CEBU, Philippines – The author of an ordinance giving the Cebu City council powers to conduct investigations and issue subpoenas for persons involved in these inquiries failed on Wednesday, January 25, to muster an override of Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama’s veto.
Rama vetoed on January 19 City Ordinance No. 2673 Series of 2022, “An Ordinance Granting The Sangguniang Panglungsod Of The City Of Cebu To Conduct Inquiries In Aid Of Legislation, Issue Subpoena Ad Testificandum And Duces Tecum, And Charge For Contempt Any Person Who Refuses To Obey Such Process.”
His veto message said the measure went beyond the powers of the legislative arm and would be prejudicial to public welfare.
“Although I fully understand the intention of the Sangguniang Panglungsod, however, I am constrained to exercise my veto power, as vested in me by the Local Government Code of 1991 and Republic Act No. 3857 or An Act to Revise the Charter of the City of Cebu,” Rama wrote in a letter addressed to Cebu City Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia.
“We, as public servants, are strictly bound to observe the parameters laid out in the Constitution on the right of any and all persons—one of which is the right against self-incrimination,” Rama stressed.
The author of the measure, Councilor Mary Ann De Los Santos of the Bando Osmeña – Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK) responded to Rama’s decision on Wednesday, January 25.
While the mayor quoted RA No. 3857, he “refused” to apply Section 14 of the same law of RA 3857, De Los Santos said.
The provision reads: “The City Council or the Mayor, or any person or committee authorized by either of them, shall have the power to inquire the official conduct of any department, agency, or officer or employee of the city and to make an investigation as to city affairs, and for that purposes may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and compel the production of books, papers, and other evidence.”
However, De Los Santos’ move to override Rama’s veto got support from only two councilors, Nestor Archival and Joy Young. Twelve councilors abstained, while three others were absent.
De Los Santos told Rappler in a phone interview on Thursday. January 26, that her intention was to supplement the “spirit of that law.”
The councilor rebutted the mayor’s argument that the landmark ordinance would be prejudicial to the public. She explained that an investigation would be more of an inquiry and not create a situation that would incriminate “speakers”
“Under Section 10, paragraph of the proposed ordinance, all statements, and testimonies given by the witness during the investigation are considered privileged communication,” De Los Santos told Rappler.
Privileged communication refers to all information exchanged between parties that are considered private, protected, and cannot be used against any individual.
“In this ordinance, we are not the one who will mete out the penalty but the courts,” the councilor added. “We go to court to seek redress for a defiance to its lawfully-issued subpoena.”
Two-thirds of the majority is required to push the override.
Blow to accountability
De Los Santos reminded council colleagues of the anomalous transactions on the city’s garbage collection that then-Vice Mayor Rama pursued and ordered the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7) to investigate.
On December 15, 2022, NBI-7 Regional Director Rennan Oliva announced that eight Cebu City officials allegedly conspired with a private construction company in transactions involving city garbage collection.
“The inquiry came from the council. The supposed investigation was in aid of legislation in order to protect the public as well as government funds,” De Los Santos said.
But the council was unable to fully investigate the matter because of limitations like the non-appearance of resource speakers and inadequate documentation, she pointed out.
“We are tasked with local laws but we don’t have effective powers to oversee and investigate, which are supposed to be inherent in any legislative body, be it local or national,” De Los Santos added.
Rama’s veto, she warned, would mean a council with almost no power to probe matters of public interest.
University of the Philippines law professor Lawyer Amando Virgil Ligutan, who lawyers for BOPK and former Mayor Tommy Osmeña, told Rappler that the decision to veto the ordinance was lamentable.
“For a mayor of a city plagued by issues of massive corruption to veto an ordinance intended to curb that corruption is unimaginable. Why fear that ordinance when you have nothing to hide,” Ligutan said.
When asked whether or not the proposed ordinance was lawful, Ligutan confirmed that the ordinance was based on the Revised Charter of Cebu City and that the implementation of its coercive powers was consistent with current laws.
“Only those who have evil designs will not approve of it,” the high-profile lawyer said. –Rappler.com
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