Ex-poll chief Brillantes dies after bout with COVID-19

Paterno Esmaquel II

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(2nd UPDATE) Former Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr dies 3 days before his 81st birthday

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Sixto Brillantes Jr died on Tuesday morning, August 11, the poll body confirmed.

“This is to confirm the passing of former Chairperson Sixto S. Brillantes Jr today at a little past 11 am,” said Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez.

Brillantes died after a bout with COVID-19, just 3 days before he turns 81.

In a statement later on Tuesday, the Comelec hailed Brillantes as a “staunch defender” of the poll body’s integrity.

“A staunch defender of the integrity of the Comelec, Chairman Brillantes zealously went after those who sought to undermine public confidence in the electoral system, sanctioning actions that would bring violators of election laws to justice,” said the Comelec.

“Within the Comelec, Chairman Brillantes kept a strict eye out for malfeasance and – with neither fear nor favor – ‘cleaned house,’” the poll body added.

Brillantes’ former chief of staff, election lawyer Emil Marañon,  said Brillantes died at 11:08 am on Tuesday.  “What a great honor to serve the country by your side. Maraming salamat!” said Marañon.

Brillantes’ immediate successor, former Comelec chair Andres Bautista, also sent his condolences.

“I join the Comelec family in honoring former chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr, one of our country’s beacons in respect of election management and legal practice. May his memory be a blessing and inspiration for election afficionados now and in the years to come,” Bautista said.

Brillantes was Comelec chair from January 2011 to February 2015.

Reformist frustrated by Supreme Court

Under Brillantes, a veteran election lawyer who mastered the tricks of the trade, the Comelec implemented or at least tried to introduce many firsts.

These include a purge of party-list groups and stringent limits on political ads – efforts which, though hailed by election watchdogs, were often struck down by the Supreme Court.

A frustrated Brillantes even offered to resign weeks before the May 2013 elections because of SC rulings blocking his reforms. “Para namang lumalabas na, parang sila na ang nagpapatakbo ng eleksyon. Akala ko ba kami?” he told reporters back then. (I said, it looks like they’re the ones running the elections. I thought it was us?)

Brillantes, 80, was the son of former Comelec commissioner Sixto Brillantes Sr, his namesake, who once dreamt of becoming Comelec chair. He was a 16-year-old high school graduate when his father became elections commissioner in 1956.

In an interview with Rappler in January 2013, Brillantes paused, then broke into tears, when he recalled his father’s dream. “Isa ang ambisyon niya; hindi niya nakuha. Chairman (He had one ambition; he didn’t get it. Chairman),” said Brillantes.

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His appointment as Comelec chair on January 16, 2011, therefore meant more to him than achieving an election lawyer’s dream. “Noong nilagay ako dito, sabi ko, siguro ako na… kapalit. Hindi niya nakuha eh,” Brillantes said. (When I was appointed here, I said to myself, probably I am meant… to take his place. Because he didn’t get it.) –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

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