MANILA, Philippines – Three officials of the Commission on Election (Comelec) retired on Wednesday, February 2, in a ceremony that did not see as much drama and fuss as the past few days over internal conflict that has become a public spectacle.
Chairman Sheriff Abas and commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Antonio Kho Jr. formally stepped down in an in-person gathering at a hotel in Pasay, which was also attended by their en banc colleagues Socorro Inting, Marlon Casquejo, Aimee Ferolino, and Rey Bulay.
Guanzon and Ferolino’s feud has been exposed to the public after the senior poll veteran accused her younger colleague in several media interviews of delaying the ruling on the disqualification case against Ferdinand Marcos Jr. until after her retirement, so that Guanzon’s vote to block the former senator’s bid will be invalidated.
Ferolino had fired back at Guanzon in a couple of internal letters that were leaked to the media, going as far as telling Guanzon she’s destroying the Comelec’s credibility. Wednesday ended though, with no ruling on the high-profile Marcos case.
But little to none of that drama was witnessed by audiences watching Guanzon’s Facebook live video of the retirement ceremony, with the two quarreling colleagues choosing to take the high road for the most part of the formal event.
Ferolino, in her speech, cherished her “friendship” with her retiring colleagues, including Guanzon whom she called by her nickname “Bing.”
“I know even if they are retired, they are just a phone call away. Right, Chair, Comm. Kho, Comm. Bing?” Ferolino said.
Guanzon, presiding commissioner of the First Division, had previously accused Ferolino, designated writer of the ruling on the Marcos case, of being “incommunicado,” and succumbing to political interference.
The Facebook live video of Guanzon cut from Ferolino when she delivered her speech, unlike when the first three incumbent commissioners went to the podium.
Guanzon, meanwhile, was more subdued on Wednesday, taking a break from her combative demeanor in the past week. Her speech focused instead on her accomplishments, from pushing for more budget expenditure for gender-related projects, to finding ways to improve overseas voting.
“I retire with satisfaction that I made my parents proud, and I have enjoyed all your company even when we have disagreed,” Guanzon told Comelec employees in attendance.
A day after saying the Comelec had a “leadership problem,” Guanzon also changed tune and praised Abas.
“I wish to thank you for your ample leadership and management of the commission, because running an elections is certainly the hardest task of a civil servant,” she said.
Abas, the youngest and the first Muslim elections chief in Philippine history, also bowed out on Wednesday, taking advantage of his speech to present his accomplishments.
Among other things, he touted the success of the Bangsamoro plebiscite, which ultimately led to the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
He also boasted the successful conduct of the 2021 Palawan plebiscite despite the pandemic, and that no failure of elections was declared in any part of the Philippines in 2019.
“It is rare for a chairman to finish his term,” Abas said, in an apparent reference to past Comelec chiefs who made abrupt exits due to controversies. “I consider it a huge achievement of my life to be with you and be able to serve you.”
Abas and Guanzon were batch mates in the Comelec, having entered the Comelec in 2015 as commissioners appointed by the late former president Benigno Aquino III.
Kho, for his part, reflected on his Comelec stint, which he said taught him “an abundance of things.”
“Coming from private law practice and the Department of Justice as undersecretary, diving into the ins and outs of Philippine elections was no easy feat,” said Kho, who is also President Rodrigo Duterte’s frat brother. “I am grateful that I worked with so many people with whom I can learn and trust.”
The Comelec is now left with four officials all appointed by Duterte, three of whom were from the Davao region, where the President came from.
Malacañang has said Duterte already has a short list of potential nominees to the Comelec en banc.
Filling the vacancies in the Comelec becomes especially crucial at a time when the poll body needs all hands on deck to run a high-stakes vote that will determine Duterte’s successor.
The composition of the Comelec, once Duterte unveils his picks, will be similar to the scenario in 2016, when all members of the en banc were appointed by Aquino. – Rappler.com