Elections chief disowns Guanzon’s comment vs Poe

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Elections chief disowns Guanzon’s comment vs Poe
Election Chairman Andres Bautista issues a memo to Commissioner Rowena Guanzon for filing an unauthorized comment with the Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines – The chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) asked one of its commissioners and the head of its legal department to explain why they filed with the Supreme Court (SC) an unauthorized comment on the petition of presidential aspirant Grace Poe.

Poe, who leads presidential preference surveys, had gone to the High Court after the Comelec en banc ruled to cancel her certificate of candidacy, based on complaints that she is not a natural-born Filipino and that she did not meet the minimum 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates.

While awaiting comments from concerned parties, the SC issued a temporary restraining order on the Comelec’s decision.

On Thursday, January 7, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon gamely faced the cameras to show the comment she was supposedly filing on behalf of her agency against Poe.

In this 73-page comment filed with the SC, the Comelec is quoted as saying it “did not commit any grave abuse of discretion” when it barred Poe’s presidential bid.

Behind the scenes, however, Guanzon’s boss was at a loss.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said he knew nothing about the comment Guanzon filed on Thursday.

In a leaked memo verified by Rappler, Bautista grilled Guanzon and the head of the Comelec law department, Maria Norina Tangaro Casingal.

Bautista said, “Under whose authority was the Comment filed?”

He also asked them why he and other Comelec members had not been allowed “to review the Comment and provide their comments thereto.”

The Comelec chairman added, “Under whose authority was the undersigned’s name printed in the Comment?”

The comment filed by Guanzon, as e-mailed to Rappler, bore Bautista’s name but not his signature. 

Bautista required Guanzon and Casingal to explain this within 24 hours, or else he may have to tell the SC that “the filing of the Comment was unauthorized.”

Election lawyers say that if the comment filed by Guanzon would be found ultra vires – beyond her power to file – it will be considered just a scrap of paper, and she might be held in contempt by the SC.

Guanzon: ‘I am not a subordinate’

Guanzon, for her part, said that “the preparation and filing of the Comment had the imprimatur of the Comelec en banc.”

In a statement Friday evening, January 8, she said: “The Comelec en banc on 05 January 2016 did not require that all of us have to review or approve the Comment before it is filed because of the urgency. Neither did the Comelec en banc require that all of us must sign the comment.”

She also explained why she placed Bautista’s name on the 73-page comment on Thursday.

She said Bautista’s chief of staff (COS), Marina Demetrio, earlier requested a copy of the Comment from Guanzon’s COS. Demetrio, however, “was told that the same was not yet finished, and we will have to work overnight and we will file it in the morning of 07 January 2016.”

“Atty Demetrio told my COS that even if Chair Bautista could not sign it because of the lateness of the hour, to please put his name on the Comment,” Guanzon said. 

The Comelec commissioner then assailed Bautista for issuing this memo. 

“The Memorandum, which is now public, has cast a stain on my reputation as a Commissioner and as a lawyer. I must emphasize that as a Commissioner, I am not a subordinate or employee of Chair Bautista and he has not administrative supervision or control over me,” she said. 

She added: “The Memorandum of Chair Bautista unfortunately damaged the image of the institution, and I am afraid might prejudice our case before the Supreme Court. Our first priority should be the institution and the country that we must serve faithfully.”

Liberal Party ties?

Guanzon was among the Comelec commissioners who voted to bar Poe from running. Poe eventually challenged this decision before the SC, which then temporarily stopped the Comelec from implementing its ruling.

Bautista, former dean of Far Eastern University’s Institute of Law, voted in favor of Poe. (READ: How Comelec commissioners voted on Grace Poe’s case)

Critics associate Guanzon, a women’s rights advocate, with administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II. She’s formerly a mayor of Cadiz City and an ex-commissioner of the Commission on Audit.

The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) earlier said the ruling Liberal Party might use Guanzon to ensure the victory of Roxas.

Guanzon has denied UNA’s accusation. She has also been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments without opposition senators blocking her confirmation.

Comelec insiders said the Liberal Party initially wanted Guanzon to sit as Comelec chairman. 

Eventually, President Benigno Aquino III appointed Bautista, former chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, as head of the poll body. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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