MANILA, Philippines – Is politics behind the decline of her appointment as Comelec commissioner?
Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr disclosed on Saturday, March 9, that election lawyer Maria Bernadette Sardillo turned down her appointment by the President as new Comelec commissioner.
President Aquino named Sardillo on Thursday, March 7, along with former ambassador Macabangkit Lanto, as replacements for retired Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco.
In a message posted on Twitter Saturday, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said President Aquino has accepted the withdrawal of her application. Sardillo cited as reason for her withdrawal her “family’s wish for her to remain in the private sector.”
But according to a source privy to the information, Sardillo declined her post after two Aquino allies objected to her appointment. The source said Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima blocked her appointment due to a previous election protest involving Sardillo and Padaca when the latter ran for governor in 2007.
Sardillo lawyered for Benjamin Dy, Padaca’s rival for Isabela governor, who filed a protest against her. De Lima was Padaca’s lawyer. Padaca is now one of the Comelec commissioners, while De Lima is justice secretary.
As a result of the election protest, the Comelec ruled that Dy won the 2007 elections with a vote margin of only 1,051. His camp accused Padaca of cheating her way to her second term as governor.
She was previously declared Isabela governor with over 64,000 votes as against Dy’s over 47,000 votes but an electoral protest filed by Dy prompted the Comelec to conduct a revision of the votes.
This resulted in a revised count that saw a slim 1,051-vote victory for Dy. An emotional Padaca then vehemently denied she cheated.
Brillantes for his part said on his Twitter account on Saturday, “I am deeply disappointed and saddened by it.” He added, “She would have been a great addition to the Comelec.”
The President described Sardillo as a lawyer who upholds people’s rights. “She has demonstrated her mettle in defending the rights of the citizenry in…several particular election contests especially in the last electoral exercise,” Aquino said.
According to Brillantes, Sardillo informed the Palace of her declining the President’s appointment through a letter. He tried calling her but she did not pick up his calls. “Gusto ko sanang malaman bakit siya tumanggi,” Brillantes said. (I wanted to know why she refused.)
In a letter dated March 7 and shown to the President the following day, Sardillo said, “I am deeply grateful for having been considered as Commissioner in the Commission on Elections. However, it is also with deep regret that I am withdrawing my application to the Commission. This decision was reached after consultation with my family who has prevailed upon me to remain in the private sector. Nevertheless, please be assured of my continued support of your administration. Thank you.”
She had reportedly been asked to remain in the private sector because one family member has “health concerns.”
Brillantes said Sardillo would have been a big help at the Comelec since she is also an election lawyer and is already familiar with Comelec processes.
Sardillo obtained her law degree from the Ateneo de Manila in 2000. Besides Dy, she also had as clients retired Supreme Court Justice Dante Tinga who filed an electoral protest against Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano, wife of Sen Alan Cayetano.
Alan Cayetano has been a critic of Brillantes, while Tinga was a former client of Brillantes himself. – With reports from Paterno Esmaquel II and Chay Hofileña/Rappler.com
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