LGUs in the Philippines

EXPLAINER: How local government vacant seats are filled

Jezreel Ines
EXPLAINER: How local government vacant seats are filled
Local government positions in the Philippines are normally filled through elections, but may require special elections or appointments to fill posts that become vacant for various reasons

MANILA, Philippines – Francisco Gabriel “Abeng” Remulla, son of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, was designated last week by the National Unity Party (NUP) as Cavite’s 7th district board member.

He took over the position previously held by his brother, Crispin Diego “Ping” Remulla, who recently won a special election to become congressman in Cavite’s 7th district after their father Boying vacated the seat to become justice secretary.

In the Philippines, local government positions are filled through elections just like national positions. In cases such as in Cavite, however, these positions may become vacant for different reasons, resulting in special elections or appointments to fill the vacancies.

This can include situations where an incumbent official resigns, is impeached, or passes away while in office. In such cases, the responsibility of filling the vacancy falls on the appropriate government authorities.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution – along with other government laws such as the 1991 Local Government Code and the Omnibus Election Code – establishes the legal framework for filling local electoral positions in the event of permanent and temporary vacancies of local government positions.

How are these vacant positions at the local level being filled?

When an official dies, resigns, is impeached

A permanent vacancy in a local government position happens when an elected official takes a higher office, refuses to take the position, dies, is disqualified, removed, resigns, or becomes permanently incapacitated.

If the governor or mayor’s position is permanently vacant, the vice governor or vice mayor takes over, according to Chapter 2, Section 44 of the local government code.

If the offices of the governor, vice governor, mayor, or vice mayor are all permanently vacant, the highest ranking Sanggunian member, or in the case of their permanent inability, the second highest ranking member, assumes the position. 

At the barangay level, if the position of Punong Barangay becomes permanently vacant, the highest-ranking Sangguniang Barangay member will take over the role. If unable to, the second highest-ranking member will take over.

For instance, after the death of former governor Roel Degamo, Vice Governor Carlo Jorge Joan Reyes of Negros Oriental was sworn in as the new governor on March 4.

As a result, Board member Manuel Sagarbarria, who held the highest-ranking position in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, took over the post of vice governor to fill the vacancy.

Moreover, after the killing of Rommel Alameda, former vice mayor of Aparri, Cagayan on February 19, Ireneo Chan, the highest-ranking member of the Sangguniang Bayan, became the new vice mayor.

In 2017, Paolo Duterte, son of former president Rodrigo Duterte, resigned from his post as Davao City vice mayor, citing links to a drug smuggling case and personal problems from a failed marriage as reasons. Councilor Bernard Al-Ag took over as acting vice mayor of Davao City.

In 2016, former Makati City mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. was suspended from office and subsequently impeached over a corruption scandal involving the construction of the Makati City Hall parking building. He was replaced by his vice mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña, who became acting mayor of Makati City.

When an official is appointed

After winning in the 2022 national elections as Cavite 7th district representative, Boying Remulla vacated his local post when he was appointed Department of Justice secretary under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

In this case, when a vacancy arises in the legislative representative position 18 months or more before a regular election, a special election must be held by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) within 60 days to elect a new member who will serve the remaining term.

Ping Remulla, who was previously a Sanggunian board member, won the vacated congressional seat in a special election and left his Sanggunian board member position.

According to the Local Government Code, automatic successions for filling permanent vacancies in the Sangguanian do not apply and shall be filled by appointment in the following manner: 

  • Sangguniang Panlalawigan and Sangguniang Panlungsod members in highly urbanized and component cities – The Executive Secretary, acting on behalf of the President, is responsible for the appointment.
  • Sangguniang Bayan and Sangguniang Panlungsod members of component cities – The governor has the authority to appoint a member to fill a vacant position.
  • Sangguniang Barangay – The appointment will be made by the city or municipal mayor upon recommendation of the concerned Sangguniang Barangay.

The Local Government Code also states that those who take over vacant positions in the local government will hold office only for the remaining term of their predecessors. It also says that the appointee “shall come from the same political party as that of the Sanggunian member who caused the vacancy.”

Thus, in the case of Ping Remulla, to fill the vacant Sanggunian position he left, it was NUP that designated his brother and party member Abeng as Cavite’s 7th district Sanggunian board member.

When an official temporarily leaves a position

A temporary vacancy in a local government position occurs when an elected official is unable to perform his or her duties due to physical or legal reasons such as leave of absence, travel, or suspension.

When a governor, mayor, or barangay captain is temporarily incapable of carrying out their duties – whether due to physical or legal reasons – the role is assumed by the vice governor, vice mayor, or the highest-ranking barangay councilor. This does not include the authority to hire or dismiss employees, according to the Local Government Code.

When a local chief executive submits a written declaration stating his or her return to duty, it marks the end of his or her temporary incapacity. But if the temporary incapacity was caused by legal reasons, the chief executive must furnish proof that these have been resolved.

On the other hand, if a local government officer is traveling within the country but outside his or her jurisdiction for a maximum of three consecutive days, the officer can issue a written authorization for another officer to take charge with certain powers and functions. The authorized person cannot, however, hire or fire employees.

In 2019 and 2020, Sebastian Duterte was appointed acting mayor of Davao City during the temporary absences of his sister, then-Davao City mayor Sara Duterte, when she took a 60-day medical leave in 2019 and a one-week leave of absence in 2020 due to a personal matter.

When substituting as an election candidate

The Comelec has designated rules for substitution to fill candidate positions during elections.

Under Comelec rules, political parties and coalitions that field a candidate can choose to substitute that candidate if one of three things happens after COC filing: 

  • Death of the candidate
  • Withdrawal
  • Disqualification by the Comelec

In 2018, Filipinos criticized the Comelec’s substitution rules for the upcoming midterm elections. These allowed a candidate with the same surname as the original candidate – in case of withdrawal, death, or disqualification – to substitute, provided this was done no later than midday on election day.

Comelec Resolution 10420 issued in September 2018 said that if an official candidate withdraws his or her candidacy before midday on election day, a substitute may be nominated “provided that, the substitute and substituted candidate have the same surnames.” This means that any relative or person with the same surname may be a substitute candidate.

Due to criticism, the Comelec amended the rule and shortened the deadline for withdrawal substitution until November 29, 2018, instead of election day in May 2019. The amended rule was adopted in the May 2022 elections. – Rappler.com

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