EXPLAINER: Cebu City Council wants to find out Mayor Labella's true state of health, invites him to next session. DILG says only the courts can decide if mayor refuses disclosure.

·3 min read

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. The Cebu City Sanggunian Wednesday afternoon, September 29, passed a resolution "inviting" Mayor Edgardo Labella to its next regular session on October 6, also a Wednesday.

It will be the second City Council invitation to the mayor whose latest medical leave -- his seventh since he assumed office -- is to expire next Sunday, October 3. The first invitation, on motion of ABC Councilor Franklyn Ong, was contained in Resolution #15-0411-2021 passed on August 11, according to Sanggunian Secretary Charisse "Chappy" Piramide. The mayor was a no-show in its August 18 session but the mayor reportedly promised another day in the future when he could meet with the Sanggunian.

If Mayor Labella re-assumes office on Monday, October 4, he might decide to join the October 6 session, which is expected to be still virtual or digital. He could call from his office or his home.

SAAVEDRA'S SUGGESTIONS. Businessman-engineer Crisologo Saavedra Jr.'s September 8 complaint on Labella's state of health with the City Council led to Wednesday's second invitation to the mayor.

In his written complaint, Saavedra wanted the Sanggunian to replace Labella with Vice Mayor Michael Rama, which the legislature cannot legally do. Even with Rama as acting mayor, Saavedra said, Mike has limited powers, when the chief executive should've full powers, especially during the pandemic. Besides, the complainant said, there's a city administrator who at the same time exercises the powers of the mayor even when the latter is physically or mentally incapacitated. Saavedra called it usurpation of functions.

[September 20, 2021 Explainer: Saavedra wants City Council to 'appoint' VM Rama as mayor. It cannot."]

Appearing before the City Council by Zoom, as the other session participants did, Saavedra offered two "simple, quick" solutions: (a) a group of councilors, accompanied by doctors, will visit Labella and look into his health condition; and (b) all the councilors will write a letter to Labella, "wish him good health," but exact the true information from him. He said the measure can save Mayor Labella from the stress of public pressure, caused largely by the people's concern that the City is not being managed fully and well during a public health crisis.

The City Council decided, after an exchange of views on the legality and propriety of the intrusion into Labella's privacy, just to issue a second invitation.

LABELLA OR THE COURT DECIDES. Atty. Ian Kenneth Lucero, Cebu City director of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), told the City Council there is no provision in the Local Government Code that authorizes an agency or office to look into the state of health of an ailing elected public official. Since it requires an "adjudication of facts," a court of general jurisdiction, such as a Regional Trial Court, may settle the dispute.

Majority Floor Leader Raymond Alvin Garcia wanted to know what law on which such a court may peg his ruling but DILG's Lucero didn't say.

Saavedra, in the letter-complaint that he read before the Sanggunian, said Section 14 of the Revised Cebu City Charter (Republic Act #3857) allows the City Council to conduct such an investigation, with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, provided there's a sworn-to complaint, which "on its face provides reasonable basis to believe that some anomaly or irregularity might have been committed."

No councilor pursued the legal path Saavedra suggested.

Basing on the DILG opinion, it boils down to the elected official, in this case Mayor Labella, deciding whether he is fit to hold office.

IMPOSITION OR DUTY. Councilor Garcia, who belongs to the same ruling party Barug as Labella's, said it would be an "imposition" for the City Council to inquire into his health.

Councilors Franklyn Ong and Alvin Dizon, both of the minority Barug, disagreed, saying that elected public officials like Mayor Labella, have the duty to disclose the information and they, members of the Sanggunian, have the duty to exact transparency from the affected officials.

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