DOES the government have the authority to waive requirements during national emergencies? Can the government set aside bureaucracy in an emergency and exigency? I pose these questions following the brouhaha on the development of a public cemetery in the mountain barangay of Guba, which is questioned by both critics and political allies of Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella.
An example of bureaucracy is the stuff that runs a city hall. Bureaucracy is defined as working in a way that has many steps to complete a task in a very strict order and under some rules. Bureaucracy provides needed administrative functions, such as conducting examinations, issuing permits and licenses and collecting fees. But bureaucracy has its drawbacks. A rigid bureaucracy in time reduces efficiency in comparison to organizations without large bureaucracies.
An emergency is defined as a “serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.” Exigency is an urgent need or demand.
Government’s crisis response must account for situational urgency and consider short- and long-term perspective. The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus call on government to act in ways normally reserved for war, depression and natural disasters. Governments must take bolder measures to cap the human cost to its limit and stifle economic disruption.
Because of the shortage of public cemeteries in the city due to the massive deaths from Covid-19, the City Government is developing a three-hectare lot in Barangay Guba. The site is the same as the cemetery government donated to the city’s Muslim community during the time of “has-been” mayor Tomas Osmeña. But Labella’s critics and allies questioned the project because it commenced without the authority from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to cut trees on the site. It has no environmental compliance certificate and a public hearing among affected residents, especially since the area is protected, was not held.
Vice Mayor Mike Rama, in his privilege speech during a especial session on Friday, July 10, 2020, criticized the administration for creating the project without necessary permits. “It’s a case of putting the cart before the horse,” Rama described the move. He also called for an immediate investigation. The opposition camp was having a “field day,” lambasting the mayor on social media.
We are in an emergency situation because of this health crisis. City Councilor Dave Tumulak, who was designated by the mayor to oversee the project, said that indeed there is a shortage of cemeteries in the city and it must be addressed by opening a new cemetery or else we will be confronted with the same problem in the near future. In an interview with this columnist over radio dySS, Tumulak revealed that there have been many deaths due to Covid-19 that were not even recorded on the City Health Department scoreboard. He knows this because he is on the ground, being involved in the disaster efforts.
Tumulak urged his colleagues in the City Council that instead of further debating on the matter and worrying about bureaucracy, they do something to address the problem. They have been coordinating with other government agencies concerned. I agree with Dave. Prolonging the project because of bureaucratic red tape and politicking within their group will not help.
More people, especially the poor, will suffer if their relatives die because of Covid-19. They cannot afford cremation, which costs P100,000, and the bodies set for cremation have been piling up at the three funeral parlors that have crematoriums.
If, in emergencies like these, we can waive and set aside Commission on Audit rules and regulations on bidding so government can engage in direct purchases, why can’t they waive bureaucracy? The government can even take over private entities and utilities during national emergencies. The State has the inherent power of eminent domain, which is the power of the State to take over private property for public use. Section 9, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution states: “No private property shall be taken for public use without just compensation.”