What’s next for Comelec after Brillantes retires?

Michael Bueza
What’s next for Comelec after Brillantes retires?
After February 2, an acting chairman will take the helm of the poll body until the appointment of a permanent Comelec chief and two commissioners

MANILA, Philippines – On February 2, Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr and commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph will retire from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Their replacements, however, might not be appointed as soon as they leave the poll body.

In a press briefing last week, Brillantes said, “We don’t expect the President to appoint a chairman immediately, because he cannot appoint in the first place while Congress is in session.”

He added, “The 4 remaining commissioners will determine among themselves who will be the acting chairman.”

Traditionally, Brillantes said, it is the most senior commissioner who takes the helm. At present, that designation goes to Commissioner Christian Robert Lim.

The acting poll chief, said Brillantes, will continue running the poll body along with the 3 commissioners. The Comelec would return to a 7-person collegial body upon the appointment of a permanent chairman and two commissioners, following the next adjournment of the regular session of Congress on March 20.

Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas of the House’s commission on appointments (CA) confirmed the scenario.

“The President can nominate candidates for the vacant posts, but his appointments would have to wait until after the adjournment of the session of Congress,” explained Fariñas in a phone interview.

President Benigno Aquino III, however, can request the CA to expeditiously act on the matter. “If we give him consent after we confer among ourselves and there is no objection, his nominees can be appointed even while Congress is in session,” Fariñas said.

This is different from ad interim appointments or those made by the President when Congress is on recess. These appointees, who can assume office as soon as they are appointed, would later be scheduled for confirmation by the CA upon the resumption of legislative sessions.

Working majority

The retirement of Brillantes, Tagle, and Yusoph from the Comelec comes in the middle of preparations for the 2016 national elections.

Until the appointment of the new poll officials, Brillantes said, a working majority of the 4 remaining commissioners would continue to function, but with a catch. “Since there would only be 4 of them, they would have to act unanimously. If they don’t agree with each other, they cannot obtain the 4 votes” for an absolute majority, he said.

“I have suggested to them, ‘Bago naman kayo mag en banc, magko-consensus naman muna kayong 4 eh. Kapag hindi kayo magkakasundo, i-defer niyo muna,‘” Brillantes added. (Before you head to an en banc session, you could reach a consensus first. If you won’t be able to, you could defer a decision for the meantime.)

The remaining commissioners will continue tackling pending cases, decisions, and administrative matters. Two public biddings for additional voting machines are also ongoing.

However, there will only be two commissioners instead of 3 in each of the two Comelec divisions, which may slow down the resolution of some cases. “When the new commissioners get appointed, they would return to a 3-person division,” added Brillantes.

Tatakbo naman ito (This would work), I don’t think we would have any worries,” he said.

Possible successors

When asked about his pick to replace him as Comelec chief, Brillantes named Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Nagagalit na nga siya sa akin eh. Sabi niya, paulit-ulit ka na, bakit mo ba ako ‘tinutulak. (She’s already complaining to me. She asked why I’m repeatedly pushing for her.) I told her I’m just being asked who is the most qualified [to replace me]. I said you (De Lima),” he said.

De Lima also topped a recent online survey on preferred candidates for Comelec chief by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). De Lima is followed by Comelec Commissioner Luie Tito Guia and former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura.

Brillantes cited De Lima’s experience and style in election law practice, and the way she runs the Department of Justice (DOJ).

If not De Lima, Brillantes said he would endorse Commissioner Robert Lim, if ever an “insider” would be fielded as a candidate for chairman, due to him being the most senior commissioner.

However, he said it is totally up to President Aquino to select the next poll chief.

As for the two vacant commissioner posts, Brillantes previously said he prefers a Comelec “insider” and a Muslim representative to get the positions.

The Namfrel survey showed that National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) commissioner Edilwasif Baddiri and TV personality Solita “Winnie” Monsod, wife of former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod, led the list of preferred bets for Comelec commissioners. – Rappler.com

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.