Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II
MANILA, Philippines – He lawyered for politicians "to death."
His former clients know this well, says Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. An election lawyer for over 20 years, he counts President Benigno Aquino III, the late Fernando Poe Jr, and the Ampatuan family among those he defended.
Marking his second year in the Comelec, he admits he once resorted to dirty tricks and gave the agency its worst headaches. (Read: Brillantes: Comelec chair in his father's seat.)
In an interview with Rappler, Brillantes now dispels this negative image, and says he is ready to defend his new "clients." Read and watch parts of our interview below. (An English translation follows.)
RAPPLER: Ano 'yung gawain ng election lawyer, na being election chair ay nasasawata niyo dahil alam niyo na ganoon ang gawain?
BRILLANTES: Ah, marami. Sa manual, marami. 'Yung manual, alam ko lahat ng ano. Kumbaga sa kuwan, alam mo ang lahat ng kalokohan. Alam mo kung saan, alam mo 'yung strategy kung paano mo dadaya – hindi dadayain, kung paano mo maiisahan ang kalaban.
RAPPLER: So gumawa din ba kayo ng kalokohan dati?
BRILLANTES: Eh hindi, eh, well, sabi ko nga, strategy. As a lawyer, 'yung plano ng kliyente mo, kailangang turuan mo kung paano, paano makakatanggal ng boto 'yung kalaban, paano mo guguluhin 'yung mga lugar na malakas ang kalaban mo. Paano mo... kasama 'yon. It's part of the strategy. Sinasabi ko nga, bakit ang daming bumoboto nang alas-siyete? Kasi ang strategy mo, papapasukin mo kaagad lahat ng sa 'yo, tapos babagalan mo na ang, kokontrolin mo ang voting precincts.
BRILLANTES: Para hindi makaboto ang mga susunod.
RAPPLER: So dadamihan mo ang iyo para mawalang gana na ang mga...?
BRILLANTES: Tapos slow down na 'yon, mag-ii-slow down na 'yon.
RAPPLER: Eh sa automated, ano ang mga ganyang tricks?
BRILLANTES: Mahihirap – puwede, puwede pa naman. In fact it can be used nga eh.
RAPPLER: Mapipigilan ba 'yon?
BRILLANTES: Pero hindi na ngayon. Mahihirapan na sila, kasi eto ngang ginagawa naming reporma ngayon, we're changing the system of voting eh. 'Di ba noong 2010, 'yan ang naging problema, the queueing problem. Kasi nagdagsaan lahat ng tao, bago eh, sistema, nandoon lahat nang alas-siyete. Ngayon, we're trying to change the process. Sabi ko, hindi pupuwede. Nakita ko eh. At saka 'yung strategy sa mga probinsya na unahan mo, lahat nag-uunahan. (Watch related video below)
On poll lawyers' bad image
RAPPLER: How assured can the public be that the Sixto Brillantes who's heading the Comelec, is not the Sixto Brillantes who was perceived to be ano?
BRILLANTES: Natural naman. Ako naman, sinabi ko rin naman kay Presidente 'yon eh. Of course ang reservation ko rito, is because I had so many clients before, it might not look good if I accept. Sabi niya, "Hindi. Kayang-kaya mo 'yan. Eh 'di huwag kang sumali sa mga naging kliyente mo." Which is what I already did. Pero ang perception natin na sinasabing kuwan, that's the only way I can do it eh, na I do not participate and inhibit where my clients are involved. Tingin ko naman, noong sinabi ko noong unang-una kong, which is what I said in our flag ceremony, ako naman, 'ka ko, noong ako'y nagpra-practice, maski sinong kliyente ko ang tanungin n'yo, dibdiban akong humawak ng kaso. Ipaglalaban ko ang kliyente ko hanggang kamatayan. Ngayon naman na wala na akong kliyente, ipaglalaban ko naman 'yung kliyente kong nag-iisa na lang: 'yung taumbayan. 'Yun lang ang sinasabi ko lagi.
RAPPLER: Pardon me lang, Chair, ha, pero 'yung isang ano, another way of putting it. How sure are we that the Comelec is not a giant election operation by Sixto Brillantes?
BRILLANTES: No way.
RAPPLER: Okay, bakit po?
BRILLANTES: Kasi lahat ng alam ko, na nangyayari when I was practicing, is what I am trying to resolve and solve and reverse.
RAPPLER: Metamorphosis yata 'yan.
BRILLANTES: Kasi kaya ko naman sinasabi maski noon. Etong mga kasong ito, mga kasong nire-resolve ko. Alam ko kung anong nangyari dito... Alam ko kung anong nangyari rito. So alam ko, when I have to prepare decision, to make sure na 'yung tunay na nanalo, at 'yun ang mananalo.
RAPPLER: Magaling kayo magbagu-bago ng role 'no?
RAPPLER: Dati kasi, siyempre kalaban dati...
BRILLANTES: Hindi naman ako nagbabago ng role. Unang una, itong role na ito is something very new to me. Never in government, I've never wanted to join government, because I never felt good. I've always looked at government in the negative side eh. Kaya noong in-appoint ako, sabi ko, siguro, kung nalagay ako diyan, talagang mababaliktad ang mundo ko. Eh 'di baliktarin ko ang mundo ko. 'Di baliktarin ko. Bakit ko naman hindi mai... alam ko ang nangyayari ritong hindi tama eh. Ba't ko hindi puwedeng itama 'yon. I was about to retire after the 2010 elections, kaya ako kumuha ng maraming kaso eh. 'Yun ang retirement ko. Eh naputol, eh naputol ang mga kaso ko. Sabi ko, financially sakripisyo rin ito. Okay lang.
RAPPLER: Bakit, bakit okay lang?
BRILLANTES: Eh hindi ko naman kailangan eh. Biyudo naman ako. Wala naman akong mga anak na pinakakain na. Wala naman akong obligasyon. Eh 'yung hanapbuhay ko dito eh sobra-sobra na ang kinikita ko rito eh.
RAPPLER: Marami na kayong pera eh.
BRILLANTES: Sobra pa. May suweldo kang malaki, wala kang gasolina, wala kang... ano pa ang hihingin mo? Hindi naman ako, mababaw naman ang kaligayahan ko sa mundong ito. Wala naman akong ambisyon; gusto ko na ngang mag-retire.
RAPPLER: Chairman, last question. As an old man who follows in his father's footsteps, what legacy do you want to leave in Comelec in 2015?
BRILLANTES: I will retire in 2015, if ever I decide to finish my term. Ang ambisyon ko lang ngayon matapos ko lang itong 2013, to be a success just like in 2010. 'Yun ang pinakakuwan ko, 'yun ang talagang tinatarget ko ngayon.
(Watch related video below)
RAPPLER: What practices of election lawyers are you, as election chair, able to stop because you've mastered these?
BRILLANTES: Ah, a lot. Under the manual system, a lot. I know everything under the manual. In other words, you know all the dirty tricks. You know the strategy, how to cheat, no, not to cheat, but how to put one over one's opponent.
RAPPLER: So did you resort to dirty tricks before?
BRILLANTES: Well, as I said, strategy. As a lawyer, and given your client's plan, you have to teach him how to slash the opponent's votes, how to mess up your opponent's bailiwick. That's part of it. It's part of the strategy. As I say, why do more people vote at 7 am? Because your strategy is, make your supporters crowd the precinct, then delay the rest. You control the voting precincts.
RAPPLER: So that...?
BRILLANTES: You prevent the others from voting.
RAPPLER: So you'd fill it with supporters so the rest would lose interest?
BRILLANTES: Then they will slow down, they will slow down.
RAPPLER: Under the automated system, what are similar tricks?
BRILLANTES: It's difficult – they can, they can. In fact it can be used.
RAPPLER: Can we prevent that?
BRILLANTES: But they can't do it anymore. They'll have a hard time, because with the reforms we're doing now, we're changing the system of voting. Remember in 2010, that was the problem – the queueing problem. Because people would crowd the precincts; they're there by 7 am. Now we're trying to change the process. I said this cannot be. I saw that before. And the strategy in the provinces, flocking to precincts to vote first.
On poll lawyers' bad image
RAPPLER: How assured can the public be that the Sixto Brillantes who's heading the Comelec, is not the Sixto Brillantes who was perceived to have a bad image?
BRILLANTES: That's expected. I myself told the President about that. Of course my reservation was, because I had so many clients before, it might not look good if I accept the appointment. He said, “No. You can do that. Then abstain from cases of former clients.” Which is what I already did. Despite the perception about me, that's the only way I can do it, that I wouldn't participate and inhibit where my clients are involved. Which is what I said in our flag ceremony. I said when I was practicing – ask any former client – I took every case seriously. I would fight for my clients to death. Now that I no longer have clients, I will fight for my sole client now – the Filipino people. That's what I always say.
RAPPLER: Pardon me, Chair, but another way of putting it. How sure are we that the Comelec is not a giant election operation by Sixto Brillantes?
BRILLANTES: No way.
RAPPLER: Okay, why?
BRILLANTES: Because everything I knew was happening when I was practicing, is what I am trying to resolve and solve and reverse.
RAPPLER: That seems like a metamorphosis.
BRILLANTES: That's what I've been saying ever since. These cases I am resolving now, I know what happened to these in the past... I know what happened. So I know, when I have to prepare a decision, that I should make sure whoever truly won, will win.
RAPPLER: You seem good at changing roles.
RAPPLER: Because you had another role in the past, and...
BRILLANTES: I'm not changing roles. First of all, this role is something very new to me. I've never wanted to join government, because I never felt good. I've always looked at government negatively. So when I was appointed, I said perhaps my world would turn upside down. Then I'd turn my world upside down. Why can't I? I know the irregularities here. Why can't I correct these? I was about to retire after the 2010 elections; that's why I took on many cases. That's for my retirement. But that plan was cut short. I also said this is a financial sacrifice. It's okay.
RAPPLER: Why is it okay?
BRILLANTES: I don't need this anyway. I'm a widow. I don't have any children to support. I don't have any obligation. What I earn from this job is more than enough.
RAPPLER: You have a lot of money anyway.
BRILLANTES: More than enough. I have a huge salary, I don't have to pay for gas... what else will I ask for? It's easy to make me happy. I have no other ambition; in fact I wanted to retire.
RAPPLER: Chairman, last question. As an old man who follows in his father's footsteps, what legacy do you want to leave to the Comelec in 2015?
BRILLANTES: I will retire in 2015, if ever I decide to finish my term. My only ambition is to finish the 2013 elections, to make it a success just like in 2010. That's my only target. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.