MANILA, Philippines – The chief of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) will take the helm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), in time for the high-stakes 2022 elections.
President Rodrigo Duterte selected Saidamen Balt Pangarungan to fill the vacant Comelec chairmanship post, two months ahead of the May 9 polls.
“The directive of the President is to ensure an honest, peaceful, credible, and free elections,” Duterte’s acting spokesman Martin Andanar said on Tuesday, March 8.
The President also named two new commissioners – veteran election lawyer George Garcia and Duterte government official Aimee Torrefranca-Neri – completing the seven-member poll body.
With their appointments, all Comelec members are now Duterte appointees. This scenario is similar to 2016, when all Comelec officials ahead of the presidential elections were appointees by then-president Benigno Aquino III.
Pangarungan is the second Comelec chair from Mindanao and the second Muslim, after Sheriff Abas, who retired on February 2.
Pangarungan, a lawyer, started his political career as assemblyman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from 1979 to 1982, having been elected as an opposition candidate against the ruling Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. After the 1986 EDSA uprising, he served as governor of Lanao del Sur from 1988 to 1992.
He was also appointed interior undersecretary under the Corazon Aquino administration.
Two new commissioners
Aimee Torrefranca-Neri and George Garcia, meanwhile, were handpicked by Duterte to succeed retired commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Antonio Kho Jr.
Torrefranca-Neri was assigned to different agencies under the Duterte administration. She became an assistant justice secretary, Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioner, and social welfare undersecretary.
Garcia is a veteran election lawyer who 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.
Asked about a potential conflict of interest, Malacañang 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,” President Rodrigo Duterte’s acting spokesman Martin Andanar said.
Comelec spokesman 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.
Their entry in the poll body means that all of the seven-member 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