Seares: Override of Mike Rama’s veto rejects mayor’s wish for a 2024 budget of his choice, pulled by a City Council dominated by members of his own party Barug. Is it ‘coup’ or ‘rebellion’ of a sort?

CEBU. Councilors Joy Pesquera, Noel Wenceslao and James Anthony Cuenco.
CEBU. Councilors Joy Pesquera, Noel Wenceslao and James Anthony Cuenco.File photos

[] After slashing Rama’s proposed P100 billion budget for this year down to P21 billion plus, then finally settling on P25.883 billion, the Sanggunian struck down the mayor’s veto of three sections that restrict spending and his veto on all other line items that would’ve restored some of the original amounts the executive proposed. A first time (”unprecedented”) since the mayor and his Barug councilors assumed office last June 30, 2022.

[] Thus the City Government will operate in 2024 under the approved budget unless and until the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on review will rule in the mayor’s favor.

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE 2024 BUDGET: The Cebu City Council last December 20, 2023 approved Ordinance No. 2730, reducing the mayor-proposed P100 billion-plus total outlay for 2024 to P22.093 billion-plus. A week later, on December 27, it amended the ordinance, increasing the total amount to P25.833 billion. A cap decided by the Sanggunian, earlier on December 13, put it at “not more than P50 billion.”

The cuts were deep: about 78 percent on the requested amount of P100 billion for 2024 and the approved amount of P50 billion for 2023.

Mayor Michael Rama on January 11, 2024 approved the budget “subject to veto.” The veto zeroed in on three sections of the ordinance, which impose conditions on sourcing of release of funds. Rama said the City Council cannot restrict the mayor’s authority over the funds after the legislature approves the budget ordinance.

[Related: New+One, December 30, 2023, “Seares: To veto or not.”]

Last Wednesday, January 17, the City Council overrode the veto on the three sections and the veto on items under 11 accounts, from the office of the mayor to the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office to the Department of Engineering and Public Works.

WHAT’S NEXT. Councilor Noel G. Wenceslao, chairman of the committee on budget and finance, told me Monday, January 22 that the 2024 budget ordinance, minus the veto the City Council killed, “will be operative subject to DBM’s review.” No changes? “Walay nausab,” he said.

CLEARLY BIPARTISAN MOVE. All the separate moves of the City Council, starting from the limit on the budget amount and ending with the veto override, were adopted “unanimously’: they were approved without objection from any councilor present.

The pro votes came from both the ruling Barug party and the opposition Band Osmena Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK), indicating bipartisan support, which thus easily got the two-thirds vote for thumping the mayor’s veto and, earlier, amending the ordinance to increase it by P4 billion.

A COUP OR REBELLION? Would the veto override not qualify as a “coup” “rebellion” of a sort within the ranks of Barug? The opposition couldn’t have hoped to fight the majority had its councilors gone along with the mayor’s wishes.

Mayor Rama apparently hasn’t imposed the rule that councilors who are Barug members must toe the party line, although the mayor’s policies and programs presumably are. When he was vice mayor (during his 2019-2022 term), he repeatedly advocated for “an independent and a fiscalizing” Sanggunian. But he was not the mayor then. Yet he was already the mayor when not long ago he declared he’d be “independent of any party” and pursue only “what’s good for the people.” “What does he mean by that, there’s no more Barug or he’s leaving Barug?” a councilor asked me then.

And the councilors who shot down Rama’s veto may not have broken away from Barug. They may just be doing “what’s good for the people,” as they probably couldn’t understand why the chief executive would want a huge budget for projects they couldn’t implement in one year or one term,

with tax money they still had to collect. The budget of P50 billion for 2023 was a lesson on allocating big money and not realizing half of it.

Despite the clear difference of opinion on the 2024 budget, there has been no public and direct confrontation or even sniping between the mayor and any of his councilors.

[Related: “Seares: Joy Pesquera broke up with Mayor Mike,” December 23, 2023; “Seares: What Pesquera and Wenceslao wanted,” December 21, 2023]

Pesquera and Wenceslao, majority floor leader and budget-finance committee chairman respectively, led the override initiative while another Barug stalwart, Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, committee on transportation chairman, moved to override.

BASES FOR VETO OVERIDE. Majority Floor Leader Jocelyn Pesquera raised two plain reasons why the City Council should override the mayor’s veto:

[] On the strings (“the colatilla”) on sourcing of funds and spending: Two of the sections were also tied to the 2023 budget, yet Mayor Rama didn’t veto them last year, and DBM upon review didn’t take them out as unconstitutional or illegal. Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival Sr. repeatedly inquired from Pesquera on the DBM action on similar conditions in the 2023 budget ordinance.

[] On increasing amounts in 11 items: To do so would exceed the cap the City Council decided to set on the 2024 budget.

THE OBJECTIONABLE CONDITIONS. What are those conditions or “colatilla” that Mayor Rama said should be considered “void ab initio” or from the beginning? The “abhorrent” conditions would require:

[] A City Council resolution for any charges against the capital outlay (Section 12);

[] A Sanggunian approval of spending beyond 75 percent of MOOE or maintenance and operating expenses fund (Section 14);

[] A ban on using unappropriated balance of revenue unless it exceeds total appropriations for 2024 (Section 15).

MAYOR’S BASES FOR THE VETO. Mayor Rama’s authority for the veto: “prevailing laws and existing jurisprudence.” An argument his constituents may understand quickly is that executing the budget is the work exclusively of the executive department as, after the ordinance is approved, the legislature’s role “comes to an end and the executive’s role of implementing the budget begins.” The City Council must not concern itself with the details of implementation, he said in his veto message.

That argument was not addressed during the discussion before approving the override.

LOCAL FINANCE COMMITTEE’S PITCH. Not also taken up was the November 29, 2023 resolution of the Local Finance Committee (LFC) -- composed mostly of the mayor’s key officials, including City Administrator Collin Rosell, Budget Officer Jerone Castillo, with the city’s accountant, assessor, treasurer and city planning officer -- that recommended to the City Council “adherence” to the Government Accounting Manuel, the Local Government Code, and the “primary role of local governments” in Cebu City’s development.

The resolution was attached to the veto message yet the laws and regulations that would support the mayor’s opposition were not raised.


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