Explainer: Why Barug wants Nina Mabatid to be quiet on ‘ungo’ charge. Or, what damage the councilor may inflict on ruling party.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

A GROUP of stalwarts from Cebu City’s Partido Barug met last Thursday, February 11, on the bombshell exploded last weekend by party member Councilor Prisca Nina Mabatid. The councilor raised these charges:

[1] An unelected and un-appointed person calls the shots at City Hall on hiring and firing of personnel and purchases of anti-Covid goods and services, a shadowy figure whom the councilor calls “ungo” or witch.

[2] Alleged irregularities and anomalies in certain transactions. which the councilor fears could fatally hurt the ruling party.

HOW BAD IS IT FOR BARUG? The mere public complaint against the way City Hall was being run was bad enough. It was headlined in Mabatid’s Facebook post, along with her photo, thus: “Cebu City is a big mess.” The whistleblower of sort is a Barug party member, an elected councilor who was No. 2 top vote-getter in the 2019 elections, one of two Barug bets who survived rival BOPK’s sweep in the city’s north district.

Mabatid’s gripe was that a person wields power in the city government (“nagbuot-buot”) without the mandate of the ballot or a valid appointment. One who was neither elected nor appointed to the City Hall bureaucracy has been calling the shots, the councilor alleged. Abnormal and unlawful delegation of authority but probably not usurpation of anything if it’s being done with the mayor's consent or tolerance.

Still, it misplaces accountability and somehow deceives the electors. The mayor is the person entrusted with the duties and he can be made to answer for fumbles by the “nagpaka-mayor.” But voters may also feel cheated: the person they voted for the office is accused of not running the city with his own decisions.

NINA’s GOODS ON CITY OFFICIALS. Councilor Mabatid hinted of corruption or irregularities, of people becoming rich from dubious transactions. She also took pride in knowing what’s going on in the city government (“Nakahibalo ko everything that happens at City Hall”). Yet she still had to say publicly, “I have the evidence.” That has not yet become a part of her threat.

In an exchange of messages with SunStar and an interview Friday, February 12 with Freeman news editor Fred Languido, she said she had not gone to the Ombudsman’s or prosecutor’s office. Apparently, her knowledge of activities at City Hall does not include having the evidence, the goods, on the erring people whom Mabatid suspects of wrongdoing.

Still, mere accusations from the councilor could seriously hurt Barug in the court of public opinion. Recognizing probable public backlash, she told Languido, “I fear for my party.”

WHAT MABATID WANTS. Barug would have a strong reason to appease Mabatid by removing causes of her grievance. Councilor Mabatid has made clear her complaints:

[1] She has been shut out, she said, from administration operations. Obviously, she wants more than lawmaking. She needs to be inside the loop to serve better. Worse, she said, they’ve blocked her personal attempts to serve her constituents.

Asking for “part of the action” is seen by some naughty City Hall watchers as wanting to share with the money or the credit for the dole-outs from City Hall.

Clearly too, she wants to show by her public denunciation that she had “nothing to do” with the alleged failures (“mga palpak”) of the administration.

[2] The councilor calls for the removal of the “ungo” or, short of that, the stop to his meddling in City Hall activities, his what she tags as “power-tripping.” In some cases, the councilor indicated, the “witch” would overrule the mayor’s decision.

WHY IT CAME TO THIS. The councilor said she had reported her complaints to the mayor and her party colleagues, some of whom she had earlier branded “dummies” of the “witch.” That was before the day she was “really angry, frustrated and disappointed,” which prompted her to post her “big mess” accusation on FB.

She told SunStar that Barug party members agreed in last Thursday’s meeting to “fix the problem and start anew.” She said the party can regroup and mend fences for the next elections.

What if the party answer wouldn’t meet her demands?

She didn’t say but earlier she said she was risking her membership in the party and her slot in the 2022 elections, which is the vice mayorship or the bid for north district House seat.

She was prepared, she said, to lose her political career but not her life or the safety of her family. “I am watching (the City Hall goings-on),” Mabatid said, “for the city taxpayers,” ominously adding, “namiligrong mahurot na ang kwarta at the end of the year.”

VM RAMA IN SAME STRAITS. Asked in the Languido interview why Vice Mayor Mike Rama had not acted on her situation in the party, the councilor said Rama is in the same plight: “pareha mi’g hinanakit.” Meaning, Rama was also out of executive department operations. At about the same February 5-7 weekend, the vice mayor also publicly confronted Mayor Labella on the state of the mayor’s health – and fell silent on the issue as he began working as vaccines top convenor.

The mayor’s health was also why Mabatid had not pushed and pressed the mayor on the ‘ungo” problem. Worried over Labella’s health, she addressed him directly, saying, “Get well mayor, so you can finally solve this.” Barug has about a year to shape up for the next elections.