Duterte: Comelec’s Guanzon should inhibit in my case

Paterno Esmaquel II
Duterte: Comelec’s Guanzon should inhibit in my case
The presidential candidate says Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon is a close friend of Sheila Bazar, lawyer of an anti-Duterte petitioner

MANILA, Philippines – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte unearthed online posts, from as far back as 2007, to bare links between Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon and a lawyer working to bar his presidential bid. 

Duterte used these pieces of evidence – including photos on Facebook and Instagram – as he moved to inhibit Guanzon from hearing the cases filed against him before the Comelec. 

In a 17-page motion, Duterte through his lawyers, pointed out that Guanzon is a “mare” (close female friend) of lawyer Maria Sheila Bazar. 

Bazar is the lawyer of John Paulo delas Nieves, the 21-year-old University of the Philippines student who filed a petition to stop Duterte from running.

“With all due respect, respondent Duterte has reasonable grounds to believe, and so allege, that the Honorable Commissioner Ma. Rowena Amalia V. Guanzon (‘Commissioner Guanzon’) no longer possesses the requisite standard of impartiality to proceed, hear, and decide the pending petitions,” Duterte’s camp said in its motion Tuesday, January 12.

Duterte also said it is “alarming” that Guanzon is associated with Bazar. 

Comelec’s rules on inhibition

His lawyers cited Rule 4, Section 1, of the Comelec Rules of Procedure. 

This provision states that no Comelec member “shall sit in any case…in which he has publicly expressed prejudgment as may be shown by convincing proof.” A Comelec member is also bound to inhibit himself or herself if any party or lawyer involved is a close relative.

The Rules of Procedure do not require Comelec members to inhibit themselves if the party or lawyer involved is a friend or colleague. 

The poll body’s rules, however, say that a Comelec member “may, in the exercise of sound discretion, inhibit himself from sitting in a case for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.”

Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim, for instance, inhibited himself from a petition filed against presidential aspirant Senator Grace Poe, because he once worked with the petitioner, Estrella Elamparo.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista also once considered inhibiting from cases filed against Poe, after the senator’s supporters said he is close to at least one of the petitioners. Bautista eventually decided not to inhibit himself from his “first big decision” as elections chief. 

While citing Comelec rules, Duterte’s lawyers also quoted a Supreme Court ruling that said, “Where the relationship between the judge and an attorney for a party is such that there would be a natural inclination to prejudice the case, the judge should be disqualified in order to guarantee a fair trial.” 

Guanzon: ‘Not my sorority sister’

Reached for comment, Guanzon told Rappler to “please wait for the order or resolution” of the Comelec First Division next week.

She added, “Attorney Bazar is not my sorority sister, contrary to insinuations of some people. She is a member of another sorority in UP.”

The Comelec commissioner refused to comment further.

Guanzon, along with two other commissioners, sits in the Comelec First Division that handles the petitions against Duterte. (READ: Duterte to Comelec: Cases ‘water under the bridge’)

In December 2015, she was the only person in the 7-member Comelec that voted not to accept Duterte’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for president.

Questioning Guanzon’s impartiality, Duterte’s lawyers detailed the supposed links between Guanzon and Bazar.

They said both Guanzon and Bazar founded the Gender Justice Network, a group of law practitioners “involved in gender issues.” 

In their motion, the Duterte camp also quoted Guanzon’s supposed messages to the Gender Justice Network Yahoo Group, which referred to Bazar. The messages had been signed using Guanzon’s nickname, “Bing.”

Calling each other ‘mare’

One of the excerpts submitted to the Comelec says:

Feb 13, 2007

partners, 

Meeting of steering comm today feb 13. x x x
sheila b is silent, maybe she is still asleep. x x x 

Bing

PS mga mare, send  your pictures to gia na para 
masaya ang e group site. x x x

let’s enjoy each other’s photos, pati na ang 
picture ng mga lasing na sheila at vix 
tambunting sa barcino

(The first sentence in Filipino can be translated as, “My friends, send your pictures to Gia so that our group site is fun.” The second sentence in Filipino can be translated as, “Let’s enjoy each other’s photos, including the photos of a drunk Sheila and Vix Tambunting in Barcino.” Barcino is a bar in Manila.)

At the same time, Duterte’s lawyers cited Bazar’s comment on a Facebook photo uploaded by Guanzon on December 11, 2011. Bazar reportedly posted, “Mare, at nasaan naman yong kasama kami? ☺” (My friend, and where is the one including us?)

Duterte’s lawyers also said that Gender Justice Network’s Facebook group had been “created and administered by Commissioner Guanzon herself.” They also noted that this Facebook group only has 7 members, including Guanzon and Bazar, “thus creating a sense of exclusivity among its members.” 

The Duterte camp included the following Facebook photos “publicly uploaded” by Guanzon:

  • A photo showing Guanzon and Bazar in a Makati court “with a friend” in December 2011
  • One showing them “celebrating their network’s Christmas party in a co-member’s office” in December 2011
  • Another showing them “attending together” a Department of Justice summit in December 2011

Duterte’s lawyers added that Guanzon follows Bazar on Instagram. The catch: They said Guanzon follows only 23 accounts, including Bazar’s. 

They said: “It also bears stressing that the dates of the public posts and photos span the years 2005 to 2014, or a total of 9 years, giving the impression that their close friendship is not a one-time event, but rather one that is long and continuous.” 

Duterte ‘shocked’

In their motion, Duterte’s lawyers also said the Davao City mayor “was shocked” when Guanzon voted not to accept his COC in December 2015.

Guanzon explained in a note back then, “There is a pending case, Castor v Duterte, wherein the petitioner alleges that Duterte’s COC is void because it contains untruthful acts or misrepresentation.”

The commissioner added, “There is also the issue regarding his notarized documents, the truth and falsity of which must be determined before his COC is accepted.”

Guanzon was referring to the petition filed by broadcaster Ruben Castor requesting the Comelec to declare the COC of Martin Diño as null and void. 

Duterte ran as Diño’s substitute. Duterte’s critics say the mayor’s candidacy is invalid because Diño’s COC is null and void.

The Duterte camp, however, pointed out that Castor cited an error in the COC of Diño, not Duterte. 

Castor’s lawyer, Oliver Lozano, earlier clarified that their petition directly concerns Diño and not the Davao City mayor. Castor himself even said he wants Duterte for president.

Guanzon, on the other hand, said Castor “alleges that Duterte’s COC is void.”

Duterte’s lawyer said: “Respondent Duterte humbly submits that Commissioner Guanzon, consistent with due process and fair play, should have refrained from making any adverse conclusions with respect to the election documents of a candidate without first seeing and reading an actual petition raising such allegations and issues.”

‘Very close friend’ of Roxas?

Duterte also believes Guanzon “has not observed the essence of due process that demands that a court hears first before it condemns, or proceeds only upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial.”

“It appears that Commissioner Guanzon had already made her own conclusions on the documents and would want to shift the burden upon Respondent Duterte to show otherwise,” the Duterte camp said. 

Duterte’s lawyer, Vitaliano Aguirre II, said Guanzon wants to pin down Duterte because “she’s a very close friend” of administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II.

The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay, another leading candidate for president, has claimed that the ruling Liberal Party is bent on using Guanzon to ensure Roxas’ victory. Guanzon has denied this claim.  

Referring to Roxas’ camp, Aguirre said in a phone interview, “It seems that they want the strong candidates to be disqualified.” 

Known by the nickname Digong, Duterte is not the only candidate facing disqualification issues. 

The Comelec earlier disqualified Senator Grace Poe, another leading presidential aspirant, from running for president. Poe appealed this Comelec decision before the SC. (READ: Ex-Corona prosecutor is Comelec lead counsel vs Poe)

For Aguirre, Roxas’ camp is “succeeding” in barring Poe from running. 

Aguirre told Rappler, “Gusto nilang gawin ‘yon kay Mayor Digong.” (They want to do that to Mayor Digong.) – Rappler.com

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Paterno 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.