ILOILO City – Seven members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) are taking legal steps against eight others for passing a resolution declaring Iloilo City under a state of calamity despite the lack of quorum and insufficiency of grounds.
The complainants – Vice Mayor Jeffrey Ganzon, councilors Julie Grace “Love-Love” Baronda, Ely Estante, Armand Parcon, Jose Efrain “Jay” Treñas, Irene Ong, and Leila Luntao – have written a letter to Mayor Jose Espinosa III and all department heads informing them that their eight colleagues violated Republic Act 10121 for deliberately using false and inflated data in support of request for funding.
The eight respondents – councilors Joshua Alim, Plaridel Nava, R Leone Gerochi, Eduardo Peñaredondo, Candice Tupas, Mandrie Malabor, Liezl Joy Salazar, and Lydon Acap – participated in a special session called by Mayor Espinosa on April 26 declaring the city under a state of calamity.
The complainants recalled that the eight councilors passed a “substantially infirm and substantially lacking” resolution declaring a state of calamity in the city, alleging that 20 percent of the population were affected and in need of assistance; that there was widespread destruction of agricultural products and livestock; and that there was disruption of such lifelines as electricity, potable water and communications facilities, among others.
The complainants cited the following grounds for opposing:
First, only four out of 180 barangays sought assistance from the city government for water. The four barangays had a population of only 28,211 or only 5.97 percent of the city’s total population of 472,491.
Second, only 4.88 percent or 18.5 hectares out of 379 hectares of land were affected by water scarcity.
Third, there was no disruption of water system that could not be restored in 24 hours.
Fourth, the Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) had not found drastic shortage of water supply to warrant a declaration of a state of calamity.
Fifth, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) had not made a recommendation to declare the city under a stage of calamity.
Sixth, the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, in its April 22, 2019 meeting, reported, “In the absence of documents from the barangays declaring a state of calamity, it becomes difficult and challenging to declare a state of calamity. Evidence such as barangay resolution is a strong support to this.”
Republic Act 10121 prohibits deliberately using false and inflated data in support of request for emergency assistance. The law states that “violators shall be prosecuted and upon conviction shall suffer a fine not exceeding P500,000 or imprisonment, including perpetual disqualification from public office.”
The vice mayor and the six councilors noted that if the resolution results in the release of funds sought for, the erring councilors, the mayor, the treasurer and other department heads concerned may be punished accordingly.
The six councilors and the vice mayor, who were on leave when the special session was called, also questioned the existence of a quorum or simple majority of the 15-member council. There were eight in attendance, including a temporary presiding officer (Gerochi) who should not have voted, they said.
The vote of Gerochi could therefore not be legally validated, they said, thus the remaining seven votes cast in favor of the declaration were insufficient to comprise a majority of eight.
The complainants questioned the validity of the special session itself, calling it “null and void” because they had not been served a written notice.
They argued that since there was no factual basis to declare the city under a state of calamity, the only obvious intent of the resolution was to access and disburse the calamity funds.
“A simple reading of Comelec Resolution 10429 in relation to Section 261, 263 and 264 of Batas Pambansa 881,” they wrote in their complaint, “shows that during the election period, it is considered an election offense to release government funds.”
Iloilo City has P115 million in local disaster risk reduction and management (LDRRM) funds.
The complaining city officials are represented by five lawyers, namely Leo Sombiro, Cirilo Yuro Jr., Joseph Edward Areño, Victor Decida, and Ruben Torres./PN