Monday, July 14, 2008

Neither Here Nor There

I have noticed that the recent appointment of Raymundo Moreno to fill the vacant seat in the Lianga municipal council has become a rather controversial topic among the circles of the town's political elite.

To recall, the unfortunate demise of Vicente Pedrozo, who until several months ago was municipal mayor of Lianga, has elevated then Vice-Mayor Roy Sarmen to the position of mayor while Jun Lala, who was the top ranking member of the muncipal council, assumed the vice-mayoralty and leadership of that august body. This operation of the rules of succession has left one seat on the council open which by law has to be filled through appointment by Gov. Vicente Pimentel in his capacity as the provincial governor of Surigao del Sur.

The members of the council had recommended the appointment of one of the daughters of the deceased mayor to that body. Apparently, there is historical precedence in the practice of allowing an immediate family member to essentially inherit the position of a local legislator who dies while serving in office. The reason usually cited is one of humanitarian compassion where the family of the deceased politician will, at least, be able to continually receive the benefits and privileges of the office to which their departed member had been elected to.

That Gov. Pimentel had blithely ignored the recommendations of the municipal council and appointed instead a veteran politician in the person of Raymundo Moreno has raised the eyebrows of a lot of informed local residents who consider themselves well versed in the ins and outs of local politics. What is then, they ask, is the purpose of the power to recommend appointees to vacant municipal positions of the municipal council if the appointing power, in this case the governor, can blatantly disregard such recommendations?

They then cite a similar case which occurred several years ago when Ric Ho, a serving member of the council, also died while in office. The council had recommended that a son of the deceased official be appointed to serve the remainder of his father's term yet Gov. Pimentel ignored the council's wishes and appointed Elgie Layno, another veteran politician thus causing a storm of controversy that remains fresh in the memory of many political observers here.

Personally, I have no sympathy for the political tradition or precedence, if you will, of allowing sons, daughters or wives and husbands, for that matter, to inherit the political position of a family member who happens to die while in office. It is clear that public office is a public trust governed and granted by popular mandate to a particular person as part of the democratic process of suffrage. As such it is non-transferable to anybody else, certainly not to anyone merely because of blood relations, except in the case of lawful succession or when the removal from office is a consequence of a lawful process such as resignation or disqualification.

Family members of a serving municipal council member who suddenly dies, therefore, have no claim whatsoever to the position that has just become vacant. Such claim whether expressed or merely implied is simply contrary to democratic principles and cannot be allowed even for so called "humanitarian reasons". There are other and more acceptable ways to offer material and financial assistance, if there is need to.

That the provincial governor has the prerogative to ignore or disregard the recommendations of the Lianga municipal council as to who to appoint to fill vacant seats in that body is clear. But it is even clearer that in the exercise of his appointing power to plug vacancies in municipal offices in Lianga, at least, Gov. Pimentel has rarely if not at all, considered what he honestly considers to be what is the best for this town and its people. Like all of the worst of traditional politicians, he has preferred to to base his choice of appointees on political expediency, as payment for political debts and in the pursuit of narrow political interests.

There are obviously better choices to be made if the governor had taken the time or had the inclination to really look after the welfare of his constituents in Lianga. But the deed has been done and the political gods have essentially spoken with finality.

The municipal council may grumble at the governor's intransigence and his failure to heed their collective will. But the govenor's naked display of political muscle does not in any way detract from the simple fact that they too have not been exactly on firm moral or legal ground when they made their own recommendation. So they can howl with fury and protest bitterly but it will avail them nothing.

Serves them right, I'd say.


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