MANILA, Philippines – New Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief Saidamen Pangarungan formally assumed the chairmanship post on Wednesday, March 9, in a ceremony that saw him make a promise to maintain the credibility of the ever-important institution.
“I stand before you today as a defender of democracy who will be independent and conscientious in giving life to the fundamental freedom of suffrage,” Pangarungan told Comelec employees, who were his audience during Wednesday’s turnover rites.
“We will honor and protect the Constitution in every decision we pen, in every program and project we undertake, even in every single vote we count. The sanctity of the vote shall be our guiding principle,” he added.
Pangarungan, notably, also expressed his “sincerest gratitude” to President Rodrigo Duterte for appointing him to the poll body.
While he is not a career official who rose from Comelec ranks unlike some of the present Comelec commissioners, Pangarungan has a history of pushing for clean and honest elections.
An opposition figure in Lanao del Sur during the Martial Law years, he denounced election irregularities in his area in February 1986, in the run-up to the EDSA uprising, according to the book An Anarchy of Families.
When he was appointed interior undersecretary under the Corazon Aquino administration, he worked for the abolition of thousands of “ghost” or uninhabited barangays. An executive order from 1986 noted that these dubious villages “started during the previous regime.”
“These barangays zap and destroy the vitality of our country. These ghost barangays constitute the biggest electoral fraud in our history,” he said.
He also promised Comelec employees that under his watch, the poll body will “maximize the benefits that come with working for the Comelec.”
Pangarungan is only the second Muslim and Mindanaoan to lead the poll body, after his predecessor, Sheriff Abas. Prior to his appointment to the Comelec, he was the chief of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
He was also once a private lawyer, and a governor of Lanao del Sur.
Commissioner Socorro Inting formally turned over the Comelec flag to Pangarungan on Wednesday, a symbolic move that marked the end of Inting’s one-month stint as acting chairperson.
Also present on Wednesday’s welcome ceremony was new Commissioner Aimee Torrefranca-Neri, who, prior to her appointment, had stints at multiple government agencies under the Duterte administration, such as the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Bureau of Immigration.
“I want to make it clear that amidst all the issues thrown towards the commission, we will advocate and ensure that we will have an honest, fair, and free conduct of the election,” Torrefranca-Neri said.
Commissioners Marlon Casquejo, Aimee Ferolino, and Rey Bulay were also in attendance. The only absent commissioner is the newly appointed George Garcia, a veteran election lawyer.
“I have to rush the filing of withdrawal of appearances in all the cases that I handled and are presently handling including the inventory of cases. Likewise, we are now initiating and processing the dissolution / closing of my law firm,” he told Rappler.
The seven-member en banc will be at the forefront of ensuring a successful conduct of the 2022 elections, where over 67 million Filipinos are eligible to cast their ballots amid a pandemic.
That vote will determine the successor of the man who appointed all seven of them to the poll body, a scenario similar to 2016, when all seven Comelec en banc officials were appointees of then-president Benigno Aquino III.
The Comelec also faces the pressure of resolving numerous petitions seeking to block the candidacy of 2022 presidential aspirant, survey frontrunner, and late dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – Rappler.com