POSTSCRIPT / September 12, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Recall by barangay chiefs may be legal, but not right

LEGAL BUT NOT RIGHT: Sen. Rene Cayetano better tell his son Alan, congressman from Taguig, (for them) to stop their campaign to have Taguig Mayor Freddie Tinga removed from office on the strength merely of signatures of a majority of barangay officials in the town.

The people can see through the political machinations.

Rounding up barangay officials into a so-called Preparatory Recall Assembly and asking them to sign a piece of paper demanding the recall of the duly elected mayor is provided in the Local Government Code.

But that does not necessarily make it right. What is legal is not always right.

Why should a handful of barangay politicians be allowed to nullify the supreme decision of the citizens to elect one of themselves mayor of the town?

Why should barangay officials be allowed to undo what the people themselves have done through the democratic process of elections? Who are they to do that?

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AMENDMENT OVERDUE: Who put that crazy provision in the Code giving barangay officials the power to initiate the recall of a mayor (and to a handful of mayors the power to initiate a similar process against a sitting governor)?

Sen. Nene Pimentel, author of the Local Government Code, told us that that provision was a last-minute insertion from the House Representatives to which he, as main sponsor, reluctantly agreed just to gain approval of his pet measure.

With Pimentel himself having misgivings, that provision should be allowed to lapse into a dead letter until the Code is amended to cleanse it of such defects. Anyway, there is another process, a more reasonable one, for initiating recall.

The original process required only the signature of at least 25 percent of the voters in the community that elected the targeted official. Since they themselves elected the incumbent, empowering the voters to initiate recall is just and reasonable.

The mayor was not installed by the barangay captains, so why should those lower officials be allowed to remove him for “loss of confidence”?

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ALL OR NOTHING?: Loss of confidence is all in the mind. It is a matter of opinion. It is shaky basis for removing officials installed through popular elections.

If an official has committed any crime or impropriety while in office, there are more direct and better-defined legal processes for removing and/or punishing him. To remove a mayor on the say-so of some barangay captains’ that they have no confidence in him is to submit to partisanship.

What if it is the mayor who has no confidence in the barangay captains? It’s a ridiculous ping pong game that should not be allowed.

Also, our system does not contemplate a situation where a mayor, to validate his election, must get himself elected together with a majority of barangay captains in his town.

We are not electing what is akin to a corporation’s board of directors, whose majority will in turn elect the corporate officials. A mayor (or a governor in the case of a province) runs on his own, wins and stays on his own.

A mayor or a governor has a direct mandate from the people that other officials, especially those representing lower political levels, should not be allowed to nullify. Remember that in this country it is so easy to buy signatures.

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LESSONS FROM OTHER CASES: We are not discussing the qualifications of Tinga or the motivations of Cayetano. We’re just pointing out what we think is the basic error in the recall process being used by Cayetano to remove the mayor.

In the case of Tinga, the barangay officials rounded up by Cayetano to sign the recall petition are new ones who came into office after Tinga was elected mayor. The more reason they should have no say in the mayor’s being recalled except as individual voters.

We should have learned our lesson from similar recalls initiated by barangay officials. The mayors recalled (such as Mayor Rey Malonzo of Caloocan) were elected back to office by voters who must have disagreed with the obviously anomalous recall.

Imagine the waste of time and resources, and the disruption of essential services.

If voters cannot wait for the next election to remove a corrupt or incompetent local official, all they have to do is initiate his recall through the other mode, which is to gather the signatures of at least 25 percent of all registered voters in the community.

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MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The deportation of Filipinos from Sabah was a golden opportunity missed.

Assuming that our Sabah claim is just in the back burner and that we do intend to bring it forward at the right time, we may have to break an arm to create a situation or an excuse to raise it.

The roundup of Filipinos in the Bornean portion of the Sulu sultanate was a diplomatic window providentially opened. But we were not ready.

If we are not prepared for a full-blown discussion, at least we could have taken the chance to restate the pending question and serve notice that we are still awaiting its proper resolution.

When we sent recently a note verbale protesting the inhumane handling by Malaysia of Filipino deportees, that was another chance to mention the pending claim. We kept quiet about it.

Taking a lesson from that, we suggest that in any communication with Kuala Lumpur on any subject even remotely touching on Sabah, we should always insert a reservation or an understanding about our claim.

Malaysia might get offended? Why should we be afraid to speak out? Malaysia does not care how we feel. Besides, we need not be offensive in our language. Leave it to our diplomats, who will know how to mention our Sabah claim ever so subtly without ruffling anybody’s feathers.

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BACK TO MANILA ACCORD: Another area where we should hit while the iron is hot is the Manila Accord that was signed during the 1963 summit of the heads of government of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The neighbors composed the Maphilindo trinity, forerunner of the larger ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

With the deportation issue still hot, we can mention the Accord to Malaysia and to Indonesia (whose nationals are also being driven out of Sabah) and suggest that it may be the right time for the three parties to sit down again in the spirit of the Manila Accord.

Whatever is the response of Malaysia, we would have opened the door to further discussions that could lead to more productive talks.

The agreement mentions specific avenues to explore: “the three countries agreed to exert their best endeavors to bring the claim to a just and expeditious solution by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties’ own choice, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

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U.N. AID TAPPED: We are heartened to learn that the government has sent a request to the International Office of Migration, a United Nations agency based in Geneva, to help us ferry Filipinos in Sabah being displaced in a Malaysian crackdown.

Several columns back, we mentioned Ambassador Rodolfo A. Arizala, who happened to head that North Borneo office during the golden years of Philippine diplomacy under then Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo, suggesting that we tap the IOM, where former Ambassador Ching Escaler is the No. 2 official.

We availed ourselves of the same assistance of IOM when we had to bring home thousands of Filipino workers caught in the last Gulf War. With the US again poised to hit Iraq, we really have to clear our lines to IOM.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 12, 2002)

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