The Legislative Assembly (LA), in its session last September 11, rejected the resolution seeking to create and implement guidelines for a recall process for University Student Government (USG) officials. Voting 10-9, with two abstentions, against the approval of the legislation, the body put to rest the three-session long debate on the issue.
Right after, the LA unanimously voted to approve the establishment of the Office of the Chief Legislator (OCL), which is meant to give the head of the assembly “more autonomy” over managing the LA’s responsibilities.
Impeachment vs recall
Commercial Law Department Assistant Professorial Lecturer Atty. Michael Victoriano, who was invited to be a resource person for the LA, detailed to the legislature the difference between impeachment and recall—as the distinction between the two was a recurring issue in earlier sessions.
Citing the 1987 Philippine Constitution, he said, “Impeachment is reserved for these very high-ranking officials,” referring to the President, the Vice President, and Supreme Court justices, among others. On the other hand, recall is only allowed for local officials. He further lectured that impeachment must be based on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and “high crimes” like treason and corruption, whereas the loss of confidence by constituents is the only needed basis for recall.
However, BLAZE2022 Representative Giorgina Escoto, who co-authored the measure, admitted that, under her proposal, any USG official may be impeached or recalled and the decision for which action to take is up to students. She explained to The LaSallian that this is because “as enshrined in the USG Constitution, Lasallians have the power to choose and, in the same manner, change their minds.”
But in a press conference last September 12, members of the majority floor gave a statement that declared, “We emphasize that Article IV, Section 8 of the Bill of Rights, which states that ‘every student has the right to recall their representatives from office,’ shall be interpreted as [the] impeachment process itself.” This interpretation is intended to be formally incorporated into the USG Constitution as an amendment, affirmed Majority Floor Leader Maegan Ragudo.
Loss of confidence ‘subjective’, recall ‘unnecessary’
Ragudo manifested that “loss of confidence” is a subjective concept and is prone to abuse and that the majority floor opposes recall because there are already constitutional provisions for impeachment. In response, Victoriano suggested a workaround by adding more grounds for recall.
She further proclaimed that the issue on the recall process is a question of necessity. “Do we need it now? No. What we need is to empower the Judiciary, provided that we respect the separation of powers, and empower the student body on their right to recall an officer through a process of investigation done by an independent arbiter,” she asserted.
But Escoto raised counterpoints to these concerns. She showed, for one, that the resolution establishes a safeguard to prevent the recall process from being abused: the legislation provides that a petition for a temporary restraining order against an ongoing recall may be filed before the Judiciary when there is probable cause to doubt the integrity of the process.
The bill also sets the definition for “loss of confidence” as a widespread loss of trust in an elected USG official, as a result of their failure to fulfill their mandate.
Still, CATCH2T21 Representative Jaime Pastor maintained that impeachment already serves the purpose of a recall process, which is to remove a sitting USG official. Ragudo followed, adding that the USG’s “failure” is not the absence of guidelines for recall but in being unable to inform students on the impeachment process.
After the proposal was shot down, Escoto told The LaSallian that while she was disappointed, she will continue lobbying for a recall process and that she “most definitely” plans on reintroducing a similar bill in the future. “If and when I reintroduce this proposal, I will ensure that it will be enough to convince my colleagues at the opposite side of [the] table,” she assured.
OCL gets quick nod
Meanwhile, the LA was unanimous in its decision to approve a legislation seeking to establish the OCL. EXCEL2021 Representative Katkat Ignacio, who is among the measure’s proponents, justified the need for the new office, recounting her observation that the Chief Legislator needs assistance in tracking resolutions and more control over publications such as manifestos.
Under the OCL will be the Legislative Secretariat and the Legislative Publications committees, whose responsibilities mainly include maintaining the LA’s records and managing its publicity, respectively. According to the bill, the OCL is set to begin operations after USG officers are elected for Academic Year 2020-2021.
Chief Legislator Willem De Castro also noted that the contents of the resolution may be included as amendments to the USG Constitution because “there are certain [constitutional] provisions pa that we (LA) can work on.”