MANY FILIPINOS might have heard the term “recall election” but how it happens and what it consists of are matters now better known to the voters of Bulacan province and Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. A recall election seems under way for these two localities.
A recall petition against Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado has been filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on April 28, 2014. The petition signed by 319,777 registered voters cited this reason: loss of confidence in the governor. The number of signatures surpassed the 10 percent requirement for local government units with voting population of over 300,000.
As of 2013, Comelec data show that Bulacan has a total voting population of 1,497,836. Because the petition has satisfied the requirements for a recall petition, the Comelec subsequently conducted a verification and review of the signatures in the recall petition.
Meanwhile in Puerto Princesa City, voters have signed on to a recall petition against Mayor Lucilo Bayron. Filed with the Comelec on March 17, 2014, the petition cited “breach of trust” among other reasons. For supposed lack of funds, the Comelec has suspended the recall process, however.
But on Nov. 25, 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the Comelec to conduct the recall election, citing that doing so was precisely part of the poll body’s specific functions. The high court pointed out as well that there is “an existing line item appropriation for the conduct of recall elections in the 2014 GAA (General Appropriations Act).”
What is a recall petition and how can it serve voters a powerful tool to unseat local executives they deem to be unworthy or underserving of their trust?
Republic Act No. 7160 or the “Local Government Code of 1991” allows registered voters of an LGU to remove a local elective official from office through a recall election.
Section 70 of the Code states that a recall election may be initiated when a recall petition is filed before the Comelec.
The petition must contain the names, addresses, and signatures of the petitioners, the LGU to which they belong, the name of the official they want to be recalled, and a brief narration of the reasons why they want to recall the official.
The petition must also meet the required number of registered voters signing on to the petition. Failing this, the petition may be automatically nullified.
For various LGUs, the Code specifies the required number of registered voters signing on to recall petitions:
* At least 25 percent in LGUs with a voting population of not more than 20,000.
* At least 20 percent in LGUs with at least 20,000 but not more than 75,000 voters, but in no case shall the required petitioners be less than 5,000.
* At least 15 percent in LGUs with at least 75,000 but not more than 300,000 voters, but in no case shall the required number of petitioners be less than 15,000.
* At least 10 percent in LGUs with over 300,000 voters, but in no case shall the required number of petitioners be less than 45,000.
After all the requirements for the petition have been fulfilled, the Comelec will provide a copy of the petition to the official the petitioners want to unseat. The official cannot resign his or her post while the recall process is under way.
The petition will also be published in a national and local newspaper once a week for three consecutive weeks at the expense of the petitioners. The Comelec will then start to verify and authenticate the signatures of the petitioners and registered voters who signed on to the petition.
During the period, a challenge or protest against the petition may be filed; the Comelec shall rule on it with finality within 15 days from the filing of the challenge or protest. If the Comelec decides in favor of the petition, it will then announce the acceptance of candidates to the position and prepare the list of candidates, including the official that the petition wants to recall.
The date of the recall election will then be announced, with the Comelec covering for all the entailed expenses.
It is only upon the proclamation of the winner in the recall election that the recall petition’s effect on its subject official could take effect. However, if the same official should turn out as the winner in the recall election, the voters’ confidence in him is deemed affirmed and he or she shall remain in office.
An elective official may be named the subject of a recall petition only once during his or her tenure for loss of confidence. In addition, the recall election may take place only after a year from the date of the official’s assumption to office or one year immediately preceding a regular local election.
Because of the costs entailed in rolling out a recall petition, F.E. Olimpio, in a commentary published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer in May 2014, lamented that the recall law seems to favor rich and well-entrenched politicians with resources to run recall election campaigns within just a year after regular elections.
Olimpo cited the case of former Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn who won in a recall election conducted following a recall petition that had been filed earlier against Hagedorn’s political rival who was the incumbent mayor at the time.
On July 2, 2002, a recall resolution spearheaded by the city’s barangay officials was filed against then Mayor Victorino Dennis Socrates. The Comelec scheduled the recall election for mayor within 30 days from receipt of the recall resolution.
Hagedorn, who had just finished his term as Puerto Princesa City mayor, filed his certificate of candidacy for mayor in the recall election. Because he had by then served his third three-year term as mayor, Hagedorn should have been barred from running again as mayor. The Comelec, however, allowed Hagedorn to run for mayor in the recall election.
Hands down, Hagedorn received the highest number of votes and won in the recall election. His proclamation was delayed though after a petition filed with the Supreme Court questioned his qualification to run yet again as mayor. On Nov. 12, 2002, the high court dismissed the petition and lifted the temporary restraining order it had issued earlier to stop Hagedorn’s proclamation.
In time, Hagedorn was allowed to run as mayor of Puerto Princesa City a second round of three consecutive terms, or from November 12, 2002 to June 30, 2013. – Fernando Cabigao, PCIJ, March 2015