THE SITUATION. The July 22 inaugural session of the Cebu City Council this year was highlighted by the state-of-the-city address of Mayor Edgardo Labella. Reorganization of committees -- which was initially deferred to await the appointment of Councilor Tony Cuenco's replacement, his son James Cuenco -- took place at a subsequent session.
As in 2019, no committee chairmanship or membership has gone this year, second year of the term, to minority BOPK (Bando Osmena Pundok Kauswagan).
Don't count the chairmanship of the two committees: barangay affairs and youth and sports development, which went by law and tradition to Franklyn Ong, Association of Barangay Councils president, and Jessica Resch, SK Federation president, respectively.
Out of the 24 standing committees left -- from the powerful budget and finance committee and committee on laws and ordinances to the patronage-laden committee on health, committee on social services, and committee on public services -- no seat has been given by Barug leaders who, under House rules, decide who will fill them. The City Council has 16 elected councilors, eight each from north and south districts, plus two ex-officio members, from ABC and SK Federation.
INTENT OF LAWMAKING. The setup seems to violate the intent of legislation-making, in which the proposed resolution or ordinance is studied and discussed by both sides of the party aisle.
The rule of spoils-go-to-the-victors virtually keeps out the minority from the initial stage of lawmaking where the proposal undergoes more scrutiny. The opposition comes in only during the second reading. When third reading comes, only the title of the measure is presented and voted on.
Then there's the avowed noble gesture of the ruling party of reaching out to its rivals, especially on issues that require bipartisan support. The public saw a glimmer of that when Barug officials, just after winning the 2019 race, called for "unity, cooperation and inclusive governance." They have also been saying variations of that theme during the Covid-19 emergency.
WAS BOPK OFFERED? BOPK and Barug sources disagree on whether the ruling party offered seats of chairman or member in the various committees.
Majority floor leader Councilor Raymond Garcia was quoted in a newspaper report that Vice Mayor Michael Rama "verbally offered" to minority councilors some committee seats but "none of them accepted."
Councilor Alvin Dizon told SunStar that in the inaugural session in 2019, the majority offered committee memberships to BOPK councilors. "This time wala na mo-offer ang majority."
Rama, who presides the City Council and is believed to call the shots at caucuses of the majority bloc, reportedly said he didn't send formal invitation to minority councilors "since he expected them not to accept...anyway." Rama also said Councilor Nestor Archival, minority floor leader, "signified" they would not accept any slot in the committees.
OSMEÑA DID THE SAME. The current ruling party Barug is apparently doing what then mayor Tomas Osmeña, BOPK head, did in the 2016-2019 term, when his party dominated the council and the executive department. Barug councilors were also locked out during the three years Tomas was mayor.
It's tit for tat, the strategy for survival in the next election. The 2020 City Council reorganization came this July when Barug leaders suspected that Osmeña partisans were sniping at the Labella-Rama administration over its handling of the pandemic crisis.
If Barug had invited BOPK to committees last year, they banished the thought this year.
DISADVANTAGES OF TOTAL RULE. While near-absolute control of the local legislature would do away with obstruction from political rivals, it would also enable the passage of unsound or defective measures.
Absence of what then mayor Osmeña called "babag" moves from Barug also did away with constructive vetting, which guards against bad laws. "Look who can do the obstruction game now," said one Barug councilor.
Councilor Dave Tumulak, a BOPK member, told SunStar he will support or block a measure, guided by how it benefits or hurts public good. Councilor Dizon told SunStar that "with or without committee assignment," he will continue "to remain faithful to pass measures relevant to our current situation."