April 17, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

A remark made by Baguio Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan, telling his colleagues at the city council to go to court if they have issues with how he interprets their internal rules and procedures (IRP) on the reorganization of standing committees, has resulted in the latter filing a petition seeking to prevent the reorganization pending resolution of what constitutes a majority vote.

The petition for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and subsequently a permanent injunction filed by Councilors Elmer Datuin, Mylen Yaranon, Betty Lourdes Tabanda, Vladimir Cayabas, Benny Bomogao, Leandro Yañgot Jr., and Rocky Aliping stemmed from the decision made by the city council in its Jan. 29, 2024 session, with eight voting in favor and seven against the reorganization of committees.

The discussion centered on how many votes would constitute a majority vote based on the IRP.

Olowan has consulted with Secretary to the Sanggunian Brenner Bengwayan who said that based on the IRP, a majority vote should be nine computed as: 15 members/two plus one or 7.5 + one = 8.5 rounded off to nine.

With this interpretation of the secretary, Olowan ruled that the motion to reorganize cannot proceed due to failure to obtain the majority vote of nine.

In its Feb. 5 session, Olowan withdrew his declaration in their Jan. 29 session and said the reorganization may proceed as the majority vote of eight has been obtained.

The reorganization took place during the council’s Feb. 12 session with Tabanda and Datuin retaining their committee chairmanship. Aliping also retained his chairmanship by virtue of his being the sectoral representative for barangays, but joined in filing the petition as support to his colleagues.

Cabayas is still the chair of the committee on education but on a holdover capacity only.

Olowan is still chair of the committee on appropriations and on holdover as chair of the committee on ethics, governmental affairs and personnel.

Yangot does not have a committee. 

Yaranon is now the committee chair on cooperatives, livelihood and persons with disability; Bomogao was nominated to head the committee on peace and order. But in a letter to Bengwayan dated Feb. 14, the councilor said he is not accepting his nomination.

The seven councilors abstained from participating in the nomination and election of committee chair. On Feb. 14, they also submitted a manifestation to the vice mayor asking for a status quo.

The manifestation was an offshoot of the memorandum dated Feb. 13 addressed to the committee chairmen by Bengwayan about their selection of members of their committees.   

In their petition, the seven councilors said Olowan’s act is invalid on grounds that he cannot, on his own, withdraw an earlier decision of the council, which voted to retain the current composition of the standing committees. They said based on Section 22 of their IRP, withdrawal of an earlier action should have been through a motion for reconsideration.

The motion for reconsideration may be done by the party that has the bigger vote but this should be done during the same session. 

The seven councilors added that Olowan has committed abuse of authority and grave abuse of discretion for declaring a vacancy in the chairmanship of the committees despite their position that the IRP should be followed.

In a phone interview, Olowan belied allegation of him abusing his discretion as presiding officer of the city council. 

Olowan told the Midland Courier the reorganization was in order and is based on Supreme Court decisions, an opinion of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, as well as the opinion of Councilor Peter Fianza, former chair of the committee on laws, now chair of the committee on lands.

Olowan cited the Javier vs. Codiao, Santiago vs. Guingona, La Carlota City vs. Rex Rojo cases and DILG Opinion 13 s. 2010, which all ruled about what constitutes a majority vote.

The vice mayor said these prevail over their IRP. 

He added the reorganization was not because he was flexing his authority as alleged, but the Sanggunian’s response to complaints they have been receiving that some committees have delayed or have not been acting on concerns referred to them.

Olowan said a motion for reconsideration was not necessary filed as his action was a mere correction of the erroneous interpretation of the city council secretary that a majority vote is nine.

During the council’s Feb. 12 session, Olowan urged the seven councilors to withdraw, saying the court’s denial of their petition to issue a temporary restraining order indicates that the issue is beyond the court’s jurisdiction, as it involves the political question doctrine or matters within the discretion of the city council only. 

The seven councilors pursued their case, saying Olowan’s decision will impact not just the present but even future actions of the present and future city council.

“What constitutes a majority vote is a justiciable matter,” Tabanda said in their Feb. 12 session.

Justiciable matters are issues that may be decided by the court.

Even as Olowan and the seven councilors are at odds, they said they will continue to render their duty to the public.

“It will not affect me; I will continue to be an impartial presiding officer,” Olowan said.

The seven councilors added their filing the petition is not personal as a court decision would at least put to rest an endless debate among them.

The court, meanwhile, directed the parties to submit a position paper by Feb. 16.