Can the Comelec suspend a recall election?
Question: Can the Commission on Elections suspend a political exercise guaranteed by the Constitution, such as a recall election?
This issue has generated an uproar both in the Comelec itself and in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where some 44,000 voters have petitioned for the recall of their mayor for loss of confidence. Former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn explained the problem at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. With him as guests were Jose Angel Honrado, general manager of the Manila International Airport, who explained airport problems in many parts of the country, and election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who discussed the violations of the Senior Citizen Law by many business establishments.
Hagedorn said the Comelec had reaffirmed, in an en banc resolution, the recommendation of the Office of the Deputy Director for Operations finding the recall petition of about 44,000 voters of Puerto Princesa sufficient in form and substance.
However, the Comelec resolved not to continue with any recall proceeding, saying it does not have a line-item budget for the purpose. This enraged the voters of Puerto Princesa.
Recall elections are guaranteed by the Constitution, they said. The Comelec has more than sufficient funds for the recall exercise. The expense for the verification process is only P350,000 and P8 million for the recall election itself. How can they deny such a measly amount, to the disadvantage of 40,000 voters who signed the petition?
And even granting that there is really a lack of funds, how did such an important facet of direct democracy enshrined in the Constitution get left out from the Comelec budget?
Even some of the poll body’s commissioners questioned the en banc resolution to suspend the recall election.
In her dissenting opinion, Commissioner Grace Padaca said: The Comelec has “the duty to enforce and administer all laws relative to the conduct of an election, initiative, referendum, and recall, among others. Why, how and who is responsible for such a lapse? Was it simple ineptitude, ignorance of the law, or a deliberate violation of the Constitution?
“How and why was the Comelec able to conduct special elections in the 1st district of Ilocos Sur in 2011, in Zambales in 2012, and a plebiscite for the creation of Davao Oriental in 2013? Is it true that the petition for the recall of then Gov. Abraham Mitra, although dismissed for lack of time, was also funded? All of the above lacked line items in the budget.
“The lack of a specific appropriation [in the budget] did not deter the Comelec from conducting and supervising an electoral exercise that was legally called by the people.”
The Local Government Code provides that all expenses relevant to recall elections shall be borne by the Comelec. This is a 1992 law. Why did not the Comelec include this in its budget submitted to Congress?
In June 2005, the Comelec promulgated the rules and regulations for the recall of local government officials. It provided the rules and regulations, but forgot to fund any such eventuality?
In his own dissenting opinion, Commissioner Luie Tito F. Guia said:
“Why would Congress give salaries to Comelec field employees and provide for their maintenance and other operating expenses for recall votes, among others, when, at the same time, it refuses to fund the very conduct of recall elections? It does not seem right or logical.”
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Election lawyer Macalintal has found a new advocacy: the rights of senior citizens. According to him, many business establishments deny the 20-percent discount guaranteed by law to senior citizens for a variety of reasons, among them the lack of a senior citizen’s card, and the excuse that the product they are buying is already discounted as a promotion.
Macalintal said the purpose of the senior citizen’s card is to show the age of the customer. Any other government-issued identification card (driver’s license, social security card, passport, etc.) that shows the customer’s age will serve the purpose. In fact, even if the customer does not have any card, if he looks really old, he should be given the discount.
Promotional discounts also do not exempt business establishments from giving the 20-percent discount to senior citizens.
Macalintal has sued Sofitel hotel for not giving him a senior-citizen discount allegedly because he already got a 50-percent discount as a member of the Sofitel Accor Advantage (Accor).
For a fee of P8,800 a year, members of Accor are entitled to a 50-percent discount on the cost of food and drinks consumed.
Last February, Macalintal and a friend dined at Sofitel’s Le Bar Restaurant. While Sofitel gave him a 50-percent discount as an Accor member, it did not give him a 20-percent senior citizen discount mandated by Republic Act No. 9994.
So Macalintal sued. The general manager and assistant general manager of Sofitel have been subpoenaed by the Pasay prosecutor for the preliminary investigation of the case on June 9 and 19.
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