Cebu City mayor returns to work after 60-day suspension
CEBU CITY, Philippines – After a 60-day preventive suspension, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama returned to work on Monday, February 8, but still facing other administrative complaints before the local government department.
Rama was suspended by Malacañang last December 9 over an administrative complaint by Barangay Labangon chairperson Victor Buendia, who accused him of unlawfully ordering the demolition of the barangay's center island and street lighting project.
The case is still pending with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), but proceedings will be halted due to a ban on administrative investigations during the election period, which started on January 10.
"The most important thing I've learned [during the suspension] is that you do not need to have an official role to serve," Rama told Rappler in a phone interview on Monday, upon his return to city hall.
Rama is seeking re-election against former Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña, whom he defeated in 2013.
Rama stressed that "during the time I was suspended, I was not hiding. Because there is a saying that the wicked will flee. But I'm innocent, so I have to be as bold as a lion."
This is the latest of several complaints lodged against Rama's administration.
In another administrative complaint pending with the DILG, Rama is accused of grave misconduct and abuse of authority over the release of P84 million to government employees – P20,000 each – in the aftermath of back-to-back disasters that hit the central Philippines in 2013.
Last January, the Ombudsman dropped 2 cases against Rama.
The first complaint was filed by a businesswoman in Barangay Apas, who accused Rama and other city officials of grave coercion and unjust fixation when he ordered her repair shop for jeepneys closed.
The other was filed by chairperson Antonio Caruzca of Barangay Pahina San Nicolas. He accused Rama of not turning over to him a government-issued vehicle meant for his village. Instead, the mayor gave the Toyota Hilux to John Paul Go, a councilor in the same barangay.
Rama said that the vehicle was issued to Go because he chaired the anti-illegal drugs committee, for whose operations the vehicle was assigned.
No more suspensions
While Rama and his allies said they wouldn't be surprised if more complaints would be filed by his opponents, he can no longer be suspended if cases would be filed after the election period began on January 10.
Under the Commission on Elections' rules, officials cannot be suspended after this date. (READ: What are not allowed when election period starts January 10)
Despite being suspended, Rama was active in helping organize the Sinulog festival and preparing the city for the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), which took place last January 24 to 31.
Rama was a member of the ruling Liberal Party until he joined the opposition party United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2012. Rama is UNA’s regional coordinator in Cebu as well.
Rama's return to office coincided with the launch of the 79th Cebu City Charter Day activities.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma presided over a thanksgiving Mass, which was held at Plaza Sugbo, outside of Cebu City Hall.
In his address to city hall employees, Rama thanked his supporters and officials who stood by him and city legal officer Jerone Castillo, who is a part of his defense team along with his son Mikel Rama.
Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgar Labella also updated the mayor with a progress report from his 60 days as acting mayor of the city.
"You can already smell the stench of political harassment and deceit no matter how much they deodorize and justify the reason for Mayor Rama's suspension," said UNA spokesperson Mon Ilagan last December.
Rama is running against former mayor Tomas Osmeña who is aligned with the Liberal Party (LP).
Previously, Rama served as vice mayor from 2001 to 2010 while Osmeña was mayor.
Rama ran against Osmeña for mayor and won during the 2013 elections.
Rama said although he never really stopped working, "I look forward to working not as the suspended mayor, but the serving mayor."
"I'm home sweet home," Rama said. "I am looking forward to all the projects I have envisioned before my term." – Rappler.com