Parreño: ‘Curious’ outsider in Comelec

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
How will Al Parreño, an outsider, help reform the Comelec as one of its new commissioners?

IT EXPERT. Newly appointed commissioner Al Parreño will help steer the Philippines' second and succeeding automated elections. File photo by Rick Rocamora

MANILA, Philippines – He hardly handled election cases, and, in fact, his name didn’t ring a bell for poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. What does Al Parreño, the newly appointed poll commissioner, know about running elections?

Based on his background, not much.

Well, at least, Parreño tells Rappler he’s “curious.” And he can bring something else to the 7-member Commission on Elections (Comelec).

In an interview on Friday, April 19, Parreño – a lawyer and information technology (IT) expert – said those who nominated him had his professional background in mind. “Siguro naisip nila na kailangan natin ng taong may experience in both technology and law,” he said. (Perhaps they thought we need a person with experience in both technology and law.)

President Benigno Aquino III appointed him due to his IT expertise – something the Comelec needs in the second and succeeding automated elections. The Palace also said Parreño “has proven his competence” as board member of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), a post he has occupied since July 2012.

‘I’m curious’

Parreño brings with him rich experience in law and IT.

He extensively dealt with litigation involving special remedies and electronic evidence, information technology, and intellectual property and cyberlaw, among others. One of the key points of his career is as ePLDT’s legal counsel from 2005 to 2006.

His experience in LTFRB, a quasijudicial body like the Comelec, also trained him well. Parreño could also make use of his sensitivities as a human rights advocate, pushing for the rights of the marginalized during elections.

The question, however, is how involved he is in specific election issues. What Comelec issues, for instance, concerned Parreño before? To answer this question, the lawyer detailed the matters he was “curious” about.

“As a person, as an ordinary thriving individual, honestly I was curious about the automated election. Simula pa lang sa UP, gumawa na kami ng paper on technology. Curious lang ako dito on how technology is being applied in the Philippines… It’s my matter of curiosity. So ‘yun ‘yung mga tinitingnan ko: how the PCOS machine works, na may source code,” Parreño said.

(When I was at UP, we made a paper on technology. I was curious how technology is being applied in the Philippines… It’s my matter of curiosity. So that’s what I looked into: how the PCOS machine works, with a source code.)

Referring to data from PCOS machines, Parreño added: “Ang pinaka-curious ako talaga before is how they will use that as evidence.” (What I was most curious about is how they will use that as evidence.)

IT EXPERT. Lawyer Al Parreño will join the Comelec as a new commissioner. Photo from Parreño's Facebook page

What Comelec problems will he help solve as commissioner? Parreño declined to answer.

“Right now, any project manager involved in information technology, when asked that question, what he will say and, perhaps, it’s also the practice, the first thing he will do is an assessment,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He also refused to comment on the source code controversy, which watchdogs hurl against the Comelec as an example of poor transparency.

Mahirap mag-assess kung secondary information ang ginagamit nating thesis… Tingnan muna natin ang ebidensya bago natin sabihin kung ano ang gagawin,” the newly appointed commissioner said. (It’s difficult to assess if we will only use secondary information as thesis… Let’s first check the evidence before we discuss what to do.)

Ex-Roxas man in Comelec

Minor controversies have hounded Parreño so far.

One of these is his association with Liberal Party (LP) president-on-leave Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, to whom he owes his job in LTFRB, his first government stint.

It is unclear if Roxas was among those who nominated him as Comelec commissioner. “Hindi ko alam, honestly, kung sino ‘yung mga nag-nominate,” Parreño said. (I don’t know, honestly, who nominated me.)

Nevertheless, Parreño dispelled fears he will favor Roxas, who is reportedly eyeing the presidency in 2016, in election cases. “Just look the track record at LTFRB. People would tell you… did I favor anyone?”

Netizens have also questioned the constitutionality of his appointment.

The Constitution requires the Comelec to be composed mostly of lawyers with at least 10 years of experience. Parreño only has 9.

The Palace, however, has pointed out that the 7-member Comelec satisfies the constitutional requirement, as it is composed of 5 lawyers, including newly appointed commissioner Luie Guia. Parreño, in this case, falls under the category of “non-lawyers” like commissioner Grace Padaca, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

Oscar Franklin Tan, a constitutional law professor, explained that a Comelec commissioner need not necessarily be a lawyer. In a phone interview, he made a distinction between individual and collective requirements.

For individual commissioners, Article IX-C, Section 1 only requires Filipino citizenship, a minimum age of 35, a college degree, and a guarantee that he or she didn’t run in the immediately preceding elections.

Despite these issues, Parreño told Rappler he looks forward to working in the Comelec – which he plans to begin by meeting Brillantes and Comelec employees to “assess the situation.”

Then, the curious outsider vows to get down to business. –

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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