Comelec division: Guanzon can hear Duterte cases

Paterno Esmaquel II
Comelec division: Guanzon can hear Duterte cases
'I am very independent-minded,' Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon tells Rappler, as critics claim conflict of interest

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division on Monday, January 18, decided to allow poll commissioner Rowena Guanzon to hear disqualification cases against Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte despite claims of conflict of interest. 

In a resolution, the Comelec First Division dismissed for “lack of merit” a petition to inhibit Guanzon from hearing Duterte’s cases. The petition linked Guanzon to a lawyer of an anti-Duterte petitioner.

The division explained that Guanzon can hear cases against Duterte because no Comelec rule stops her from doing so. Comelec rules only require members to inhibit when a case involves family members, not friends or colleagues.

Guanzon signed this resolution along with Comelec Commissioners Christian Lim and Luie Guia.

Guanzon told Rappler on Monday: “I am not inhibiting from the cases of Mayor Duterte. The grounds cited by his lawyers are not for mandatory inhibition, so it is my discretion whether or not to inhibit.”

This comes as Duterte, one of the Philippines’ leading presidential bets, faces petitions to bar him from running for president because he reportedly ran through invalid means. (READ: Duterte to Comelec: Cases ‘water under the bridge’)

While defending himself, Duterte on January 12 submitted a motion to stop Guanzon from hearing his case because she is supposedly a close friend of 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.

Pointing out a potential conflict of interest, Duterte then unearthed online posts, from as far back as 2007, to bare supposed links between Guanzon and Bazar.

Duterte’s pieces of evidence include photos on Facebook and Instagram, as well as an online post in which Bazar calls Guanzon her “mare” or close female friend.

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, who has ranked low in recent surveys.

Comelec: No rule prohibiting her

Guanzon, for her part, has repeatedly denied accusations of bias for Roxas.

She also said Bazar is neither her relative nor her sorority sister. She admitted that she and Bazar belonged to the same group, the Gender Justice Network, but that the group “has been inactive for several years now.”

Guanzon added that a photo attached to Duterte’s motion was taken in 2011, or 5 years ago.

“I am very independent-minded, none of my friends or classmates or lawyer acquaintances would think that I would render a decision in their favor because of our association,” she said. 

Rule 4, Section 1 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure states that a Comelec member is bound to inhibit himself or herself if any party or lawyer involved is a close relative. The rules also say no Comelec member “shall sit in any case…in which he has publicly expressed prejudgment as may be shown by convincing proof.”

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.”

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. In a phone interview with Rappler, Bautista said he eventually decided not to inhibit himself from his “first big decision” as elections chief. – 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.