Local Officials Facing Recall are Deemed Resigned

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Friday, January 14, 2011


FORMER Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio faced a recall movement in 2008 during his term from his political opponents in Pampanga, but failed to polarize. The Kapampangans opted for a more practical political exercise and that was the May 10, 2010 gubernatorial elections. The fight between Panlilio and his opponents escalated, the quarrel concerning quarry.

Another on-going exercise of recall is flexing in the province of Samar where 18 local chief executives filed a recall petition in November citing loss of confidence against Governor Sharee Ann Tan-De los Santos and Vice-Governor Stephen James Tan.

However, the provincial Comelec ruled out that it is premature because the law states that no recall shall take place within one (1) year from the date of the official's assumption to office or one (1) year immediately preceding a regular local election. This means that the petition is still within the prohibitory period. The Tan siblings are only serving on their first term as governor and vice-governor of the province, respectively. While it may be junked for technicality, however, the Supreme Court has decided many cases treating recalls as meritorious.

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Local officials who are facing recall proceedings are deemed resigned under a bill awaiting Senate action. House Bill 4801, authored by Rep. Narciso D. Santiago III (Party-list, ARC) which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 7160, also known as the Local Government Code of 1991, was already approved on third reading by the House of Representatives. To prevent huge expenses on recall proceedings, elective officials who are subjected to such proceedings should immediately resign from their post.

Under the present rules, an incumbent elected official, who is facing a recall, is prohibited to resign while the recall proceeding is in progress. These officials should be allowed to resign to save government resources and preserve the scarce taxpayers' money. The expenses for the recall election shall be borne by the Commission on Elections and thus adding burden to the national funds. Given the fact that the government would have to spend for the expenses of the recall elections, it is more practical to allow officials being sought to be recalled to be allowed to voluntarily resign.

Recall is a mechanism embodied in the Constitution for the creation of responsive and accountable local government structure. It is a process of removing any elective provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official by the registered voters of the local government unit concerned for loss of confidence. The bill seeks to amend Section 73 of the Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991 on the Prohibition against Resignation of Officials Being Recalled.

Recall elections in the Philippines were temporarily suspended on November 13, 2008 due to funding concerns and lifted on January 29, 2009. If the recall petition reaches the signature threshold of 25 percent, a single election is triggered. This can effectively be seen as a by-election with all the candidates' names on the ballot including the incumbent.

If the incumbent is successful in gaining the most votes then the recall has failed and they retain their position. If, however, another candidate wins, then they are duly elected.

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Section 70 of the LGC, provides that a recall may be initiated by a preparatory recall assembly or by the registered voters of the local government unit to which the local elective official subject to such recall belongs either in every province, city, municipality and district. Recall of any elective provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official may also be validly initiated upon petition of at least twenty-five percent (25%) of the total number of registered voters in the local government unit concerned during the election in which the local official sought to be recalled was elected.

The recall of an elective local official shall be effective only upon the election and proclamation of a successor in the person of the candidate receiving the highest number of votes cast during the election on recall. Should the official sought to be recalled receive the highest number of votes, confidence in him is thereby affirmed, and he shall continue in office.

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Recall is used in comparatively few countries throughout the world, with the most well-known examples being parts of the United States of America, six of the 26 cantons in Switzerland, Venezuela, the Philippines and the Province of British Columbia in Canada.

In the United States, recall was first adopted in the US in 1903 when voters approved a new city charter for Los Angeles but recall of state officials is now permitted in 18 states. Recall is used much more often at the local level of government. The signature requirements to initiate a recall election vary between states but are generally based on a formula using the percentage of the vote in the last election as a base. State level recall attempts in the US have been largely ineffectual with only two Governors being successfully removed from office in this way. These were Lynn J. Frazier (North Dakota) in 1921 and Gray Davis (California) in 2003. The latter case led to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Out of 32 attempts in California since 1911 to recall its Governor the election of Schwarzenegger in 2003 was the only successful one.

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Arguments for recall provide the electorate with the power to remove elected representatives who fail to perform their role to a satisfactory standard or who grossly neglect their duties. Without recall the electorate must wait until the next scheduled election to voice their opinions on an incumbent's performance. The threat of recall may act to focus the minds of elected representatives and encourage them to meet minimum standards of behavior.

Whilst recall may encourage elected representatives to undertake popular decisions it also applies in reverse. Some have expressed concern that recall discourages necessary decisions from being made because they may be unpopular. If political decisions are restricted by circumstances beyond the control of elected representatives then recalling those that make unpopular decisions does not guarantee that their replacements will be able to reverse them. There is also some concern that recall could be abused and used as a political tool with some marginal seats becoming the target of organized campaigns. There is a cost associated with maintaining recall readiness because election authorities must be prepared to handle recall petition requests whenever they may arise. The arguments for and against recall are somewhat dependent upon the systems used. In the US, specific requirements are required to be met such as malfeasance by the incumbent and in the Philippines an elected official can only be subject to recall due to 'no confidence' once per term (Charlie Coleman, Parliament and Constitution Centre, House of Commons).

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on January 15, 2011.

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