What’s keeping San Pedro City Vice Mayor Divina 'Ina' Olivarez, chairperson of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, from upholding the will of the people in implementing the successive orders handed down by national government agencies to let Councilors Iryne Vierneza and Marion Acierto take their office?
Misplaced insistence on “upholding” the law can result in reduced representation in the city council of the city of San Pedro, Laguna, which national government agencies are now inclined to protect.
At least two national agencies – the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) – has moved to halt a continued bid by the city government of San Pedro to deny two councilors who won in the May 2022 elections the chance to perform their duties as duly-elected members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod.
With these new developments, some sectors are now asking, what’s keeping Vice Mayor Divina “Ina” Olivarez, the chairperson of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, from implementing the successive orders handed down by government agencies to let Councilors Iryne Vierneza and Marion Acierto take their office?
Political analysts believe that in refusing to let the issue “run its course,” Vice Mayor Olivarez may be eroding public trust and confidence in the local government as she has blocked the will of the people who voted for the two councilors.
Not only that, this action of Olivarez has also negated the calls of the city government for local officials to “forget” political rivalries and unite in the city government’s bid to make San Pedro City “Una sa Laguna,” critics are now charging.
Last Monday, February 13, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc, in its Minute Resolution No. 23-0018, denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the city government against an earlier resolution ordering the Sangguniang Panlungsod to allow Councilors Vierneza and Acierto to take their positions at the city council.
The motion for reconsideration filed by the city government stemmed from Minute Resolution No. 22-1002, issued by the Comelec, which allocated 12 seats for the Sangguniang Panlungsod.
The city government, notably, hasn’t budged from its narrow legalistic view that only Congress, not Comelec, has the power to change the charter of San Pedro City on which it based the number of councilors.
In its motion for reconsideration, the city government even accused Comelec of “blatant, bold and brazen encroachment” (take note, these words were italicized on the motion) upon the power "exclusively reposed upon Congress" to amend City Charter.
It should be also noted that the Sangguniang Panlungsod, in a special session last December 23, 2022, passed Resolution No. 2022-307, authorizing the city government to "commence and initiate" necessary legal actions assailing Comelec Minute Resolution No. 22-1002 and "to sign all pleadings and documents as may be necessary to uphold and defend the charter of the City of San Pedro.”
Notably, Councilors Leslie Lu, Bernadeth Olivares and Lonlon Ambayec did not attend the special session.
As if that isn’t enough victory for the two councilors, a letter purporting to be from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ordered its regional office in Calabarzon to implement the Comelec ruling.
In the letter that is now making the rounds of social media in San Pedro City, DILG Undersecretary for External, Legal and Legislative Affairs Atty. Juan Victor Llamas ordered DILG – Calabarzon Regional Director Ariel Iglesia to "ensure that the proclaimed two additional candidates in the Sangguniang Panlungsod of [San Pedro City] Laguna assume their respective positions and receive the compensations and benefits appurtenant thereto."
In that letter, DILG quoted the Comelec resolution, saying that the city government cannot use the city charter as justification for its argument that Comelec has no legal authority to increase the number of San Pedro City's Sangguniang Panlungsod.
"From the time the City of San Pedro solely comprised the First Legislative District of the Province of Laguna, R.A. No. 6636, as amended, came into play in the absence of a contrary provision in the Charter of the City of San Pedro, thereby increasing the number of seats of the elective Sangguniang Panlungsod members of the City of San Pedro from ten to twelve," the DILG added.
As of press time, OpinYon Laguna has yet to receive a reply from the San Pedro City Legal Office to its queries regarding the latest Comelec resolution and the DILG order.
Up To Vice Mayor
Sources told OpinYon Laguna that the ball is now on Vice Mayor Olivarez’s court to implement the Comelec ruling, in order to ensure the fair representation of San Pedronians who voted for the two councilors.
“Na kay Vice Mayor Ina na po kung ia-uphold niya ang resolution na ito ng Comelec o magmamatigas pa rin sila sa kanilang legal viewpoint,” these sources said.
“Nasa kanya po kasi ang kapangyarihan para ipatupad ang naturang mga resolusyon, and this is also her chance na rin to refute accusations na nagiging sunud-sunuran na ang Sangguniang Panlungsod sa kasalukuyang administrasyon.”
Councilor Acierto herself wasn’t subtle, even tagging the vice mayor on her recent Facebook post regarding the issue.
“We are calling out City Vice Mayor Divina ‘Ina’ Olivarez, to PLEASE help resolve this legal issue once and for all. Ikaw po ang Legislative Head, hindi ka dapat nadidiktahan. We still believe in your leadership,” she wrote.
Some sectors, meanwhile, believe the real losers in this bitter legal battle are not Vierneza and Acierto but their constituents who voted for them in the May 2022 polls.
“Gaya ng lagi nating ipino-point out dito, ang isyu na ito ay hindi dapat maging isyu ng politika kundi isyu ng representation,” a political analyst who requested anonymity told OpinYon Laguna.
“Isipin naman sana ng pamahalaang lungsod na may mga taong nagtiwala kina Vierneza at Acierto na magiging boses nila sa Sangguniang Panlungsod. Kung ide-deny natin ang pagpapaupo sa dalawang ito dahil lamang sa legal technicalities, hindi ba parang sinabi na rin natin sa kanilang mga constituents na walang kwenta ang naging boto nila noong May 2022?” he added.
Other sectors have also informed OpinYon Laguna that they are mulling the filing of administrative charges against Olivarez and other city officials for their alleged “stupidity” and failure to uphold the will of the people.
“We are deprived of representation due to this stupidity,” they claimed.
“Masyado pong makitid ang pag-iisip ng ating Vice Mayor at tila hindi na po nauunawan na ang mga taga-San Pedro po ang naiipit at nawawalan ng boses sa isyung ito,” they said