After retirements, Comelec officials all picked by Duterte to run 2022 polls

Dwight de Leon

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After retirements, Comelec officials all picked by Duterte to run 2022 polls

Comelec/Senate PRIB

(2nd UPDATE) Like former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, three of the four remaining Comelec commissioners hail from Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines – Three months before the 2022 national elections, President Rodrigo Duterte holds the power to pack the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with men and women handpicked by him.

Wednesday, February 2, marks the last day in office of three of seven members in the Comelec en banc, after they max out the years they are allowed to serve in the election body. Two of the three retiring commissioners are Aquino appointees.

Commissioner Rowena Guanzon – the media-savvy, tough-talking former audit commissioner whom the late former president Benigno Aquino III appointed to the poll body in 2015 – is among the three.

Her batch mate, Chairman Sheriff Abas, is also bowing out on Wednesday. While Abas entered the Comelec as a commissioner selected by Aquino, his current appointment papers as poll chief were from Duterte.

Abas, the youngest to assume the chairmanship post in 2017 and the first Comelec chief from Mindanao, worked at a regional office of the Civil Service Commission prior to his entry into the poll body.

Retiring on the same day as Abas and Guanzon is Antonio Kho Jr., a former justice undersecretary and Duterte’s frat brother. He is applying for a seat in the Supreme Court.

With the President yet to unveil their replacements, the Comelec is set to be governed by four people whose appointment papers were signed by Duterte.

Like former Davao City mayor Duterte, three of the four remaining Comelec commissioners hailed from Mindanao.

Listed in order of seniority, they are:

  • Socorro Inting, a former Court of Appeals judge who hails from Davao
  • Marlon Casquejo, a career official; a former assistant director of the Comelec’s Davao region office
  • Aimee Ferolino, another Comelec insider; a former election supervisor of Davao del Norte
  • Rey Bulay, Duterte’s frat brother and Manila’s former chief prosecutor

Following Abas’ retirement, Inting is expected to be acting chairperson of the poll body until Duterte appoints a new Comelec chief.

After retirements, Comelec officials all picked by Duterte to run 2022 polls
Filling the vacancies

Filling the vacancies in the Comelec becomes especially crucial at a time when the poll body needs all hands on deck to run a high-stakes vote that will determine Duterte’s successor.

“If the three vacancies at the Comelec are not filled, then the remaining four commissioners would have to work harder and share the responsibilities among themselves,” Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao pointed out.

The Palace said Duterte understands the urgency of the situation.

“The President has a short list already of potential nominees for the appointments,” Duterte’s spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a Malacañang press briefing on Monday, January 31.

The composition of the Comelec, once Duterte unveils his picks, will be similar to the scenario in 2016, when all members of the en banc were appointed by Aquino.

Various groups have called for a public vetting of the new appointees, including a process that includes the formation of a search committee composed of representatives from various sectors. There was no indication from Malacañang that it adopted the proposal.

“We call on President Duterte to immediately disclose to the public said short list as well as the specific standards he would apply to select best-suited candidates to become the next Comelec chairperson and commissioners before he even nominates,” pro-democracy group Participate said in a statement. “The public has the right to know.”

‘Pick insiders’

The Comelec employees’ union called on Duterte to select people from the poll body’s ranks to fill the en banc vacancies.

“The elections is fast approaching, and it would always be in the best interest of the country if those who will take over are already knowledgeable and familiar with the nuts and bolts of election administration,” union president Mac Ramirez told Rappler on Monday, January 31.

“The Comelec has plenty of ranking officials from the main and field offices that are very much qualified and prepared to take on this crucial task,” he added.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon III, who served as chief of staff of the late former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, also echoed the suggestion to choose Comelec insiders, and noted that the appointments must be varied “in terms of skills and geographical origins.”

“Duterte should consider what skills the institution needs. Do we need IT experts and project managers? Because an election is the biggest project in the Philippines involving 60 million voters,” he told Rappler on Tuesday, February 1.

“There should also be a balance in terms of the number of women, and whether the Muslim community and indigenous peoples are represented,” Marañon added in a mix of English and Filipino.

Kontra Daya is more direct: The new appointees, it asserted, should not be “yes” people.

“The Palace should refrain from appointing the President’s friends, fraternity brothers, and schoolmates, as well as those hailing from the same city or region,” Arao told Rappler.

The new Comelec appointees will not only face gargantuan tasks for the May vote, but will also inherit the numerous unresolved disqualification cases against 2022 presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the basis of his tax conviction.

After retirements, Comelec officials all picked by Duterte to run 2022 polls

Various groups have called on the Comelec to rule on the petitions as soon as possible to quell doubts about the capability of the Comelec as an institution. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.