MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – She used to file protests before the poll body and campaigned for the ruling Liberal Party. Now, former Isabela Gov Grace Padaca herself is a Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner, and the Comelec chief sees nothing wrong about it.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, however, acknowledged that Padaca could face legal issues, such as a constitutional ban against Comelec commissioners who ran in the previous elections.
Is Padaca disqualified for having run in May 2010, the last time the Philippines held a national election? “Isa pang legal issue 'yon,” Brillantes said Tuesday, October 2, after the Palace announced Padaca's appointment as Comelec commissioner. (That is another legal issue.)
“Ano ba ang immediately preceding elections? Sinasabi nila barangay,” he added, referring to the barangay elections that took place October 2010. (What's the immediately preceding elections? They said it's the barangay.)
Malacañang defended the appointment: "The Executive Branch properly observed the constitutional provision. Commissioner Grace Padaca did not run in the immediately preceding election which was the barangay elections held last October 2010."
Section 1 of Article IX of the 1987 Constitution states: "There shall be a Commission on Elections composed of a Chairman and six Commissioners who shall be natural-born citizens of the Philippines and, at the time of their appointment, at least thirty-five years of age, holders of a college degree, and must not have been candidates for any elective positions in the immediately preceding elections."
Brillantes said however that these issues "will be raised in the Commission on Appointments. She will have to undergo the confirmation process."
The Comelec boss welcomed Padaca's appointment.
“Dahil nga pulitiko ka dati, siyempre meron kang koneksyon ka sa politics, sa parties. 'Yun lang naman ang disadvantage, pero hindi naman siguro – kilala ko naman si Grace eh,” Brillantes said in an interview Tuesday, October 2, when asked if Padaca's political ties could affect her performance in Comelec. (Because she was a politician before, of course she has connections to politics, to parties. That is the only disadvantage, but I doubt it – I know Grace.)
Padaca also has a pending Comelec protest over the 2010 elections, in which she lost to Isabela Gov Faustino "Bojie" Dy III. But Brillantes said this will not complicate matters for the new Comelec commissioner.
"It's academic. She's already a commissioner here. She's appointed. She is considered to have abandoned her protest case by accepting a government position,” Brilantes explained.
Rappler asked Padaca to comment. She replied in a text message: "Sorry, no interviews yet."
Despite questions on her appointment, election lawyer George Garcia said nothing is wrong with it.
“It is my belief that the barangay election is a regular election,” Garcia said, explaining that the constitution's ban is on regular elections, not necessarily gubernatorial or national elections. He added that a barangay election is generally “definite” when it comes to dates and terms of office.
In a phone interview with Rappler, he said Padaca's appointment is valid because “there was already an interruption." He was referring to the barangay elections that took place in October 2010 – five months after she ran and two years before she was appointed as Comelec commissioner.
The purpose of the law, he explained, is to avoid conflict of interest situations. “A losing candidate in the last elections shouldn't be allowed to use the resources of the Comelec to get back at people,” Garcia explained.
Nevertheless, Garcia said the Comelec “deserves” Padaca – a non-lawyer who can infuse “less technicality” and “more practicality” in the poll body.
Politicians in Comelec
Brillantes said it's not the first time that a politically-associated person is sitting in the Comelec.
He cited former Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos, who was a longtime Mandaluyong City mayor. “Ako rin naman eh,” added the incumbent chair, a veteran election lawyer. “Hindi naman ako pulitiko, pero puro pulitiko ang kliyente ko. So I was identified with politics.”
(What about me? I was not a politician, but I had politician-clients. So I was identified with politics.)
Abalos now faces electoral sabotage charges for allegedly rigging the 2007 elections to favor candidates under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's party.
Brillantes, for his part, also received criticism when he was appointed due to possible conflicts of interest. He used to serve as counsel for the late Fernando Poe Jr, whose daughter, incidentally, filed her certificate of candidacy also on Tuesday.
“His past association with officials of the Comelec makes him too familiar with the game play, the intrigues, and the personalities in the institution: he may have accumulated favors to return, debts to settle, and accounts to collect,” a group of election watchdogs previously said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.