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New Comelec member denies 'bias' vs Binay

MANILA, Philippines – Newly appointed Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon on Tuesday, May 5, denied that she pressured state auditors to investigate Vice President Jejomar Binay over an allegedly overpriced housing project. 

Guanzon also downplayed her ties with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Binay's presumed rival in the 2016 presidential race.

Citing her role as Commission on Audit (COA) commissioner for 10 months, Guanzon explained: "As commissioner, I had no power to call any auditor. And, in fact, my function was mostly quasi-judicial in nature, where I voted as a judge in claims in the commission. So I would like to take this opportunity to disabuse the mind of the public based on what some newspapers wrote."

"I was a new commissioner, I attended meetings only when I was called, and of course...naturally I would be consulted from time to time by the chair," she said in a news conference.

Guanzon referred to reports, based on news releases by Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), that she wanted COA auditors to pin down Binay in the alleged overpricing of the Makati Friendship Suites, a housing project. (READ: Critic: Binay relocation program overpriced but…)

"Let me be very clear that that report is false, and I had no opportunity to reply to that because I thought the duty of reporters is to make a fair and true report. And when you are accusing public officers of partisanship, of bias, at the very least, I was hoping that I would have been asked. But I was not," she said.

She added, "I am not related to Secretary Roxas." Referring to the mother of Roxas, she said, "I would like to be related to Tita Judy Araneta Roxas, but I am not." 

When asked who nominated her as Comelec commissioner, Guanzon said women's groups, including Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Patricia Licunan, endorsed her as commissioner as early as 2012. She said President Benigno Aquino III chose to appoint former Isabela governor Grace Padaca back then.

"I have a constituency. I am a women's rights advocate.... We're very happy that the President appoints woman in major decision-making institutions," Guanzon told reporters.

Roxas 'dipping hands' in Comelec?

UNA, for its part, reiterated that the ruling Liberal Party (LP) will likely use Guanzon to ensure Roxas' victory in the 2016 presidential elections. 

In a statement Tuesday, UNA slammed LP's "MAD" faction "to ensure that its presidential candidate wins by hook or by crook in the 2016 national elections."

UNA said the acronym "MAD" refers to LP stalwarts "Mar," "Abad," and "Drilon" – Roxas, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and Senate President Franklin Drilon, respectively.

UNA interim president Toby Tiangco pointed out that Guanzon "is very much part" of Roxas' circle, as Roxas even endorsed her to become part of COA and the Supreme Court. "Again, we see Mar dipping his hands in Comelec," he said.

“We are worried of the political ties of Ms Guanzon in a supposedly neutral and non-partisan body, especially in an agency that is tasked to oversee a fair and clean election," Tiangco said.

Roxas previously brushed off this accusation. "I don't respond to these things," the interior secretary had said. 

Guanzon took her oath of office on Monday, May 4, along with new Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Sheriff Abbas. (READ: Open up, Comelec chair once told 'gods of Faura')

She is a former mayor of Cadiz City, and holds a master's degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 

Guanzon, a lawyer, joined the other Comelec members in an en banc meeting on Tuesday. On her first full day as Comelec commissioner, the Comelec, among other things, decided to consider buying 100,000 precinct count optical scan machines for 2016. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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