EXPLAINER: Did Cebu City Council validly OK P4.38B extra budget? BOPK, citing house rules, says it didn't get qualified majority vote. Earlier DILG ruling seems to back Barug position on simple majority.

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THE Cebu City Council on Wednesday, August 4, decided to ask for legal opinion from the city's legal office and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on whether the P4.387 million Supplemental Budget One was validly approved.

The Sanggunian last July 28 passed on third and final reading SB One. The secretary's minutes recorded the passage. When Majority Floor Leader Raymond Garcia moved in the following August 4 session to approve the minutes, Minority Floor Leader Nestor Archival tried to block it but failed. His reason: SB One was not validly approved as it was voted for by only a simple majority, 8 against 6, and not by qualified majority. His BOPK colleague, Councilor Franklyn Ong, in a privileged speech, moved for the request for legal opinion.

BOPK and Barug, which have lately been colliding with each other on a number of issues in the City Council, argue on the effect of the vote.

Councilor Franklyn Ong, in his speech supporting BOPK's stand against SB One, cited House rules of the Sanggunian, prescribing the votes to pass measures. Section 9 of Article 10 of the said rules (approved July 9, 2020, as amended December 2, 2020) provides that:

"Ordinary motions or resolutions may be approved by a majority of the members present, there being a quorum.

"The affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Sanggunian shall be necessary for the passage of any ordinance or resolution directing the payment of money, contracting of indebtedness or liability, providing for the expenditure of public funds, the adoption of local development plan and public investment programs, and other such matters provided for in the Local Government Code."

TWO KINDS OF MAJORITY. The dispute regarding the approval of SB One is the question as which majority vote was required by law:

[a] City Council Majority Barug says only simple majority vote is required, meaning a majority of those present in a quorum. SB One passed with the 8-6 vote.

[b] Minority BOPK says qualified majority is required, meaning a majority of all the Sanggunian members duly elected and qualified. Eighteen members comprised the local legislature's membership when the vote was taken. So the qualified majority is 10 (9+1, including Councilor Dondon Hontiveros) or 9 (8+1, excluding Hontiveros). Whatever, the 8-6 vote was short of the qualified majority.

CODE PROVISION, DILG RULING. Under the rules implementing Republic Act 7160, or Local Government Code of 1991, in Article 107, Section (g), the qualified majority is required only for any ordinance or resolution:

[a] Authorizing or directing the payment of money; or

[b] Creating liability.

Other ordinances and resolutions shall require only a simple majority: "a majority of the members present, there being a quorum."

DILG'S STANDING RULING. DILG Opinion #13, series of 2010 on a Cotabato Provincial Board dispute appears to be the agency's position on similar controversies. Councilor Garcia used the ruling to support majority Barug's stand that only a simple majority was required to pass SB One.

In the ruling, DILG does not consider an annual budget, with any of its supplemental appropriations, an ordinance authorizing the payment of money or creating liability. It is "the estimate of income and expenditures for one year operation of a local government unit."

DILG also notes that on annual and supplemental appropriations, the law is silent as to what kind of majority vote is required, unlike in its succeeding provisions, which specifically require qualified majority vote. "In its silence, the presumption" is that it is "enacted only by a simple majority vote."

WHAT ABOUT HOUSE RULES? The Cebu City Council's House rules of 2020, far from being silent, are specific and clear. The simple majority vote is only for "ordinary motions and resolutions." A P3.87 billion appropriation cannot be ordinary.

And unlike the Local Government Code, the City Council House rules are unambiguous about an ordinance or resolution "providing for the expenditure of public funds": it must be approved by a qualified majority.

Can the Sanggunian disregard its own House rules on the requirement of votes, which, unlike the DILG's opinion, does not rest on presumption but are as specific and clear as can be?

MINORITY MAY JUST BE FISCALIZING. The City Council is merely asking the legal opinion of the city's legal office, which will hardly rule against the administration, and DILG, which already has its "jurisprudence" on the issue. Copies of the request to Commission on Audit and DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will be just noted.

At DILG, BOPK's position might be looked into, especially on the matter of the categorical provision of Cebu City Council House rules. That element is absent in the Cotabato case, at least it is not mentioned in the DILG ruling.

But what's the point of the minority, when it says it is not obstructing SB One, and the BOPK councilors just want to get more information and look at documents?

The referrals for legal opinion won't result into recalling SB One. As to an unlikely new vote on SB, with every councilor present, the 8-6 result may change to 9-8, still for the passage. Barug's Niña Mabatid and BOPK's Raul Alcoseba and Lea Japszon -- who were absent during the July 28 voting -- will add one vote and two votes to their respective camps.

The furor though gives the opposition the chance to show real fiscalizing. That was a role it abdicated when it unofficially joined forces last year with Acting Mayor Michael Rama, who was then the Sanggunian presiding officer, in a supposed "independent" critique of Mayor Edgardo Labella's administration.

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