AT A GLANCE:  Sinulog 2021 will push through but the national Covid-19 task force IATF "will have a lot to say" whether to hold or cancel it, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella had said. Holding it in March instead of January is not ruled out "in line with the 500th anniversary of Christianity" in the country.
 Vice Mayor Mike Rama returns to spearhead the activity, the mayor said. And the Sinulog Governing Board (SGB) that Mayor Labella created by an executive order dated August 23, 2019 will no longer be reconvened, at least not this year for Sinulog 2021.
 The Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) for many decades now has been the front organization in charge of the civic and cultural part of the city's annual fiesta, but with City Hall calling the shots. With the changes in policy this year, SFI might become just one of the stakeholders that Rama is authorized by the mayor to coordinate with regarding preparations.
 After serving as SFI chairman for 14 years and then being shut out for three years, Rama in October 2019 quit in protest over SGB's creation but he has stayed as member of the board of trustees. With Rama's appointment by the mayor as the lead person to "handle" the 2021 festival, he has been meeting with trustees to prepare the groundwork. If Rama re-assumes as SFI chairman, that technically puts the foundation on top of the activity.
 Question over the legal authority of the City Government over SFI, a non-government organization, continues to hang. But with the SGB no longer looking over its shoulders, SFI may continue to disregard the blurred lines of authority and even accept a diminished role.
TOMAS REVIVES QUESTION OF AUTHORITY. Former mayor Tomas Osmeña this week assailed the right of Mike Rama to convene the SFI board, citing the VM's loss of the chairman's seat. Osmeña, also a member of the board of trustees, did not join the meeting called by Rama for Tuesday, October 6.
Rama earlier explained to news media he was calling the meeting not as trustee but as vice mayor. Asked by SunStar Tuesday, he said he was not assuming the chairmanship of SFI, headed by Pericles Dakay who, Osmeña said, should be the one calling the board meeting.
The VM said he is doing the preparations in his "capacity as designee representing the City Government." He is meeting with "individual members, not a collegial body," Rama said, acknowledging he has no authority to convene the SFI board.
While Osmeña was targeting Rama, Tomas's question about the VM's authority to call an SFI board meeting in effect also revives the unresolved question of the legal authority of the City Government over the foundation, a non-government organization, a private entity.
Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia confirmed that fact. "Actually," he told SunStar, SFI is "independent from the city, it being incorporated under the corporation law." The foundation's website identifies SFI as an NGO.
WHO ARE WITH SFI. SFI's website lists these persons as its officials for the 2020 Sinulog: Mayor Edgardo Labella, over-all chairman, and Engr. Pericles P. Dakay, president and acting chairman. The board members are Tomas Osmeña, Michael Rama, Alfred Go, Edward Gaisano, Frederick K.D. Ong Jr., Engr. Rafaelito Barino, Atty. Augusto Go, Consul Enrique Benedicto and Michel Lhuillier. Councilor David Tumulak is listed as executive committee chairman, with members Elmer "Jojo" Labella, director, and Cinbeth Orellano, project director. (Councilor Tumulak through his office told SunStar Tuesday he resigned from the board last year. The city usually "commits money, manpower and resources," Tumulak said, "that is, if the board will accept again" VM Rama.)
BLURRED LINES. The law is clear but the organizational lines that SFI and the City Government have followed are not.
Cebu City's leaders through the years have deemed Sinulog a part of the City Government. It is a cultural heritage that draws thousands of devotees, enjoys popular support and offers huge opportunity for "a good press," individually for the politicians and collectively for the administration. The city reportedly spends at least P25 million a year for the enterprise.
A city official sits in the board, usually as chairman, and another city official as execom chief to control its activities and fund spending and to benefit from the publicity. But here's the bizarre thing: The city cannot directly give the money to SFI because of conflict of interest, there being city officials in the donee's board. So City Hall itself cashes out funds to people and on activities the SFI has listed. (The list of winners is rushed early Sunday night to City Hall to have the payroll ready the next day.)
Thus when the SGB or governing board was created to check on funds donated to SFI, the squelch was perfect and embarrassing: "What funds? SFI does not receive any cash from the city government."
MAJOR CHANGES. Having designated Rama as the Sinulog "coordinator," Mayor Labella effectively took the wind from Osmeña's objection. Even the SFI, the usual lead group, might be reduced to being one of the stakeholders the vice mayor was authorized to consult. SFI's role would be what Rama would say it is.
That's a logical reading of the developments. Last August 30, Rama had demanded the scrapping of the SGB ("give it the boot"). On September 11, the mayor announced that the governing board would not be "reconvened" this year and its EO would be revoked.
REASON FOR CREATING, DEACTIVATING SGB. City Hall is supposed to create the fiction that its officials have no part in the Sinulog, on which a large amount of public funds is spent. And yet it highlights the role of city officials in the Sinulog, who are highly visible on scene, from preparations to actual staging. And there's the seeming legal incongruity of a City Hall governing board watching over the private group, an NGO.
In announcing that the SGB will no longer be operative this year, Labella justified the move by saying the SGB aimed "to ensure" security measures for the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte and other national officials to Sinulog 2020. But they won't be coming in January next year, he said, so there is no more need for the governing board.
That was not the reason recorded in 2019 by media when the SGB was created: "to properly account for funds" and "for proper and easier coordination of Sinulog activities," the mayor's EO said. Which was why Rama blew up, hoisted the issue involving the City Government's authority over the private corporation and NGO, and resigned as SFI chairman. [Related article: "Seares: What Rama wasn't told: Labella worries over Sinulog funds," August 28, 2019.)
MOST PEOPLE DON'T MIND. Rama must have been appeased and the differences with the mayor over Sinulog threshed out. The vice mayor is back in the Sinulog saddle. And the SGB, which was to be SFI's watchdog, is being taken down.
Besides, SFI has never publicly opposed the control of city officials. The Commission on Audit has looked away as donation of public money, prohibited from being directly given to SFI still benefits SFI via an indirect route.
The public watches, takes part in the festival and hardly complains about any legal abnormality -- unless, maybe, it is shown, along with the visual feast, an extravaganza of corruption or waste.