Election officials mend ties after public feud

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Election officials mend ties after public feud
The Comelec shows a united front in a rare media briefing with all 7 members present

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Rowena Guanzon mended their ties on Tuesday, January 12, after a public feud over cases filed by presidential aspirant Senator Grace Poe.

To dispel the image that the Comelec is in “disarray,” all 7 Comelec members emerged from their chamber on Tuesday to hold a rare media briefing after a 3-hour meeting. 

Bautista passed the mic to a neutral party, Commissioner Arthur Lim, whom he described as the most senior Comelec member “in terms of wisdom.” 

In an unscripted statement, Lim said a rift between members “is to be expected in the life of any collegial body.”

“The important thing is that we are able to address the issues and we have, ourselves, now decided to move forward and to leave all these controversies behind us,” Lim said.

“So all is well that ends well,” the commissioner added. 

He also said: “Your commission is firmly in good hands. We are united and focused to do the mandate that the Constitution has given to us.” 

In another show of unity, Lim said the Comelec has also adopted Guanzon’s comment against Poe before the Supreme Court (SC).

This comment started the publicized rift between Bautista and Guanzon.

Eroding confidence in Comelec

Guanzon filed this comment on Thursday, January 7. After this, Bautista issued her a memo for filing this “unauthorized” comment. Bautista’s memo to Guanzon, which he said was internal, was leaked to the media. 

Guanzon retaliated by attacking Bautista for allegedly “showing partisanship” as he addresses cases filed by Poe. 

Guanzon launched a series of tweets and interviews against Bautista, in a public feud never seen in the Comelec for years.  

It came to a point that Guanzon, in an interview on dzBB, even disclosed what Bautista did over the Christmas break. 

Guanzon said: “Pagod na pagod na kaming mga commissioners kakatrabaho. Bakit hindi na lang si Chairman Bautista ang magtrabaho? Anong ginawa niya? Nagbakasyon. Nagbakasyon siya sa New Zealand.” (We commissioners have been so tired working. Why not have Chairman Bautista do all the work? What did he do? He took a vacation. He took a vacation in New Zealand.)

Observers said this public feud has eroded confidence in the poll body. This comes 5 months before the Philippines elects its next president. 

Facing these negative perceptions, Lim then assured the public the Comelec “is firmly on track” in its election timeline.

“We are even ahead of schedule, and we shall, with the help of Divine Providence, fulfill our mandate to the best of our ability,” Lim said.

The Comelec didn’t allow reporters to ask questions. 

The poll body ended the briefing in 4 minutes, after which it held two hearings. 

Guanzon: ‘I told you’ 

Guanzon, who joined these hearings, left the Comelec session hall at around 4 pm on Tuesday.

Reporters chased Guanzon as she left the session hall, noting that the feisty commissioner earlier promised an interview.

Guanzon, however, refused to be interviewed. Asked about her earlier promise to reporters, she said she also made a “promise” to her colleagues in the Comelec. She didn’t tell reporters what this is about. 

Quickly walking to the elevator, Guanzon said: “I told you there will be good news. We just have to think positive.” 

She said, “What is important now is what’s good for the country and the Comelec.” 

In a separate interview, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez confirmed to reporters that Bautista and Guanzon have mended their ties.

Bati na,” he said. (They’ve mended their ties.)

He quickly added that no one needed to mend their ties in the first place. “Certain misunderstandings were cleared up.”

Jimenez also explained why all 7 Comelec members attended the media briefing on Tuesday. 

Usually, only Bautista presides over media briefings along with one or two other commissioners. 

Jimenez said the Comelec is “sensitive” and not blind to news items saying the poll body is in disarray. 

The Comelec spokesman said, “Since they were going to be in a hearing anyway, it was felt that it would be okay for the public to be reminded that the 7 commissioners are actually acting as one collegial body.” 

He added, “It’s just to prove a point, I guess.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering 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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com