Duterte appoints NCMF chief, ex-Marcos lawyer, DSWD exec to Comelec

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel and Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 08 2022 12:53 PM | Updated as of Mar 08 2022 05:59 PM

Palace says ex-BBM lawyer underwent vetting process

pangarungan garcia neri compo
Comelec Chair Saidamen Pangarungan and Comelec Commissioners George Garcia and Aimee Neri. National Commission on Muslim Filipinos website/Department of Justice video screengrab/Supreme Court's Public Information Office

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan as the new Commission on Elections chief, Malacañang confirmed on Tuesday.

Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar in a press briefing confirmed Pangarungan's appointment as ad interim Comelec chairman. 

Duterte also appointed Aimee Neri and George Garcia as new Comelec commissioners, said Andanar. 

Neri was an undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). She also served as assistant secretary of the Department of Justice from August 2016 to May 2017, and as deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration from May 2017 to April 2018. 

Garcia is a veteran election lawyer who handled, among others, the poll protest of former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos against 2016 rival Vice President Leni Robredo. She and Marcos are among the contenders for the presidency in May's elections.

Garcia was also part of the campaign team of another presidential candidate, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso. He said Garcia resigned on Monday.

Meanwhile, Pangarungan is a lawyer and former governor of Lanao del Sur from 1988 to 1992, according to the NCMF website.

The new Comelec appointments were announced about 2 months away from the May 9 elections.

Prior to the appointments, the Comelec was operating with only 4 commissioners since last month, following the retirement of Antonio Kho, Rowena Guanzon, and Sheriff Abas. 

VETTING PROCESS

Garcia joins the poll body while it has yet to resolve several disqualification cases against Marcos. 

"Dumaan 'yan sa vetting process, dapat respetuhin natin ang prerogative ng Pangulo," Andanar said of Garcia's appointment. 

"'Di lang naman ito basta-basta pinili. Napakahabang proseso, vetting process, it is not easy to choose an appointee... [to] the Comelec," he added. 

(That went through a vetting process. We should respect the prerogative of the President. This was not a haphazard selection. It was a very long process, vetting process.) 

The Comelec First Division in February dismissed 3 consolidated petitions stemming from Marcos' 1995 tax case conviction for non-payment of income taxes and non-filing of tax returns. 

He was acquitted by the Court of Appeals (CA) on non-payment of taxes, but his conviction on non-filing of tax returns was affirmed. His imprisonment sentence was removed by the court.

Petitioners have filed a motion for reconsideration before the Comelec en banc. They said the issue should be resolved "as soon as possible" so they could elevate it to the Supreme Court, should the poll body affirm the the division ruling.

GARCIA VOWS TO INHIBIT FROM EX-CLIENTS' CASES

Garcia disclosed he also served as lawyer at some point for presidential bets Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Sen. Panfilo Lacson. 

The new Comelec commissioner said he would inhibit from his previous clients' cases to douse concerns on possible conflict of interest. 

He said he would implement the election law "as honestly as possible." 

"'Pag may mga kaso rin na palagay ko kahit di ko hina-handle ngayon, pero dahil naging clients ko before o nagkaroon ako ng relationship before in my professional capacity, I’m going to take no part," he said in an interview with reporters. 

(If there are cases that I'll handle now, but they involve former clients or those with whom I had a relationship before in my professional capacity, I'm going to take no part.) 

In 2016, Garcia also represented then presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe, when she faced disqualification woes. 

-- With a report from Ina Reformina and RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

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