stay in the same space, on the same level, in the world of politics? The filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) first week this October, if not earlier, would tell Cebu City voters.


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