DILG Cebu City: Only court can decide if Labella is still fit to serve as mayor
CEBU CITY, Philippines — Only a court of law or a court of general jurisdiction can decide if Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella is still fit to function as chief executive.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Cebu City Director Ian Kenneth Lucero said this during the regular session of the Cebu City Council on Wednesday, September 28, 2021.
Lucero was asked by the council members, which agency had the right or power to determine the fitness of an elected official to function in his or her post, following the request of whistleblower, anti-graft and corruption advocate, Crisostomo Saavedra, for the council to investigate the true health of the mayor.
Saavedra said that the mayor must reveal his health status especially after his son, Jaypee, revealed that he suffered a mild stroke last July 2021.
He said that the City Council must determine the fitness of the mayor to function because the transparency of the city government had already been brought to question due to the mayor’s absences.
The DILG Cebu City director said that there was no agency that had the power to determine if a mayor was fit to lead, based on his physical or mental capability, nor does any agency had the power to declare a permanent vacancy of the position on such grounds.
As of now, the mayor is on sick leave, which means that there is a temporary vacancy filled by Vice Mayor Michael Rama in an acting capacity, which allows him to function as a mayor except for the hiring or firing of employees as well as signing of contracts.
This is unless the leave exceeds 30 days. Based on the past leaves of the mayor, Labella has never exceeded the 30-day mark.
“Under the Local Government Code, there is no official or agency of the government who is empowered to make such declaration if you are referring to the physical capacity due to medical reasons. We have an opinion on that from the DILG Central Office, particularly 2010-22, with respect to health reasons or illness, normal course of things will occur whether to resign or file a leave of absence,” said Lucero.
Due to the lack of provision on the Local Government Code, the determination on whether there is a permanent vacancy due to health reasons will necessarily become an adjudicatory matter, which means that a court of law will have to make the decision.
Majority Floor leader, Councilor Raymond Garcia, asked the DILG if there was such precedence to the case, but so far, the agency could not cite one.
Garcia said that at least for Cebu City, there had never been a case where a mayor was removed from office due to physical unfitness.
He said that considering the City Council had no power to do anything about the issue, he instead urged his fellow members to allow Mayor Labella to reveal his condition and his fitness to function on his own time.
Opposition Councilors Nestor Archival, Franklyn Ong, and Alvin Dizon, agreed that it would be improper to impose upon the mayor to divulge personal details of such delicate matters, but they noted that it was a moral responsibility of the mayor to declare to the public his current health status.
“It is his responsibility as the elected mayor of the city, as the father of the city, to show to us that he is still in control, that he is still responsible for Cebu City,” said Councilor Ong, president of the Association of Barangay Councils.
Saavedra, for his part, said that the City Council could choose to investigate the health of the mayor by sending a doctor to check on the actual status of Labella, but the council refused the suggestion as they respected the mayor’s delicate situation.
Instead, Minority Floor Leader, Councilor Nestor Archival, urged Saavedra to file the necessary case in court if he truly wished to question the fitness of the mayor, because only the court could say so.
Still, Ong and Archival is calling for Mayor Labella to appear at the council even outside a formal session just so they could know his current status.
Ong had requested the mayor to meet the Council last August, but the mayor failed to show up during the session.
Archival said he hoped that with this new invitation, the mayor would finally show himself to the city’s constituents and assure the public that their elected mayor was still in control of the city’s affairs.
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