Saturday, October 9, 2010

Philippines Crisis in Muslim Affairs continues

AFTER seven days by which Malacañang ordered her to immediately vacate her post, as of Thursday, the head of the controversial National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) remained defiant and was in a fighting mood to defend her rights under the law.

Bai Omera Dianalan-Lucman who has resorted to fight her retention as secretary and chief executive officer of the NCMF told The Manila Times in an exclusive interview that she will not yet vacate her post despite the memorandum order issued by Malacañang, saying that her case—which the Office of the President classified her as a “midnight appointee”—is now being questioned before the Supreme Court.

Lucman who was appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo as NCMF secretary and chief executive officer reiterated on Thursday that she had already informed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. that she could not comply yet with the Memorandum Order dated September 30—ordering her to vacate her post and yield to the new appointee, Dr. Hamid Aminoddin Barra, because she is still waiting for the ruling of her petition that she filed before the High Tribunal.

She told The Times that she went to the High Court to file her petition for prohibition and mandamus, questioning the constitutionality of Executive Order (EO) 2 through which her appointment and that of hundreds of other appointees of the past Arroyo administration had been revoked and declared vacant.

Constitutional issue

“My lawyers informed me that since the issue is constitutional, it is only the highest court of the land which can authoritatively and conclusively rule on it,” Lucman said.

Lucman also told Ochoa that any action on the part of the executive branch which will render the issue moot and practically resolve it ahead of the High Court’s ruling will not be in keeping with judicial courtesy and principles of separation of powers and checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution.

“I would like to believe that we remain a government of laws, not of men,” Lucman reminded Ochoa.

In the said memorandum signed by Ochoa, it stated that while the appointment papers of Lucman was dated March 8 and her oath of office was on March 10—the executive secretary concluded that Lucman’s case falls under the definition of a “midnight appointee” under EO 2.

However, Lucman countered that her appointment does not fall under the constitutional prohibition on midnight appointments considering that she took her oath of office before March 11—the period of the ban per EO 2.

Lucman, though, she did not accept the fact of being classified as a “midnight appointee,” somehow pointed out the exception of midnight appointments under the law.

She cited the Constitutional provision on midnight appointments under Section 15, Article 7 that recognizes exceptions to the midnight appointment ban “when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

Leadership crisis

Rep. Tupay Loong of the First District of Sulu and chairman of the House Committee on Muslim Affairs who earlier exposed the ill-effects of the NCMF leadership crisis, renewed his call for Malacañang to intervene in the standoff.

Loong noted that the tug-of-war between two appointed heads of NCMF that has remained unsolved as of this writing has caused a collateral damage on the part of some 4,500 prospect pilgrims this year who are going to perform their annual Hajj (pilgrimage) in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

“This fighting in the NCMF leadership has not only divided the Muslim Filipinos but also turned detrimental to their welfare, especially our pilgrims who are now among the collateral damage of the leadership crisis, and confused on whom to follow since the NCMF has two administrators performing the same functions,” Loong said.

The Saudia Airlines, the lone carrier for Hajj pilgrims from the Philippines, has allotted 10 flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia holy lands starting October 19 until November 10, but no official bookings could be made for the estimated 4,500 Filipino pilgrims because the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Makati City has not yet grant any Hajj visa in the wake of the ongoing Lucman-Barra leadership dispute.

The Saudi Embassy received a “note” early last week from the Department of Foreign Affairs confirming President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s appointment of Barra but citing at the same time the pending petition filed by Lucman before the Supreme Court questioning an order replacing her and asserting her rights under the charter of NCMF, Republic Act (RA) 9997 signed into law on February 18. Manila Times

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