The 1-2-3 of inept staff work. First, President Aquino disclosed in a chance interview during a campaign sortie in Davao City that he was appointing former Lanao del Norte Rep. Macabangkit Lanto and election lawyer Bernadette Sardillo to the Commission on Elections, only for a controversy involving election fraud to immediately burst over Lanto’s head.
Second, Sardillo declined the nomination two days after the news of the appointment broke, for family reasons; it turned out that she had withdrawn her application to sit in the Comelec on the same day Mr. Aquino made his unscheduled announcement.
And third, Lanto declined his own appointment four days after the President made the announcement—“owing in large part,” he wrote in a letter to Mr. Aquino, “to the controversy that surrounded my appointment.”
It is difficult to recall a similar instance in the Republic’s history, when two presidential appointees to a high-profile constitutional office declined their nominations, and in public. The ineptness of the staff work behind the appointments of Lanto and Sardillo is truly staggering.
We should be clear: It is only right that Lanto decline the position of election commissioner. As a former lawmaker and diplomat, he may be suited for any number of government positions. But as a lawmaker unseated in 1994 for election fraud, and charged in 2007 for alleged coercion of election inspectors in Lanao del Sur, he has no business being in the agency overseeing elections.
That these crucial details did not seem to figure in Malacañang’s vetting process is bewildering. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the 1994 case was too long ago for anyone to remember (it isn’t, but let us assume for the moment that it is), there is simply no excuse for the selection committee to miss the 2007 case. To be sure, the Comelec’s own law department recommended the dismissal of the case in 2008, but at the very least, this detail in Lanto’s biography should have given the people behind the process pause.
But if reporters could ferret out the 1994 unseating, very soon after the news of Lanto’s appointment spread, why did Malacañang fail to do so?
Lanto has categorically declared that he was “the victim, not the perpetrator, of election fraud” in 1994—and that he had served in other capacities even after being unseated. We will not second-guess his appreciation of the facts; after all, he lived through them. But is congressional proof of electoral fraud any kind of baggage for a prospective nominee to the Comelec to carry? He should not have even applied.
Sen. Franklin Drilon does not deny that he recommended Lanto for the Comelec post last year, saying he “did not see the case [against Lanto] at the time.” He added: “I did not know the details …. I did not know that it was fraud. I did not know that.”
Perhaps Drilon has forgotten the lessons of his long career in law, and failed to conduct due diligence. But let us be candid. He acted only as many political patrons in the Philippines act: He took his client at his word.
What is the President’s staff’s excuse?
It seems they took Drilon at his word, too. After all, Drilon as campaign manager of the Liberal Party’s coalition is a kingmaker in the Aquino administration; surely he wouldn’t recommend someone who would be marching to the pace of a different drum on the administration’s matuwid na daan.
Or perhaps the selection committee simply could not say no to Drilon outright, and included Lanto on the short list, hoping that it would solve the problem, or that the President would see through him.
The problem with these scenarios is that they are both rankly unprofessional; they put a premium on the personal. The very idea of due diligence is that it serves as a kind of audit, subjecting a proponent’s enthusiasms to hard scrutiny. If the people behind the process failed to research Lanto’s background thoroughly because “okay na kay Drilon,” or they put Lanto on the short list because they couldn’t refuse Drilon (but then failed to adequately warn the President ahead), then they failed Mr. Aquino for the worst possible reason.
By prioritizing Drilon’s opinion or need, they were effectively serving another master.