On May 27, 2021, in his last act as chief executive, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11550, which proposes the split of the province of Maguindanao. As mandated, a plebiscite was held on September 17, 2022, ratifying the partitioning into Maguindanao del Sur and Maguindanao del Norte.
Consequent to this, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., instead of swearing in the vice governor of Maguindanao as governor of the new province of Maguindanao del Norte, appointed an officer-in-charge which, in substance, contradicts RA 11550.
Under Section 50 of the same law, it states that “the vice governor and the next ranking elective member of the sangguniang panlalawigan of the present Province of Maguindanao, who are residents of the new Maguindanao del Norte shall assume as its acting governor and acting vice governor, respectively, and both shall continue to serve in office until their successors shall have been elected and qualified in the 2022 national and local elections.”
Regardless whether the law mandates the holding of the plebiscite before or after the 2022 polls, Marcos, who was the president when the delayed referendum was held, should have stuck to the intent of the law given that elections for the provincial positions of the two territories have yet to be scheduled by the Commission on Elections.
This oversight, if you will, has created a dilemma. If reports are to be believed, the lawyers of Bai Fatima Ainee Limbona-Sinsuat, the aggrieved Maguindanao vice governor, are set to file a mandamus before the Supreme Court for the execution of RA 11550, which means installing her as Maguindanao del Norte governor.
But a writ of mandamus has its limitations. The court can only order an inferior government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion but not the President who is immune from suit while he is still the incumbent chief executive.
The legal minds, however, argue that under RA 11550, that the postponement of the plebiscite has created ramifications because the statute states that the new set of elected officials of the two provinces should have been chosen in the May 2020 polls.
Even the Commission on Elections has come out with a own ruling on the case, conceding that the appointment of the officials of the province of Maguindanao del Norte is the territory of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
But as vice governor of the undivided Maguindanao Province, Sinsuat should have assumed as Maguindanao del Norte governor. But the Bangsamoro regional government did not recognize her because of the knotty issue posed by RA 11550, stating the national government might withhold release of funds to the new province unless the controversy is resolved.
Most likely at the advice of former Supreme Court chief justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the incumbent executive secretary who was appointed on September 27, 2022, the President, on April 5, 2023, “demoted” Sinsuat to OIC vice governor of Maguindanao del Norte while Abdulraof Macacua, a senior member of parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) beccame OIC governor.
Some sectors, however, want the oversight corrected. Because the person installed is only an OIC, meaning not even as acting governor, executing the intent of the law means supporting Sinsuat’s ascendancy. The President has done this before when he appointed an AFP chief upon his assumption but replaced it months later after he was advised that such designation was contrary to RA 11709, approved by Duterte on April 13, 2022.