RAMA, COMEBACK KID?
Former mayor floated to replace Abella in City Council
Is the political comeback of former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama going to be earlier than expected?
Some barangay officials in Cebu City reportedly wanted the former mayor to replace City Councilor Nendell Hanz Abella who officially tendered his resignation on Thursday afternoon.
Abella took his oath as the new commissioner of the 7th Division of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) after his appointment was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia of Barug Team Rama said in a press briefing on Thursday that Rama was among the names being floated to take over the council seat vacated by Abella, a councilor representing the south district.
“It’s true. His (Rama’s) name came out in one of our consultative meetings with barangay officials,” he said.
Councilor Philip Zafra, president of the Association of Barangay Councils in Cebu City, said in a separate interview that at least 10 barangay captains and councilors wanted Rama to be the replacement of Abella.
“Excited lang sila nga mabalik sa panerbisyo si mayor. Experience-wise, maayo man sad niya pagdala ang syudad (Village officials were excited that the former mayor would go back to public service. Experience-wise, he managed the city well),” he told Cebu Daily News.
Rama lost to Mayor Tomas Osmeña in last year’s elections.
While he has a pending election protest before the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Rama has been busy with civic activities and has just been elected as president of Rotary Club of Cebu – Guadalupe.
When sought for comment, Rama opted to play coy on the prospect of returning to the position that he first held when he joined politics in 1992.
“I never entertained that idea (of becoming a councilor). I’m proud that they’re thinking about it. But ako man na gitan-aw (I looked at it). Being there, will it guarantee continuous majority? Wala gihapon (There’s none),” he said.
Asked if he already closed his doors on the possibility of becoming a councilor, Rama replied, “Wala na gani ta mo-entertain, unsa pa ma’y i-close (I have not entertained the idea, so what is there to close my doors to)?”
“(What’s important is) we will be discussing it as a party. And I have never entertained that idea,” he said, laughing.
While Abella belonged to the local party Barug Team Rama when he ran and was elected councilor, his official party affiliation was United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), according to Marchel Sarno, Cebu City north district election officer.
He stressed that Abella’s replacement must be recommended by UNA, which was formed by former vice president Jejomar Binay to carry his presidential bid. Binay, however, lost to President Duterte.
The list would then be forwarded to the Office of the President, which would pick among the recommended names.
While Rama may want to play coy, he actually has the biggest say on who would be nominated, being the head of UNA in Central Visayas.
While the Barug Team Rama councilors ran under UNA, they had already shifted their political alliance when they joined the ruling party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
Rama remained with UNA not because he was loyal to the dwindling political party but because the PDP-Laban would not take him in after President Duterte accused him of being a drug protector — an allegation that the former mayor strongly denied.
He was supposed to join his allies, led by Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella, in jumping to PDP-Laban but was not included by the party’s officials following his inclusion in the President’s list of alleged drug protectors and narco-politicians.
And this may also be the reason why Rama could not be chosen as Abella’s replacement, said Councilor Sisinio Andales of the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK), Team Rama’s rival party.
“The President will not sign Mike Rama’s replacement of Hanz. He was pronounced by Digong two times as an alleged drug protector. I don’t think he will be able to replace Hanz,” Andales said in a separate press conference with BO-PK councilors on Thursday afternoon.
Aside from Rama, other names being floated were Inayawan Barangay Captain Lutherlee “Lotlot” Ignacio-Soon and Renato “Junjun” Osmeña Jr., who both ran for councilors in the 2016 elections but failed to make it to the Magic 8. They were the only Barug Team Rama councilors who lost in the south district.
Both Soon and Osmeña expressed willingness to be Abella’s replacement and would wait for the party decision.
Rama said the group would formally meet on September 21 to discuss the recommendation. “It’s a party matter and we will discuss it as a party in a party meeting,” he said.
Abella handed his resignation letter to Labella at 4:35 p.m. on Thursday. It was approved by the vice mayor.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the Cebu City constituency during the last four years. I have enjoyed working with my peers and appreciate the support provided by the Cebu City Government during my tenure. And now, I look forward to championing labor rights for the people of Visayas,” read his letter.
His resignation was effective immediately.
Abella had taken his oath before NLRC 7th Division Presiding Commissioner Violeta Bantug last Wednesday and was expected to attend the NLRC en banc sessions next week.
Abella started his political career when he ran and won as city councilor for the south district under Team Rama in 2013. He was with Barug Team Rama when he sought a second term in 2016. He, however, left the party to join the BO-PK, headed by Rama’s rival, Mayor Tomas Osmeña.
Abella said he was thankful to his “classmates” in the City Council whom he had worked with for the past four years.
“Hopefully, they understand that I have to move to the next chapter of my life. For a lawyer, one of the things I want is to be able to pen decisions. With this opportunity in the NLRC, it’s really a dream come true for me,” said Abella, 47.
He said he was not closing his doors to Cebu City politics and would continue to attend to some activities in City Hall.
Councilor Margarita Osmeña, the council’s majority floor leader, wished Abella well.
“He will excel in whatever he does. He will always be a part of our family as long as he wants to be. You cannot stop a person’s dream. We’ll miss him,” she said.
Osmeña refused to comment on the possibility that her husband’s bitter political archrival would replace Abella.
“It’s their choice,” she said.
There is now an equal number of BO-PK and Barug Team Rama councilors in the City Council now that Abella had resigned — eight on each side.
But Barug Team Rama enjoys the upper hand because party member Labella is the presiding officer, who votes to break the tie.
Osmeña said they do not plan to relinquish their hold over the council’s committee chairmanships.
“As of now, it’s equal. There’s no majority and no minority. We won’t relinquish yet because they’re not the majority. If we relinquish, that’s abandoning our responsibilities,” she said.
Councilors Garcia and Jose Daluz III of Barug Team Rama said they would not yet insist on being a majority in the City Council.
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