EXPLAINER: Mike Rama 'won't rock the boat' but will screen casuals, replace co-terminus officials. 7 takeaways on mayor's dilemma.

·6 min read

MICHAEL Rama has gone through different roles in his 2019-2022 stint in government service: elected as vice mayor to Mayor Edgardo Labella, he had been, in this order, VM and City Council presiding officer, acting mayor for a number of times because of Labella's serial ailments, "full-fledged" acting mayor for a month or so, then finally last Saturday became the "regular" mayor.

The succession of roles must have confused him a bit. At one time this week, he said, "when I became the mayor," referring to November 13 when he was sworn in as Labella's permanent successor.

Yet, all the while what has he been doing but serving as mayor?

[1] NOT 'ROCKING THE BOAT.' Replacing key personnel five months before the next elections, which would spell the difference between keeping City Hall and losing it beyond June 30, 2022, is fraught with danger. If not handled carefully and well, the shakeup could lose the support of employees who are or kin of vote-getters in their communities. The 9000+ plus workforce itself, most of whom are casuals and job-order workers, provide a rich source of votes.

Since the other Monday, at the flag ceremony and in his press-cons, Rama has been repeatedly saying he "won't rock the boat," to assure those who fear they'll lose their job after the transition. But the mayor knows he cannot keep all of them. He must let go of some who won't help him run City Hall better and get party candidates elected next May.

[2] CO-TERMINOUS OFFICIALS. The term of a coterminous official, according to the Civil Service Commission, expires with (a) the term, (b) the incumbent, (c) the project or assignment, or (d) the office itself. If the appointing person goes -- by removal, resignation or death -- the appointee goes. He also goes if the appointee ends his term or, before that, loses the appointer's trust. Labella, the appointer who trusted the official, ended his term, and the situs of trust changed.

Two operative phrases: "end of authority or purpose" and "absence of trust and confidence."

With Rama succeeding Labella, the latter's coterminous appointee loses right or reason to stay. The only exception is if the new mayor trusts the said official. For example, when Rama became "full-fledged" mayor after Labella's leave exceeded 30 days, he said he'd keep City Administrator Floro Casas Jr. but even as the then acting mayor would've his own team of managers. After he took oath as the "real" mayor, Rama said he wouldn't rock the boat but he has to consider the coterminous officials, the most visible and controversial of whom is Casas. The next day, Rama he was quoted thus: "If coterminous, then I will have to replace."

The problem is basic and clear enough: the new mayor must have close-in people he trusts or trusts more.

Obviously, the problem is not his legal right. The Civil Service Law and CSC memorandum-circulars, as well as the Supreme Court rulings, affirm the principles on basis and purpose of coterminous appointments.

[3] "LOYALTY CHECK." A huge part of the City Hall workforce, estimated by Mayor Rama at 9,000 plus, has only about 1,000 as regular workers, the rest being casuals and JOs or job-order hires. By itself, City Hall is a significant source of votes, with multiplier capacity.

He has not included the usual "loyalty check" in his list of "not" or "dili" criteria: "dili kawatan, dili tapulan, dili hugawan," etcetera. But what's the process of evaluation and who'll be the evaluators? Won't the announced criteria be overwhelmed or obscured by the unmentionable yardstick of "Ato ba ni"?

[4] THINLY VEILED WARNING. Short of the direct confrontation "Vote for the party or else," there is the not-so-subtle hint, the thinly veiled warning. When Rama at the November 8 flag ceremony bade good-by for his two-week leave of absence (which he cut short after Labella's passing away), he included in his tutorial a recitation of the list of Barug candidates in 2022, asking the City Hall employees "not to drop" anyone from it or they'd answer to him, or words to that effect, not categorical, not a specific "no vote, no job," yet enough ("don't test me") to make the workers think their hiring contract might not be renewed in January.

[5] IN DEFERENCE TO EDGARDO. The transition has been triggered by the death of Mayor Labella.

Unavoidably, during the period of mourning -- from the flags-at-half-mast to the wake and necrology at City Hall -- the memory of the former mayor will influence Rama's decisions. He had to explain that his quick takeover of the mayor's office was "by operation of law," not as some critics alleged, with indecent haste or touch of greed.

He has committed to pursue Labella's 10-point program of government, on top of Rama's own. He cannot just run roughshod over the City Hall workers who were given jobs by Mike's "partner and friend" to reach those goals.

In a way, the new mayor is not totally free of his predecessor.

[6] EFFICIENT SERVICE, POLITICAL AGENDA. An honest-to-goodness evaluation may yield the finding that City Hall does not need almost 10,000 employees to operate efficiently. It's a bureaucracy that almost every past mayor believed, privately if not publicly, to be bloated and whose fat they'd like to slice off but never managed to do. The reason is the perpetually growing basic needs of the city and the convenient solution of hiring more people to attend to them.

And any initial effort to remove the excess is stymied by the political interest of keeping the "given" or "built-in" base of voters. No mayor could resist the attraction of City Hall being a provider of jobs to reward people who help officials get elected and recruit potential vote-getters for their reelection.

[7] PLUS AND LIABILITY. Is the transition a plus or a liability to an administration that changed leaders in the midstream of an election campaign? It is both. Labella has a large following who may keep its loyalty to the fallen leader by supporting his "partner and friend." And there are a number of issues against the Labella administration, which Rama himself led or encouraged in questioning at the Sanggunian when he the presiding officer. Now as heir to Labella's governance and being part of the administration, the new mayor also bears the burden of explaining and defending.

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