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With Due Respect

Speedy, independent, and trustworthy

/ 05:04 AM March 20, 2022

Now complete with the ad interim appointments (legally, “nominations”) of Chair Saidamen Pangarungan and Commissioners George Erwin Garcia and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expected more than ever to resolve with deliberate speed, independence, and trustworthiness the many pending quasi-judicial and administrative knots.

TOPPING THE LIST OF PENDING QUASI-JUDICIAL MATTERS are the long-delayed motions for reconsideration (MR) involving the cancellation of the certificate of candidacy (COC) and the disqualification of Bongbong Marcos (BBM).

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Recall that the Comelec’s Second Division dismissed the petition to cancel the COC of BBM. On Jan. 24, within five working days thereafter, the petitioners filed their MR with the Comelec en banc. Since then, no action had been taken on the said motion. So, too, the Comelec’s First Division denied the petitions seeking the disqualification of BBM. Again, the petitioners promptly filed their MR, which also remains unacted to this day.

To deserve the people’s trust, the Comelec should decide these cases NOW. After all, whatever decision it renders would surely be elevated to the Supreme Court for final review.

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TOPPING THE LIST OF ADMINISTRATIVE MATTERS are the proper printing of the precinct-specific ballots, the logistics in their distribution to polling places nationwide, the casting, counting and canvassing of the ballots, etc. Already, the public’s ire was roused when, contrary to law, the Comelec refused to allow the representatives of candidates, political parties, and poll watchdogs to observe the printing of the ballots. More seriously, Senate President Tito Sotto and Sen. Imee Marcos alleged that a “criminal hacking syndicate” had breached the Smartmatic data.

Smartmatic flatly denied any breach of its data while the Comelec assured the allegations would be addressed shortly and the problems raised in the ballot printing would be corrected.

DESPITE THESE ASSURANCES, misgivings still abound. Chair Pangarungan was questioned for having very little experience in election cases and for being the fraternity brother of President Duterte at the San Beda College of Law. I would rather give him the benefit of the doubt and would judge him on the basis of his actual performance. Many appointees to independent agencies have proven to be independent and upright.

To be frank, I thought the President would risk constitutional brinkmanship by promoting Senior Commissioner Socorro B. Inting to the chairmanship. Why “brinkmanship?” Because in Funa v. Comelec (April 24, 2012), the Supreme Court ruled that appointments to any of the constitutional commissions “shall always be for a fixed term of seven years; an appointment for a lesser period is void and unconstitutional … A commissioner who resigns after serving the Commission for less than seven years is eligible for an appointment to the position of Chairman for the unexpired term of the departing chairman…” Thus, Inting could have resigned as a commissioner and then appointed chairman to serve only for the remainder of her term as a commissioner. As such, she would not serve the Commission for more than seven years.

In turn, Commissioner Garcia was flagged for having been the principal lawyer of BBM, Isko Moreno, Ping Lacson, and other top politicians. Anticipating this attack, he recused in advance from the cases of his former clients. I know him well; I believe he would unhesitatingly denounce any election shenanigan. He belongs to the select group of competent and upright election specialists that includes Sixto Brillantes Jr. (a former Comelec chair) and Romulo Macalintal. Indeed, he will surely enhance Comelec’s trustworthiness.

Commissioner Neri faces a more daunting challenge to her integrity. Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio accused her of allegedly receiving P10 million when she was an assistant secretary at the Department of Justice to “fix” a robbery case in the Supreme Court. When Topacio’s client was nonetheless convicted, Neri allegedly returned only P7 million and pocketed the P3 million balance.

Whether she returned anything or not, the lady commissioner must satisfactorily explain this deadly accusation to the electorate, especially during her confirmation hearings before the Commission on Appointments, which according to Sen. Franklin Drilon “can be merciless sometimes and rightly so because we will be remiss in our constitutional duties if we do not vet the credentials of the appointees.” Abangan!

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TAGS: Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, Artemio V. Panganiban, Bongbong Marcos, Comelec, Comelec cases, With Due Respect
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