Lanto, Drilon are law school classmates
MANILA - Newly appointed Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Macabangkit Lanto admitted Friday that he was recommended for the job by no less than Team PNoy campaign manager Sen. Franklin Drilon.
Lanto came to the Comelec for a courtesy call on Chairman Sixto Brillantes and Commissioners Robert Lim and Elias Yusoph today, after which he faced the media.
The incoming commissioner confirmed that he was endorsed by Drilon for the position of OIC-Governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2011.
Asked if Drilon also recommended him for the Comelec, he said: "Yes (Drilon) and other friends recommended me for (Comelec commissioner)."
Lanto said he was in the same law class as Drilon and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, prompting Brillantes to quip: "Yan ang neutral."
Asked about the possible conflict of interest, Lanto pointed to his track record in government where he was congressman, undersecretary and ambassador.
"Yun na nga sabi ko, you can judge me by my past records. I think at my age I have no wish but leave my name in the commission and be impartial in my judgment. I'm 70 years old. My previous record in government there was never a case," he said.
Lanto denied he was a consultant of Drilon, something Brillantes himself said in a press conference Thursday.
"I'd like to deny. I was never a consultant in the office of Senator Drilon. In 2011, I was consultant of the committee on finance for about 6 months or 1 year and oversight committee on labor but never in the office of Senator Drilon," he said.
He stressed he has no pending election case before the commission.
Lanto also said his appointment has nothing to do with the 2016 elections. Lanto will serve a full 7-year term that will end in 2020.
Brillantes said the President knows that once he makes an appointment to an independent commission, he has to respect the independence. "When he appoints, alam na niya. Independent ka na, bahala ka na diyan," he said.
Beneficiary of poll fraud?
Lanto was grilled by media over questions raised against his appointment.
First was the matter of his appointment even if he was unseated by the House of Representatives electoral tribunal as congressman after he was proven to be a beneficiary of electoral fraud. Lanto used to represent a district of Lanao del Norte province.
He believes questions on his appointment are part of an "orchestrated plot."
"Kaya ako nagpunta rito to make this very clear, to make a courtesy call on the chairman and explain my side. There is apparently an orchestrated move to discredit me because of an event that happened 20 years ago when I was unseated as congressman of Lanao del Norte."
Asked who was behind the plot, Lanto said: "Maybe some people who wouldn't want me. I cannot [name], people who would like to embarrass the president."
Lanto also took exception to reports that he was not a lawyer. "Last night, sabi nila di ako abugado. For the record, I'm a lawyer. I finished my law at UP. I was a Fulbright scholar to [New York University]."
Lanto explained that his unseating as congressman was the result of a plot by politicians who he beat in the 1992 elections.
"What happened in the 1992 protest case…nangyari doon ay I was pitted against some powerful politicians in Lanao del Norte. One is a protégé of Dimaporos, another of [former] Senator [Ernesto] Herrera. I didn't have any backer because then-President Cory wanted fresh faces as new leaders. I was asked by some friends to file my candidacy. I filed and I won fair and square."
Lanto said those he defeated banded together and filed a protest, claiming that the election returns did not match with the voters' ballots.
"But when there was revision conducted by HRET, there was a petition field at the Comelec. It was dismissed by Comelec. They elevated the case to the HRET and when it was opened they found out nothing wrong or anomalous about the ballots. They were clean and valid ballots, [the ballots which] they recounted."
Lanto said the recount actually showed that he got more votes than the initial result of the election. He said his lawyer, Pete Cuadra, advised him to withdraw his counter-protest because "there was no way for them to overcome our margin. I said okay."
However, he claimed "somebody from HRET approached one of my revisors and asked money to help me in the revision and when he told me, I got curious why should we be dealing with these people."
Lanto said the revisors submitted a counter-affidavit which was attached to the motion for reconsideration.
"What happened was that there was a formal counting and we found out valid votes were marked with sultan or unnecessary writings and over my name," he said.
Same boat as Joker Arroyo
Lanto said then Congressman Joker Arroyo was similarly situated as he was. However, Arroyo got a restraining order from the Supreme Court while Lanto did not elevate his case to the SC.
"Baguhan lang ako sa Maynila. Di na ako nagpursue anymore. The fact that Senator Boy Herrera talked to Speaker Jose de Venecia about his protégé, nawalan ako ng pag-asa," he said.
Lanto vowed to pursue electoral reforms because of his experience, pointing out he was a member of watchdog groups.
Brillantes also defended Lanto, noting that nothing in the HRET case unseating Lanto linked him to the commission of fraud.
"Maliwanag naman. While there are irregularities, there was no proof linking Commissioner Lanto to irregularities. Hindi siya kasama sa fraud… Generally, pag may irregularity, there's always a recommendation that those who committed will be referred to Comelec for prosecution."
"Dito, di siya kasama. Andun sa desisyon, very clear he may have benefited from fraud (but) there's no evidence linking him."
Brillantes explained that stray marks on the ballots invalidated all the votes in that one ballot.
For his part, Kontra Daya's Renato Reyes said: "Mas mainam kung ang appointed na commissioner ay di sangkot sa kontrobersya, lalo na sa election fraud."
"Si Atty. Lanto ay natanggal sa Kamara nung 1994 dahil sa alegasyon ng dayaan. Totoo man o hindi, may bahid tuloy ng duda ang record niya. Pero tila malakas ang backer ni lanto mula sa LP. Inamin niyang si Senator Drilon ang nag-nominate sa kanya. Dagdag na bahid ito sa kredibilidad ng Comelec."