Gov orders Vizcaya gov’t shutdownBy Melvin Gascon
Inquirer Northern Luzon
Governor Luisa Cuaresma on Monday ordered a shutdown of provincial government operations, after a court ordered Nueva Vizcaya officials to stop implementing an annual budget that has been the subject of a rift among the province’s political leaders.
Cuaresma stopped all activities by the province that entail the use of funds out of its P786-million budget for 2012, which was frozen by a 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) issued on Friday by the regional trial court here.
During Monday’s flag-raising ceremony, officials expressed concern that the court order would paralyze all activities and transactions by the provincial government, including nonpayment of financial obligations and salaries of employees, suspension of infrastructure projects and payment of basic needs, such as the use of electricity.
“What I am worried about are the hospitals. How are we supposed to provide food and medicines to our patients?” said Cuaresma, a respondent in a suit filed by nine of 13 members of the provincial board.
The nine board members, who comprise the board’s majority bloc, have asked the court to nullify the province’s Appropriation Act of 2012, saying its passage violated the Local Government Code.
Judge Rogelio Corpuz granted the TRO that the petitioners sought, ordering Cuaresma, Vice Governor Jose Gambito and two of the province’s top finance officers to “cease and desist from implementing the provisions” of the 2012 budget ordinance.
Cuaresma said the provincial government has no recourse but to comply with the court order.
As such, all payments will have to be suspended, government vehicles cannot be refueled, inmates at the provincial jail cannot be fed, and officials and employees cannot get their salaries, she said.
“If the salaries of our workers cannot be drawn from the questioned ordinance because of the TRO, we ask, ‘Shall we still report for work?’” said Maria Carla Torralba, provincial human resources officer.
Workers blamed the nine board members who filed the petition, whose suit was allegedly intended to pursue their political interests.
“We hope they are not taking us for a spin because we are also thinking people, even though considered rank-and-file employees only,” Cristina Gurat, president of the Nueva Vizcaya rank-and-file employees association, said in Filipino.
Gurat asked her fellow employees to report for work despite the risk of not being paid if the court voids the 2012 budget ordinance.
Board Member Epifanio Galima, the petitioners’ counsel, lamented that that they were being blamed for the chaos that followed because of the TRO.
“We ask everybody not to overstress the meaning of the TRO, because it was never meant to cause a total shutdown of the operations of the provincial government,” he said.
The province can operate under a reenacted 2011 budget, he said.
But Alejandra Dacumos, provincial budget officer and one of the respondents, said they could no longer revive the 2011 budget because the 2012 appropriations ordinance is operational, from which salaries of officials and employees, including the petitioners, have been drawn.
“The provision of the law on [the province’s operation under a] reenacted budget is only applicable where the [board] failed to pass a budget. This is not the case that we have right now because we have a budget that had been approved by the Department of Budget and Management,” Dacumos said.