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MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has named lawyer George Garcia, a respected figure in the field of election law, as new Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner.
Garcia confirmed to Rappler on Tuesday, March 8, that he will fill one of the three vacant seats in the seven-member Comelec en banc.
He is the first high-profile election lawyer to be named to the Comelec since Sixto Brillantes Jr., former lawyer of Fernando Poe Jr. and later Benigno Aquino III, was appointed elections chief by Aquino in 2011.
Garcia represented Grace Poe during her disqualification saga in the 2016 presidential elections, as well as defeated 2016 vice presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during his electoral protest.
He will enter the commission at a time when there are at least four unresolved cases against Marcos Jr.’s 2022 bid, either at the en banc or division level.
Before his appointment, he also served as a lawyer for the campaign team of 2022 presidential aspirant and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.
Asked about a potential conflict of interest, the Palace assured the public that Garcia’s appointment went through the proper process.
“His appointment underwent a vetting process and we should respect the President’s prerogative to choose,” Duterte’s acting spokesperson Martin Andanar said.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez also tried to allay the public’s fears later on Tuesday.
“We are confident the new appointees will be able to navigate that, act impartially, and fairly in all matters before them. If it happens there’s a possible conflict of interest, certainly they will deal with that appropriately,” Jimenez said.
Aside from Garcia, the Palace also confirmed that National Commission on Muslim Filipinos chief Saidamen Pangarungan was appointed Comelec chairperson, while social welfare undersecretary Aimee Torrefranca-Neri was chosen as poll commissioner.
Their entry in the poll body means that all seven members of the en banc are people handpicked by Duterte – a scenario similar to 2016, when the policy-making body was composed of people all appointed by then-president Benigno Aquino III.
Other members of the Comelec en banc are Socorro Inting, Marlon Casquejo, Aimee Ferolino, and Rey Bulay.
Inting, Casquejo, and Ferolino are all from Duterte’s hometown Davao City. Inting was a former Court of Appeals justice; Casquejo and Ferolino are career officials who rose from the Comelec ranks.
Bulay is Duterte’s frat brother from Muntinlupa, and was previously Manila’s chief prosecutor. – Rappler.com