Seares: Mayor Rama vetoes ordinance granting Cebu City Council power to investigate 'in aid of legislation' and power of subpoena and contempt. Author de los Santos says rejection impairs transparency accountability, will seek to over-ride veto.

CEBU City Mayor Mike Rama has directly vetoed the ordinance that grants the City Council the power to conduct inquiries with the power of subpoena and contempt, saying it is (1) "ultra vires" or outside the authority of the Sanggunian and (2) "prejudicial to public welfare."

REASONS FOR VETO. Ordinance #2673 (series of 2022), authored by Councilor Mary Ann de los Santos, was received by the mayor on January 9, 2023 and was returned to the City Council last January 19. The mayor's return of the ordinance within 10 days from its approval by the Sanggunian, with an explanation of his objections, is a direct veto.

Councilor de los Santos (BOPK) -- who expressed glee when the ordinance was approved by the City Council on final reading on her birthday on December 21, 2022 -- told me Tuesday, January 24, she will "seek to over-ride the veto," which requires a two-thirds vote.

OUTSIDE SANGGUNIAN AUTHORITY? The ordinance is not "ultra vires," de los Santos said, noting that the mayor refused to apply Section 14 of the Cebu City Charter (Republic Act 3857), which grants the City Council "the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and compel the production of books, papers and other evidence."

Mayor Rama mentioned the City Charter, along with the Local Government Code, when he said he was "constrained to exercise his veto power." On "ultra vires" as basis for decision, he cited the Constitution and the Local Government Code, saying there's "no specific provision" in them that grants the power.

PREJUDICE TO PUBLIC WELFARE. The "very essence of the ordinance," the councilor said, "is to be transparent and accountable." She asked, "How can the clamor for transparency and accountability be prejudicial to public welfare?"

The mayor's second reason for the veto stressed that "we as public servants are strictly bound to observe the parameters laid out in the Constitution on the right of any and all persons," among them "the right against self-incrimination."

Picking on that specific right, de los Santos said the right against self-incrimination cannot be "invoked" because the ordinance (section 10, E) provides that "all statements/testimonies given by any witness shall be considered privileged communication."

CHANGES NOT ENOUGH. To Mayor Rama and his lawyers, the tweaking of the ordinance before its passage was not enough. The changes included: changing the title, with the focus shifted to "inquiries in aid of legislation" and keeping off the contempt power, with the City Council charging the violator with the court, instead of directly punishing the disobedience.

WILL COUNCILORS REBUFF MIKE? When the City Council approved the ordinance, there was no objection. It passed the committee on laws and styling and was approved by the "entire legislative body," said de los Santos. It was no secret that two majority Barug stalwarts -- Councilor Rey Gealon, who heads the laws committee, and Councilor Joy Pesquera, the majority floor leader -- helped in revising the ordinance so it could hurdle the legal obstacle.

But would it get the same support from the majority now that Mayor Rama has made his objection clear through the direct veto? Could the Barug councilors who dominate the City Council rebuff the mayor?

De los Santos cannot rely solely on her colleagues in the minority, whose total number of votes, even if no one skips the session, cannot reach the two-thirds majority vote required to over-ride the veto. BOPK has only six votes (four generally elected plus two "non-partisan") against 12.

SUPREME COURT RULING. What is not mentioned in the mayor's veto or the author's comment on the veto is the 1987 ruling of the Supreme Court in Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative vs. Sangguniang Panlungsod of Dumaguete City, which establishes this principle: Delegated power cannot be delegated. The power of contempt cannot be implied from the Sanggunian power to legislate. Local legislative bodies cannot be like Congress, which is "sui generis" or a class by itself.

Lawyers at City Hall, including Councilor Gealon, knew the legal obstacle the ordinance needed to hurdle but welcomed it still as a possible challenge to the principle that, they believe, denies LGUs the power they need to do their job.

Councilor de los Santos in her comment on the veto said the Sanggunian "could have tested the waters" in the exercise of legislative power. The mayor apparently has stopped them from wading in.