2022 Philippine Elections

Groups lodge ‘vehement objection’ to confirmation of Comelec chief

Dwight de Leon
Groups lodge ‘vehement objection’ to  confirmation of Comelec chief

ELECTIONS CHIEF. Comelec Chairman Saidamen Balt Pangarungan poses for the cameras during the turnover ceremony on March 9, 2022, marking his first day in office.

Rappler

Speaking to Rappler, Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan asserts that the non-proclamation of a congressional race winner in Zamboanga del Norte – an issue that critics are citing to oppose his confirmation bid – was not a unilateral decision

MANILA, Philippines – Multiple groups opposed the confirmation of the ad interim appointment of Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Saidamen Pangarungan, citing his alleged “blatant and scandalous disregard” of due process in a Zamboanga del Norte electoral race.

In at least two separate letters to the Commission on Appointments seen by Rappler, Pangarungan’s critics lodged their “vehement objection” due to his alleged role in the non-proclamation of the congressional race winner in the province’s 1st District.

The provincial board of canvassers (PBOC) suspended the proclamation of leading congressional candidate Roberto “Pinpin” Uy Jr. on May 11, supposedly upon Pangarungan’s verbal instruction. 

In a statement to Rappler on Wednesday, May 25, Pangarungan insisted that the suspension was a decision he and his colleagues in the seven-member Comelec en banc agreed upon.

“The suspension of proclamation was ruled by the commission en banc, not by the chairman alone,” he said.

Proclamation drama

Uy’s main rival Romeo Jalosjos Jr., who had moved to suspend the proclamation that night, was clinging to a supposed Comelec en banc ruling which would declare a certain Federico Jalosjos a nuisance candidate. His lawyers had also asked that Federico’s votes be credited to him. 

Based on the final tally, reelectionist congressman Jalosjos had 69,107 votes, just behind Uy, who had 69,591 votes. The nuisance Jalosjos had 5,424 votes, which, if transferred to his more popular namesake, would be enough to give him the victory.

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Before the controversial phone call, PBOC chairperson Verly Adanza had supposedly received a proclamation suspension order from Pangarungan’s office via email. 

But Uy’s lawyers had insisted the order was undated, did not contain a notice to parties, and was not released through the Comelec clerk.

“It was allegedly emailed by the Chairman himself directly to the Provincial Election Supervisor, in contravention with the usual method on how orders of the Comelec are officially released and promulgated,” Uy’s camp asserted in a letter to the CA dated Tuesday, May 24, and subsequently obtained by Rappler.

The PBOC, by a majority vote, then decided to proceed with Uy’s proclamation, until Pangarungan supposedly called Adanza and advised her not to push through with the proclamation.

“The foregoing turn of events can only be described as blatant and scandalous disregard of the due process and rules established by the Comelec itself,” Uy’s lawyers said. “It is unfortunate that a mere phone call from a supposed Comelec chairperson can now prevent a winning candidate from being properly proclaimed and can be the basis of the PBOC to reverse its earlier ruling to proceed with the proclamation of Uy.”

The group Zamboanga del Norte Center for Social Concerns and Development (ZN CESCOD), in a separate letter to the CA obtained by Rappler, said that Uy’s non-proclamation was “frustrating the will of the electorate.”

“If the PBOC chairperson is to be believed, she is in effect implicating the Comelec Chairman to have induced her not to perform her duty under the law – which is a graft and corrupt act punishable under Republic Act 3019,” ZN CESCOD executive director Enrico Montano wrote. 

Asked for a statement, Pangarungan said the controversy over the non-proclamation of a congressional race winner in Zamboanga del Norte’s 1st District is covered by the sub-judice rule.

“Upon her query, I only relayed to the PES Verly Adanza the en banc resolution on May 11, and that it was underway for transmission to the PBOC of Zamboanga del Norte,” Pangarungan said.

“The  suspension of proclamation of congressman in Zamboanga del Norte is the subject of an urgent motion for reconsideration by the lawyers of Pinpin Uy,” he added.

A two-month-old Duterte appointee, Pangarungan has yet to be confirmed by the CA.

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Pangarungan and commissioners George Garcia and Aimee Neri were supposed to face the CA on Wednesday, May 25, but the panel postponed the hearing to next week, as other CA members were unable to take part in the hearing due to their canvassing duties.

The three officials are at risk of being bypassed if they are not confirmed by June 3, when Congress adjourns.

“If bypassed, then ad interim appointment effectivity terminates. And no ‘midnight appointment’ allowed at this time, in my opinion. Also, the better policy is for the incumbent/outgoing president to let the incoming president choose the officials, if bypassed at this time,” Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III told reporters. – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.