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Cebu News

If suspension implemented: Vacuum feared in City Council

Jean Marvette A. Demecillo - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - While some of the Cebu City Council officials expressed their readiness to face the possible implementation of the suspension order against them within the month, there are concerns it may affect the operation of the City Council.

This, after the Commission on Elections recently granted the request of the Department of Interior Local Government to implement the six-month suspension order against outgoing mayor Michael Rama and 13 other city officials within the election ban period until June 8.

As to the implementation, DILG Undersecretary for local government Austere Panadero said he has not seen the Comelec order granting their request yet.

"I was told that Comelec has sent us their action on our request; personally, I have not seen it as I'm not in Manila for two days already; will check on it on Monday," he said in a text message sent to The FREEMAN.

Panadero said he cannot yet comment as to when the order will be implemented.

If it will be implemented, the incumbent officials will be barred from their offices until June 30, which is the end of their term.

On April 7, the Office of the President found Rama, Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella, and City Councilors Nestor Archival Sr., Mary Ann de los Santos, David Tumulak, Nendell Hanz Abella, Sisinio Andales, Alvin Arcilla, Roberto Cabarrubias, Ma. Nida Cabrera, Gerardo Carillo, Alvin Dizon, Eugenio Gabuya, Jr., and Noel Eleuterio Wenceslao guilty of grave abuse of authority over the controversial release of the P20,000 calamity aid to all City Hall employees in December 2013.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the officials were found guilty of grave abuse of authority for disbursing public funds even though City Hall employees were not direct victims of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on October 13, 2013 and super typhoon Yolanda on November 8 that same year.

Originally, the decision meted the officials a six-month suspension. However, if it will be served this time, city officials will only be suspended until June 30 when they will end their term.

Despite being ready to face the suspension, Wenceslao said he is hoping that the DILG will re-think the implementation since it might have a negative impact to the city's operations.

He said there is an ongoing discussion among the councilors about the city's revised P9.8-billion 2016 Annual Budget, among others.

He said 12 city councilors, including himself, were impleaded in the case, and that will leave only live active councilors. Those who will be left in City Hall are councilors Margarita Osmeña who may sit as the city mayor, Lea Japson who may sit as the vice mayor, James Anthony Cuenco, Richard Osmeña, and ex-officio member Phillip Zafra.

Reelected councilors who are facing the suspension are De los Santos, Tumulak, Abella, Andales, Arcilla, and Gabuya.

Cuenco said he has also not received any report as to the implementation of the order yet.

"If indeed they will pursue the suspension then that is most cruel, far worse than adding salt to a badly wounded soldier. I will take a leave of absence once the order is out in solidarity with our group," he said, adding that the leave of absence will be without pay.

Abella said he is ready anytime the order will be served. However, he is hoping that the city officials will still be given legal remedies on the order since it will greatly affect the operation of the city.

"The suspension of practically all of the city officials will be disastrous to our city's operations. I hope OP (Office of the President) will look on this before suspending us. Let the regular courts look into the validity or invalidity of the ordinance not the OP," he added.

De los Santos also said she is ready for the suspension order considering that she received a resounding mandate from the recently concluded May 9 national and local elections.

"This does not mean, however, that I do not disagree with the order because I do oppose it strongly. As to its impact on the city's operation, that I cannot speculate. What I can assure you is that the city is geared towards the right direction under the new mayor, I'll devote all my time and resources in fulfilling my responsibilities as a reelected member of the city council," he said.

Andales also expressed readiness since mayor-elect Tomas Osmeña will take care of the city once he will assume office on July 1. Andales said he understands the case, saying it is one of the risks of an elected official.

"Timing is good for me so that I can truly have a good vacation after a rigorous campaign period. I can also study the cases now pending before our courts. At any rate the suspension order is good until our term expires which is June 30 during the 13th SP (Sangguniang Panlungsod) and I can still run in 2019 due to interruption of my term as city councilor in Cebu City. Good to us," he added.

Andales also believes that the operation of the city will not be affected since Margot will assume as the acting mayor, in time for her husband Tomas to sit as mayor come July 1.

As for the City Council's operation, Andales said DILG will take care of it. He added that the payment of salaries to the City Hall employees will not be affected.

Margot said she did not prepare for the recent developments but said she will be ready for this.

"If I will be called to sit as the mayor, I will do my duty," she said, adding that basic services should be implemented for the benefit of the residents of the city.

Rama said his focus now is not on the implementation of the suspension but the election protest against Tomas, who was proclaimed as mayor-elect last May 10 after getting over 30,000 votes more. Meanwhile, Labella said the city officials will pursue their legal remedies if the order will be implemented.  — /BRP (FREEMAN)

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