Brushing aside fears that it could be a case of trying to buy the votes of the elderly and the differently abled, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama vowed to release the city’s financial aid to senior citizens and persons with disability (PWDs) this month whether or not the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will view it as a prohibited act during the election period.
“Obviously (we have to push through). Ngano masangit man ta? Undang na lang tag trabaho? (Why would there be a snag? Let’s just stop working, if that’s the case),” Rama said, adding that incumbent officials have a job to do which is to enact City Ordinance 2417 better known as the 2015 annual budget.
“That will have to be released. There’s a law, an ordinance,” Rama said of the P15,000 annual assistance for senior citizens and the P5,000 yearly aid for PWDs which are to be released in tranches.
“Masuko man gani ang mga seniors nga dili monthly, (The senior citizens are even angry that the releases are not done monthly),” Rama told reporters yesterday.
“If not, the Comelec should be the one paying for the maintenance medicines of senior citizens in the city,” the mayor said.
Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code prohibits any person from giving offers or money or anything of value, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate.
For Cebu City Councilor Sisinio Andales, a member of the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) and a staunch critic of Rama, the distribution, if done within the local campaign period, would unfairly work to Rama’s favor in the coming polls.
“Impliedly, we can say that he can influence the voters during the local election period. Iya nang pahimuslan. Unya moanha ang mga candidates sa Team Rama, mapahimuslanon sa higayon. Gamiton ang resources sa gobyerno (He will take advantage of that and Team Rama candidates will also ride on it using government resources),” Andales said.
Andales suggested that instead of rushing the release in April, the distribution should be done after the elections so that Rama could not use this to his political advantage.
Unperturbed by the comments, Rama said that he has sought the legal opinion of City Attorney Jerone Castillo just for “formality” but will push through with the distribution no matter what.
“In my own opinion, I can’t see any reason why it should not be released. These are all continuing responsibilities covered by an ordinance. It’s contractual. This belongs to seniors and PWDs,” said Rama, a lawyer himself.
In a talk with CDN, Castillo said that he will still have to review the issue of the fund releases in relation to Comelec guidelines.
During the first distribution last February, more than 67,000 senior residents of Cebu City received P2,000 out of the annual assistance while around 10,000 PWDs received P1,000 from the yearly aid.
The same amount is set for release anytime this April.
Meanwhile, Cebu City North District Election Officer Atty. Marchel Sarno said that it would be up to the Comelec central office in Manila to decide on whether the city’s assistance is covered by the election ban.
“We don’t decide on that. It will be the (Comelec) Campaign Finance Office in Manila. We will just forward their inquiry next week,” he told CDN.
Earlier, Cebu City Treasurer Diwa Cuevas asked the local Comelec office if such releases can be allowed but also readied the payroll for the seniors and PWDs while awaiting instructions from the mayor.
For her part, Cebu City Councilor Margot Osmeña of BO-PK said: “He’s the mayor, so let him do what he wants to do.”
Asked if she considers the aid as a form of campaigning or vote-buying by Rama, Osmeña said: “They do it in many other forms anyway.”
The distribution, which will be handled by the different City Hall department heads, will be done simultaneously in each of the city’s 80 barangays, said City Administrator Lucelle Mercado. Those failing to get their aid within the scheduled date (to be announced later) can claim it at City Hall within 15 days.
“It will be the same. It’s proven to be very efficient and I don’t think it’s fair to say it will be used for politicking. There won’t be a difference in the way of giving it last time and now. It will be disadvantageous to change the process,” Mercado told CDN.
Meanwhile, Cebu City village chiefs will receive their incentives from the city government on Monday, according to Rama.
The barangay captains will each receive P15,000 for the entire first quarter while barangay councilors and barangay secretaries/treasurers will get P9,000 and P3,000 respectively.
Rama made the announcement during yesterday’s first quarterly assembly of the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) – Cebu City Chapter at Bayfront Hotel.
Cuevas believes that the barangay incentive is not included in the Comelec ban since it falls within the category of an honorarium and not a financial assistance.