MANILA, Philippines - With the early resignation of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo, Malacañang is scrambling for a replacement who will assume office by February 2011.
Malacañang sources told ABS-CBN News the president's initial short list contains the names of the country's top 3 election lawyers:
- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima;
- Atty. Sixto Brillantes Jr.;
- Atty. Romulo Macalintal.
Macalintal's inclusion in the shortlist is likely to raise eyebrows, he being a long-time election lawyer of former President now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
But unknown to many, Macalintal was the president's election lawyer when Mr. Aquino first ran for Congress.
Macalintal also confirmed he was asked to represent then presidential candidate Benigno Simeon Aquino III. He declined for ethical reasons.
De Lima, meanwhile, prefers to remain at the Department of Justice.
“Marami pa akong dapat gawin dito, napakarami ng mga challenges dito sa position na ito. So, sana hindi na muna isipin na alisin ako,” she said.
The third contender, Brillantes, is the president's current election lawyer.
Sources said in case Brillantes is not chosen as Comelec chair, his law partner Juanito Arcilla may be appointed as commissioner.
Election watchdogs, meanwhile, are preparing their own wish lists for the two other Comelec seats that will be vacant by February.
Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) Chair Henrietta de Villa said the group will recommend legal counsel and IT expert Howard Calleja.
National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) chair Jose Cuisia said his group will meet shortly to draw up a list.
Cuisia said personally he is personally rooting for IT experts Baltazar Endriga and Didi Manarang.
Aquino said the search committee tasked to look for Melo's replacement "has been very active."
"Tinitignan ang list of candidates, and the candidates have certain criteria. Siyempre may competence tapos ang integrity is a very important point. Perhaps a high degree of independence will be very welcome in a body that is supposed to be neutral. That's why we are really rushing," he said.
Aquino also hinted that it is possible the new Comelec officials will come from outside the commission.