Election watchdog concerned over Comelec composition once execs retire

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2022 10:03 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2022 10:04 PM

MANILA - Election watchdog Kontra Daya said it was concerned about the composition of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) once three of its executives retire before the May 2022 national and local elections. 

Those retiring next month are Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas, as well as Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Antonio Kho Jr. This means the Comelec will be left with Commissioners Marlon Casquejo, Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino, and Rey Bulay, who are all appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

Kontra Daya Convenor Professor Danilo Arao said it was important to immediately fill the vacancies to be left by Abas, Guanzon, and Kho. But he added that it would be better for government to put the new commissioners it will appoint through a public vetting process first. 

According to Arao, the public should also observe the Comelec more closely after the appointments are made. 

"Bagamat aaminin ko na kahit sabihin mong magiging independent-minded yung tatlong magiging Commissioner, sila ay nasa minorya pa rin kasi kung titingnan natin yung komposisyon ng Comelec sa kasalakuyan, marami sa kanila ay fraternity brother o kaya mga kasama sa unibersidad ng pangulo, bukod pa sa kanilang rehiyunal na affiliation," Arao said. 

(I will admit that even if you say the new commissioners will be independent-minded, they would still be in the minority because if we look at the Comelec's present composition, many of them are either the president's fraternity brothers or came from the same university he attended. That's on top of their regional affiliations.) 

As for the Legal Network for Truth Elections (LENTE), the Comelec already has operational procedures in place for the upcoming May elections even after three of its top officials retire. 

"So mas operation side ng election yung ine-expect natin na ibibigay na tulong ng mga bagong i-aappoint ng ating pangulo," said LENTE Executive Director Atty. Ona Caritos. 

(So we can expect our president's new appointees to help more with the operation side of the election.) 

However, Caritos admitted that the process of picking Comelec commissioners wasn't as strict as picking justices for the Supreme Court, which go through public interviews and the scrutiny of the Judicial and Bar Council. According to her, it was the president's sole prerogative to appoint Comelec officials. 

But the LENTE Executive Director added that there was one instance in 2010 wherein civil society groups were able to nominate who should be appointed to the poll body. 

“Magkaroon sana kahit papaano ang civil society at ibang mga grupo na marinig ang kanilang saloobin patungkol sa mga appointments na gagawin," she said. 

(I hope civil society and other groups will have a chance to let their opinions be heard in regards to the appointments that will be carried out.) 

Meanwhile, Arao said that having all of the Comelec's seated officials appointed by a single president was nothing new, as it happened before during the administration of late former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. 

"Hindi natin sinasabi na may mali sa ganong appointment kundi yung kalidad ng appointment, anong klaseng independent mindedness ba meron yung appointing power, pangalawa, na-ensure ba talaga yung quasi-judicial independence ng Comelec. Kaya para sa Kontra Daya malaking bagay yung public pressure," Arao said. 

(We're not saying that there is something wrong with appointments like this, but we're concerned with the quality of the appointments. Like what kind of independent mindedness does the appointing power have? Secondly, is the Comelec's quasi-judicial independence ensured? That's why for Kontra Daya, public pressure is very important.) 

President Rodrigo Duterte will have to appoint his new commissioners to the Comelec before March, when the prohibition on appointing new government officials will kick in. 

- With a report by Johnson Manabat, ABS-CBN News.