‘REFUND HAS NO IMPACT’
Case vs. Rama up for resolution; Team Rama insists calamity aid is valid
Rumors on the possible issuance of another suspension order against suspended Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama prompted former councilor Jocelyn Pesquera to refund the P20,000 calamity aid that the mayor received in December 2013.
Pesquera, who is running for councilor under Team Rama, handed the amount to the City Treasurer’s Office on January 8, sparking criticisms that her actions ran counter to the suspended mayor’s position that the calamity assistance was valid.
Lawyer Reymelio Delute, who is identified with Rama’s archrival former mayor Tomas Osmeña, said Pesquera’s payment would not affect the outcome of the administrative case that he filed against Rama, Acting Mayor Edgardo Labella and 12 city councilors over the distribution of the calamity assistance.
The case for grave abuse of authority and grave misconduct against the city officials, which the Department of Interior and Local Government heard last year, is up for resolution.
Delute said a decision might be released anytime.
Based on procedure, hearing officer Isidro Barrios III has to resolve the case within 90 days. He wrapped up the investigation last month.
City Hall lawyers are now in ruckus on how to deal with the situation.
Rama’s allies in the city council said they will not return their share of the calamity aid, saying there’s no reason to, because its release was valid.
Councilor Nendell Abella said he would feel “demoralized” if he finds out that Rama authorized the payment made by Pesquera.
“I will maintain my stand that the calamity assistance is valid. The resolution and ordinance that we have passed has the presumption of regularity. If ever the mayor has knowledge of the return of the P20,000, (it) will surely demoralize us,” he said.
Abella and councilors Dave Tumulak and Noel Wenceslao said there is no reason for them to also return the P20,000 calamity assistance that they each received.
“I maintain on my stand that there was regularity in giving calamity assistance to our employees. Besides, wala koy ikauli kay dako kog gasto pagpaayo sa balay sa katong earthquake (I don’t have anything to return because I spent a lot when I had to repair my house after the earthquake),” Wenceslao said.
Rama has repeatedly denied knowledge of the cash payment.
“I already made (a statement), there’s nothing to talk about. I did not make any payment. Hence, any payment made is void ab initio and it does not carry any recognition from me,” Rama said in an interview with reporters.
He said he no longer wanted to discuss the matter. He wanted to attend to his other commitments “as if nothing happened.”
A photograph of a receipt issued by the City Treasurer’s Office to Michael L. Rama is posted on Facebook. The receipt was issued on January 8, after payment of P20,000 cash.
Pesquera said she decided on her own to return the P20,000 on behalf of Rama, her former boyfriend.
The suspended mayor had no knowledge about it, she added. They met briefly for lunch on Wednesday but did not discuss the matter.
Pesquera said that since councilors allied with the Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BO-PK) already returned their share of the calamity assistance, returning Rama’s share would place the suspended mayor “on equal footing” with his critics.
“There’s no reason that they will treat Mayor Rama differently from the other respondents that are members of BO-PK. My point is if the officials are responsible, there should be no selective justice,” she said in a private message.
Pesquera said she sent a private message last week to an account owned by DILG Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento about the return of the cash aid. There has been no reply from Sarmiento.
She also suspected that her messaged leaked especially since DILG Undersecretary Bimbo Fernandez is a Liberal Party ally and was appointed city administrator during the incumbency of former mayor Tomas Osmeña.
Frustrated, Pesquera said she decided to just refund Rama’s share of the calamity assistance.
“It’s not a collective discussion with Team Rama. The decision was really my decision. I’m taking responsibility for it. It was a discreet move on my part, supposedly no one should know,” she said.
Pesquera, a lawyer, said she was well aware that the refund she made would not affect the outcome of the DILG investigation.
“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really affect the stand of the city government because I’m not a city official. I’m a private citizen. It couldn’t affect. I’m not appearing as a counsel to them.
There’s no bearing to the case,” she said.
She does not intend to take back the P20,000 cash payment to CTO despite the controversy it created.
When asked why she paid only for Rama’s share and not for the other Team Rama councilors’, Pesquera said she only had P20,000 then.
Delute said City Hall lawyers are well aware that the cash refund could “jeopardize” the motion which they earlier filed to seek reconsideration of the audit findings that declared the release of the calamity assistance as irregular and highly questionable.
“Moingon sila nga regular ang ilang pagdawat sa calamity assistance unya karon iya nang iuli? Inconsistent na siya. Madaot ang ilang MR (motion for reconsideration) ana,” said Delute.
On the other hand, Delute said government lawyers could also use Pesquera’s payment as a basis in filing for reconsideration should DILG convict Rama of the administrative case.
“If convicted, he could always say he already returned the money,” Delute added.
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