EXPLAINER: Cebu City Sanggunian can probe City Hall offices, employees and subpoena witnesses, documents. Cris Saavedra reminds councilors on investigative power.

·3 min read

WHAT businessman-engineer Crisologo Saavedra Jr. -- who describes himself as "advocate against corruption and protector of taxpayers" -- will tell the Cebu City Council during its session Wednesday, September 29, is expectedly about an alleged rigging of bids for phase two of the city's digital traffic system and CCTV project. The modern traffic lights will cost P249.38 million.

Earlier, last September 9, Saavedra filed a complaint with the NBI against City Administrator Floro Casas Jr., Cebu City Attorney Rey Gealon, and six members of the city's bids and awards committee (BAC). He also filed a similar complaint with the Sanggunian, for which was invited to appear before it.

PRAYERS. Saavedra will ask the City, through the Sanggunian, for the cancellation of the August 3 bidding that awarded the contract to Cylix Joint Venture, which also got the award for the first phase of the project.

According to an advance copy of his "manifestation and stipulation of facts," Saavedra's appeal is for the correction of the wrong, giving justice to the deserving, and "defusing" public opinion that an irregularity was done.

Most likely, he will be asked about his interest in the transaction.

Is Saavedra just waging an advocacy or also protecting the interest of a reported/alleged client, the competing bidder Net Pacific? What must matter more though is the truth of the alleged violation of law and possible corruption by public officials, not the personal motive of the complainant.

POWER TO INVESTIGATE. But the pleading of "facts" Saavedra filed ahead of his scheduled appearance -- of which SunStar has obtained a copy -- included the claim that the City Council has the power under Republic Act #3857 or 1964 Revised Charter of the City of Cebu:

[1] "To inquire (into) the official conduct of any department, agency, or officer, or employee of the city" and "to make investigation into city affairs..." and for that purpose...

[2] To "subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and compel the submission of books, papers and other evidence."

The councilors may wish to look into that claimed power because news reporters covering City Hall don't remember the Sanggunian exercising that power or something close to it. A number of times in 2020 and the first nine months of 2021, minority councilors complained about the City Council "requests" for information from the mayor and his department heads being ignored.

NOT AVAILABLE OR NOT USED. Why is that investigative power not being used? Maybe because the councilors don't know about that power or they think it has been repealed by some other law or because they think it's an extreme measure against people who belong to the majority party or appointed to office by it.

But wait. If the legal provision remains in effect, there is a condition for its exercise: there must be "a written formal complaint made under oath, which on its face provides reasonable basis to believe that some anomaly or irregularity might have been committed."

WHY IT MAY SKIP PROBE. Saavedra has met that condition under the law. His complaint with the City Council meets the requirement, he said. It's a possible case of violation of bidding procedures under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act -- allegedly not giving enough time for all bidders and imposing additional requirements -- to favor only one bidder, the company that was awarded the bid. Violations allegedly committed by two top officers and six BAC members, all officials and employees of the City Government.

What Saavedra seems to tell the Sanggunian is that it has the power to look into alleged mess. But even if it has the power to do so, the City Council may choose to leave the investigation to the NBI and/or the ombudsman, which has the resources to undertake the job.

COROLLARY MOTION. As it usually does, it may just fire off after the Citizens Hour, during which Saavedra is scheduled to speak, a "corollary motion" to request the proper government agencies to look into the alleged irregularities.

Very unlikely that Barug, the ruling party, would shoot itself in the foot, just days before COC-filing deadline and a few months before election day.

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