Duterte hits Comelec’s Guanzon for ‘palpable bias’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Duterte hits Comelec’s Guanzon for ‘palpable bias’
Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon says Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s lawyers should ‘not use the media’ to pressure the poll body

MANILA, Philippines – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, January 22, slammed Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon for her supposedly “palpable bias” in hearing petitions against his presidential bid.

Saying Guanzon has already prejudged him, Duterte appealed to the Comelec en banc, or the commission sitting as a whole, to stop the commissioner from handling his cases.

“With all due respect, Commissioner Guanzon’s conduct throughout the proceedings in the above-captioned cases reveals her prejudgment and palpable bias, which seriously impaired respondent Duterte’s belief in the commissioner’s neutrality and impartiality,” Duterte said in a motion for reconsideration (MR).

Duterte addressed this 21-page motion to the 7-member Comelec en banc on Friday.

Guanzon, for her part, told Rappler on Friday she has not received an official copy of Duterte’s latest motion. 

She also said she is studying Duterte’s cases and preparing for Supreme Court oral arguments on Senator Grace Poe. This is why she doesn’t “have time to read it”, referring to a copy of the motion emailed to her by Rappler. 

Guanzon added: “The lawyers of Mayor Duterte should respect the Commission and not use the media to pressure a commissioner or the en banc. The MR will be resolved by the en banc.”

Inasmuch as they have filed an MR,” she said, the petitions against Mayor Duterte will be resolved only after their MR is resolved.

This comes after the Comelec First Division unanimously junked a petition to stop Guanzon from hearing cases against Duterte. The Comelec First Division, which is set to decide on Duterte’s cases, is made up of Comelec Commissioners Christian Lim, Luie Guia, and Guanzon.

Duterte is facing petitions to cancel his certificate of candidacy (COC) for president because he substituted for Martin Diño, whose COC was allegedly void and invalid. 

Ties with anti-Duterte lawyer? 

Now the mayor wants Guanzon to inhibit herself from hearing these cases because she supposedly is, among other things, a “mare” (close female friend) of lawyer Maria Sheila Bazar.

Bazar is the lawyer of John Paulo delas Nieves, the 21-year-old University of the Philippines student who filed a petition to stop Duterte from running.

To prove their links, Duterte submitted to the Comelec photos and online exchanges between Guanzon and Bazar over the past decade.

Still, the Comelec First Division said Guanzon is not required to inhibit from Duterte’s cases. Comelec rules, after all, bar members from hearing cases that involve close relatives, not friends and colleagues.

Largely unaddressed in the Comelec First Division’s order was Duterte’s other argument. The mayor said Guanzon has prejudged his cases before the Comelec.

The Davao City mayor highlighted this argument in his motion for reconsideration on Friday. 

He stressed Rule 4, Section 1 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure that says no Comelec member “shall sit in any case…in which he has publicly expressed prejudgment as may be shown by convincing proof.”

Duterte pointed out that inhibition due to Guanzon’s friendship with Bazar is “voluntary.”

On the other hand, inhibition due to a “public expression of prejudgment” is ‘“compulsory.”

He said the Comelec First Division allowed Guanzon to hear his cases citing only the first type of inhibition, which is voluntary.

Guanzon hit for ‘prejudgment’

In saying that Guanzon has prejudged his case, Duterte mentioned Guanzon’s dissenting vote when the Comelec ruled to accept his COC.

Guanzon explained in a note back then, “There is a pending case, Castor v Duterte, wherein the petitioner alleges that Duterte’s COC is void because it contains untruthful acts or misrepresentation.”

The commissioner added, “There is also the issue regarding his notarized documents, the truth and falsity of which must be determined before his COC is accepted.”

Duterte, however, said the poll body’s resolution, signed by 6 of 7 Comelec members, “already contained” the condition set by Guanzon.

The Comelec said its decision to accept Duterte’s COC “is entirely without prejudice to the pending disqualification case” against Diño, the candidate whom Duterte substituted for.

Duterte said: “In other words, the very resolution of the other 6 honorable commissioners already meant that their acceptance of respondent Duterte’s COC was subject to the pending Castor petition. What then was Commissioner Guanzon dissenting from?”

Duterte added another supposed proof that Guanzon “was already harboring adverse conclusions” on Duterte’s election documents.

Guanzon, for one, said petitioner Ruben Castor “alleges that Duterte’s COC is void because it contains untruthful acts or misrepresentation.”

But Castor cited an error in the COC of Diño, not Duterte.

Castor’s lawyer, Oliver Lozano, earlier clarified that their petition directly concerns Diño and not the Davao City mayor. Castor himself even said he wants Duterte for president.

Later, Duterte wondered why he found Guanzon’s arguments in the petitioned filed by Delas Nieves. This was 5 days after the Comelec accepted Duterte’s COC.

“Again, it bears stressing that the lawyer of Delas Nieves in the petition happens to be Bazar,” Duterte said.

Duterte hits ‘social media clean-up’

In his motion on Friday, Duterte also hit Guanzon for her defense: Guanzon said Bazar is neither her relative nor sorority sister.

Duterte said he never alleged that Guanzon is Bazar’s relative or sorority sister.

He called this “an obvious attempt to divert attention” from his claim that Guanzon and Bazar have kept “a long and continuous friendship.”

At the same time, he said Guanzon’s moves after he sought her inhibition “are strongly indicative of her guilt of bias.”

Duterte said Guanzon, for example, deactivated her Facebook account and deleted her photos with Bazar.

“Furthermore, it appears that after Rappler, a social news network, published an article on January 16, 2016, discussing respondent Duterte’s pieces of evidence in his Motions for Disqualification and/or Inhibition, Commissioner Guanzon’s Instagram account was suddenly deleted and showed the error message, ‘Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed,” the mayor said. 

Despite the commissioner’s moves, Duterte said “a serious cloud of doubt has already been and is continuing to be cast” on Guanzon, “and no amount of social media clean-up can clear it.” – 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