2022 Philippine Elections

Guanzon postures as congresswoman-to-be, but she’s not a party-list nominee

Dwight de Leon
Guanzon postures as congresswoman-to-be, but she’s not a party-list nominee

POLL EXEC. Then-Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon speaks in an interview with Rappler, August 23, 2019.

LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

When the November 15, 2021, substitution deadline passed, Rowena Guanzon was still a Comelec commissioner, and P3PWD had a set of nominees that did not include her

Former elections commissioner Rowena Guanzon is in a celebratory mood, as the party-list group she actively campaigned for is poised to win a seat in the 19th Congress.

P3PWD is sitting comfortably at the 24th spot with over 384,000 votes, based on the partial, unofficial count from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) server, as of Friday, May 13, with 98% of precincts transmitting results. There are 63 seats allocated for party-list legislators. 

On Facebook, Guanzon said she was going “back to work,” from “commissioner to congresswoman.” On Saturday, May 14, she attended a meeting of winning party-list groups. 

But here’s the catch: she is not among the five nominees of P3PWD, and the November 15, 2021, deadline to substitute for any of them has long passed.

Guanzon has yet to reply to Rappler’s repeated inquiries via text about the matter.

Person, Human, Hand

A November 29 list of party-list group nominees from the Comelec has the following five nominees of P3PWD: Grace Yeneza, Ira Paulo Pozon, Marianne Heidi Fullon, Peter Jonas David, and Lily Grace Tiangco.

Citing the poll body’s Law Department, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia told Rappler that, as of Sunday, May 15, Guanzon had yet to file her substitution papers, if any.

‘BACK TO WORK.’ Former poll commissioner Rowena Guanzon says in a Facebook post on May 12, 2022, that she will be returning to work as a congresswoman. Screenshot from Guanzon’s Facebook page

Comelec Resolution No. 10717, promulgated in August 2021, is clear about the deadline for substitution of party-list nominees who withdraw from the race: “Withdrawal of nominations and substitution of nominees due to the withdrawal of the acceptance to the nomination shall be in writing and under oath, and filed with the Law Department not later than November 15, 2021.”

It continues: “No substitution shall be valid if filed beyond November 15, 2021, unless the list of nominees originally submitted has been exhausted due to death and/or incapacity of the nominees.”

Guanzon was still a Comelec commissioner in November 2021, as she only retired in February 2022. She was also a signatory to Comelec Resolution No. 10717.

Comelec spokesman Rex Laudiangco cited the same document when Rappler asked him about rules governing potential substitution of party-list nominees after the elections.

In a Facebook video on May 6, Guanzon said in Filipino, “It’s not against the law and Comelec rules that I become the substitute of the first nominee if we win one seat.” She did not elaborate.

Substitution drama after the polls?

The withdrawal and substitution of party-list nominees after the elections are not necessarily new; Duterte Youth was at the center of a similar controversy in 2019.

On June 4, 2019, or nearly a month after the midterm polls that year, the Comelec en banc allowed five nominees of Duterte Youth to all withdraw their nominations, and granted due course to Ronald Cardema’s application submitted a day before the May 13 polls to substitute his wife Ducielle as first nominee.

Guanzon was the lone dissenter in that ruling, saying Cardema’s move was an “unabashed mockery and assault to democratic processes.”

When the Comelec division which Guanzon was part of eventually junked Cardema’s substitution papers in August 2019, Guanzon argued that the substitution of five nominees on the eve of the polls had the “clear intent of depriving the electorate the opportunity to be informed and to examine the qualifications and credentials of the nominees.”

The Comelec eventually approved Duterte Youth’s second withdrawal and substitution of nominees, allowing Ducielle to be proclaimed as congresswoman of the 18th Congress.

Regardless of whatever road Guanzon will take to make her congressional aspirations a dream come true, her fate will probably be in the hands of her former colleagues in the Comelec.

“It’s not as simple as the rules have stated. For [voluntary] withdrawal, we have a period. The one which does not have a period beyond November 15 [is withdrawal] due to death or incapacity. In both instances, there will be determination of validity and just cause. This will be the subject of a hearing, to see if there is a valid ground to grant the substitution,” Laudiangco said in a mix of English and Filipino on Sunday, speaking in general terms.

If the Comelec allows substitution after the polls, it would raise the specter of a rather complicated scenario: anyone can enter Congress through the substitution method even after the polls are over.

In the meantime, Guanzon has been rubbing elbows with nominees of other winning party-list groups, which endorsed House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez for the House speakership.

Guanzon claimed she was only in Saturday’s lunch meeting as a “guest.” The former Comelec commissioner, a harsh critic of presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr., was pictured exchanging pleasantries with his son Sandro, who won the congressional race in Ilocos Norte’s 1st District.

FACE-TO-FACE. Incoming Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Sandro Marcos shakes the hand of former poll commissioner Rowena Guanzon, a staunch critic of his father, presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Photo from Lakas-CMD

“I accepted their polite gestures this afternoon. I still say [Marcos Jr.] should pay P203 billion in taxes and the deficiency income tax for which he was convicted by the courts,” Guanzon tweeted. – Rappler.com

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.