Seares: Why Cebu City Council met by Zoom last January 17, when it overrode Mayor Rama’s budget veto. Not for an emergency but ‘in exigency of service’

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Seares: Why Cebu City Council met by Zoom last January 17, when it overrode Mayor Rama’s budget veto. Not for an emergency but ‘in exigency of service’
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JOY PESQUERA CITES REASONS

COUNCILOR Jocelyn Pesquera just amplified her explanation about the Sanggunian’s controversial overriding of Mayor Michael Rama’s veto of some items in the 2024 annual budget.

Councilor Joy told me (Wednesday, January 31) the Sanggunian decided on January 10 to hold the January 17 session digitally. The reasons: (1) “to avoid traffic at the City Hall area”; (2) the councilors “no longer had parking spaces at City Hall at the time because we gave way to people attending the masses.”

THAT WASN’T AN EMERGENCY

Not the emergency of a pandemic, which justified Zoom sessions during the Covid-19 period. But probably “in the exigency of the service,” which the City Council house rules provide.

“Exigency” may not be defined by the house rules of the local legislature but its dictionary meaning is “an urgent need or demand.” In practice, it is what the City Council says is “exigent.”

WHO CALLED THE SESSION

Mayor Mike, in assailing the “legitimacy” of the session, earlier said it was called without his authority, “without my signature.”

The disputed online session was a regular session. No need for notice, although the councilors must have been reminded by the secretariat about the mode of the session they had agreed upon the week before.

A special session, which the January 17 session was not, may be called by the vice mayor or majority of the councilors, Pesquera said. The mayor, one supposes, may request for a special session.

COUNCILORS WERE ‘JUST IN CEBU’

Mayor Mike said or implied that some councilors were “out of Cebu City” or “out of the country.” As if being not being physically in Cebu or the country would make a difference.

If the digital session is allowed under house rules and not prohibited by law or regulation, where the councilor is physically during the session won’t make a difference. (Sometimes a councilor may even get out of camera range and do something else, rushing back only to join the discussion or take a vote.)

They were in Cebu, Pequera said, “the councilors in fact attended the various nightly activities such as the Miss Cebu pageant, the Sinulog Idol, etc.”

SOME OTHER REASONS

Mayor Mike may have to use reasons other than what he gave more focus on in publicly attacking the City Council’s override vote (“all voted for”).

What appears compelling was the legal reason for the veto: specifically the laws and regulations that prohibit restrictions on the manner of implementing the budget ordinance. The mayor might use it, before the Department of Budget and Management and/or the Department of Interior and Local Government, or with the court.

Mayor Mike’s argument against the limit to legislation once the ordinance is approved by the City Council at first blush sounds convincing. Except that it is shot down by the counter-argument that legislative work has not ended yet because the mayor vetoed some sections and items of the ordinance, to which Sanggunian right to review and override accrues, still as part of the legislative process.

BEYOND BUDGET ISSUE

There’s the concern Mayor Mike must have over keeping his alliance with the councilors, majority of whom belong to his Partido Barug.

The next year is pre-election time, not yet the election season, but already the preparations phase as filing of COCs or certificates of candidacy is scheduled in the last quarter of the year.

The mayor wouldn’t want an uncooperative or hostile City Council between now and May of 2025. He must always need a friendly Sanggunian to support his program of governance and projects. He’ll need it now to free the mayor’s hands of restrictions provided in the approved budget and kept in place by the override.

Surprisingly, Mayor Mike didn’t hold off-session party caucuses with Barug councilors to steer the passage of his major proposals. He must have left the councilors to decide on their own, no liaison and other party moves to keep them “toe the line.” Was that part of his posture of independence: being unfettered by his party?

ABOUT POLITICAL PLANS

The issue must also involve political plans of Mayor Rama and his party Barug.

Unless he’s keeping the promise he announced before City Hall officials and employees on May 26, 2023: that he’d be “an independent mayor.” Which was a declaration that must have befuddled his allies, including Majority Floor Leader Pesquera and budget and finance chief Noel Wenceslao, who are perceived to have led the budget slashing and limiting.

The controversy is about money for city government operations this year and the “visionary projects” that could help persuade voters to reelect the mayor in the 2025 and 2028 elections.

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