Philippines election commissioner a threat to democracy: Senator

Philippines election commissioner a threat to democracy: Senator
Sen. Francis Escudero.
PHOTO: Inquirer

Sen. Francis Escudero Sunday called Election Commissioner Rowena Guanzon a "threat to democracy" after the poll official made a defiant stand against a directive from the chief of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to explain the filing of an unauthorized comment to Sen. Grace Poe's petitions to the Supreme Court to overturn two decisions of the election watchdog to disqualify her from May's presidential race.

In a statement, Escudero, Poe's running mate, also asked Comelec Chair Andres Bautista to fight internal attempts to undermine the integrity of the election commission and expose the officials who were trying to "sabotage the electoral process."

A memorandum issued by Bautista on Friday showed that the comment filed by Guanzon in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Comelec had no authorisation from the full commission.

In that comment, the Comelec asked the Supreme Court to throw out Poe's pleading to overturn the decisions of the First and Second Divisions of the poll body to disqualify her from the presidential election for her failure to prove that she was a native-born Filipino and to meet the 10-year Philippine residency requirement for candidates.

Bautista said Guanzon put his name on the document but he had not read or signed it.

Order to explain

The Comelec chief issued a memorandum directing Guanzon and Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, director of the poll body's law department, to explain within 24 hours "under whose authority the comment was filed."

Bautista said that if the explanation was unsatisfactory, he would be "constrained to inform the Supreme Court that the filing of the comment was unauthorized."

Guanzon took to Twitter to defend herself. She posted a statement claiming that she had the authority to file the comment.

"I must emphasise that as a commissioner, I am not a subordinate or [an] employee of Chair Bautista and he has no administrative supervision or control over me," Guanzon said.

She said the preparation and filing of the comment "had the imprimatur of the Comelec en banc."

Bautista declined to comment on Guanzon's statements on Saturday, saying he would take up the matter at a full session of the Comelec. 'Insubordination'

In his statement Sunday, Escudero said he was appalled at the "insubordination and disrespect" shown by Guanzon toward Bautista.

"Even assuming [in the course of the argument] that she is not a subordinate of the chair as she claims, the Comelec is a collegial body that always acts collectively, and not individually," Escudero said.

"This validates our observation that Commissioner Guanzon is a threat to democracy and the conduct of the elections come May," he said.

He asked Bautista to fight attempts from within the Comelec to undermine the integrity of the poll body and to "expose these people who are seeking to sabotage the electoral process."

"It is his duty to the Filipino people if only to reassure voters that their sacred right to vote, to choose the next leaders of the country, is protected," Escudero said.

He also urged Guanzon to make public the full-commission resolution that she claimed authorised her to file the comment and use the names of the other election commissioners in the document.

Investigative power

Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, a spokesperson for Poe, Sunday insisted that Bautista had the authority to investigate members of the commission.

"[A]s head of the institution, [Bautista] has the mandate to put the house in order," Gatchalian said, commenting on Guanzon's statement that Bautista had no administrative supervision or control over her.

"What's happening [in the] Comelec is a source of concern for the public," Gatchalian said.

If the Comelec, tasked with overseeing orderly elections, is in disarray, he said, "the public interest is placed in danger."

Speaking in an interview on dzBB radio Sunday, Guanzon railed against Gatchalian's statement on Saturday that the Comelec was in disarray and his asking Bautista to expose members of the commission who had their own "political agenda" and working for Poe's elimination from the presidential race.

'Losers'

"You name us. All you do is talk and complain, because you are losers," Guanzon said.

"Mr. Gatchalian, are you [saying] that the commissioners will tell on each other? What do you think of us? We are respectable, independent and intelligent people. Do not sow intrigue among us because we are not politicians," she said.

"Who are you to tell us to name each other? We are not those Filipinos who ratted on fellow Filipinos during World War II," she said, referring to makapili (traitors) who betrayed guerrillas to the Japanese during the war.

"There's a difference between selling out your colleagues and giving the public the real score on what's happening," Gatchalian replied. He lamented that Guanzon, being a former elected official, had "low regard for elected public officials."

"Her statement seems to imply that," he said.

On Twitter, Guanzon said it was improper for Poe's camp to urge Bautista to investigate the election commissioners, as the Comelec chief had no power to do it and doing it would be perceived by the public as retaliation.

She said the power of the Comelec emanated from the full commission, not from the chair alone.

"We are an independent constitutional commission. Politicians should respect the Constitution and our independence," she said.

No comment

Malacañang on Sunday refused to be drawn into the fray.

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. declined to comment, but noted that Bautista had said he would take up the matter at a full session of the commission.

"The Comelec is an independent body. That is why it would be appropriate to just wait for the results of that meeting," Coloma said.

Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas, one of Poe's rivals for Malacañang, said the election commissioners were "mature" people who could resolve the controversy among themselves.

"Let us leave it to them. We have nothing to do with it. They are the ones to decide," Roxas told reporters in Imus City, Cavite province, where he spoke at a meeting of the Pentecostal Ministry Church of Christ.

With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada and DJ Yap

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