Pols, polls and the ties that bind: ‘Candidates’ to Comelec chairs

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FILIPINOS choose the people who will run their government through elections. Yet they do not hold the power to choose who will run the elections. That authority rests on the President, who appoints the chairperson and six commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). For the appointment to be binding, however, a confirmation from the Commission on Appointments is needed.

With the retirement of Comelec Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes Jr. on February 2, the executive and legislative departments should now be selecting individuals fit for the chairmanship post. The next Comelec head will also be President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s second Comelec chair appointee, who will be partly responsible for the preparations for the 2016 presidential elections.

As early as last September, the names of Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura had floated as potential replacements for Brillantes. Three other names emerged recently: former Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto A. Abad, Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas 2nd’s election lawyer Joe Nathan P. Tenefrancia and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez.

mentioned Winston M. Ginez of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and National Police Commission (Napolcom) Executive Officer and Vice Chairman Eduardo U. Escueta as the other possible candidates for the post.


Apart from Brillantes, two other commissioners, Lucenito N. Tagle and Elias R. Yusoph, also retired on February 2, leaving two more vacancies in Comelec to be filled up.

Each commissioner, including the chairperson, serves a total of seven years without reappointment. The law further requires that each commissioner be a natural-born Filipino who is at least 35 years old at the time of appointment. The chairperson and majority of the six commissioners must be “members of the Philippine Bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years.” In addition, they must not have participated in the immediately preceding election – a stipulation that should automatically eliminate Rodriguez from the list, since he ran (and won) in the 2013 polls. Rodriguez, however, is said to be actively lobbying to be named Comelec chief.

In a nutshell, to ensure elections run fairly, efficiently and transparently, without violence or fraud, the Comelec chairperson and commissioners must have proven credentials in election law and have no political bias or potential conflicts of interest. To help assess if the mentioned names pass such standards, here are some background information on them:

Roberto Abad
It has been barely a year since former Supreme Court Associate Justice Roberto Abad retired from government service.

In 2012, Abad was among those nominated to be head of the high tribunal following the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. Abad’s position back then was that Aquino should appoint a sitting Supreme Court magistrate as the new Chief Justice so the judiciary could “forgive” the President and the House of Representatives for Corona’s impeachment. He clarified, though, that he meant that both sides should forgive each other.

Abad further admitted before the members of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) that he regarded Corona as “a personal friend” and took part in the weekly Masses held by Supreme Court employees during the impeachment trial.

Having headed the Supreme Court Committee on Internal Rules, as well as on Jail Decongestion, Abad said that among his priorities if appointed Chief Justice would be to address the problem of overcrowded jails.

Abad is known as the ponente, or the justice writing the court’s rulings, of the high tribunal’s decisions on the contentious Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, where majority of the justices voted in favor of keeping libel as a criminal offense. He also penned the 2010 SC decision on the Vizconde murder case where Hubert Webb, son of former senator and ex-basketball star Freddie Webb, was acquitted along with seven other defendants because of the prosecution’s failure to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Abad made headlines as well in 2012,when he supported the Comelec’s decision to purchase from Smartmatic-TIM Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the 2013 polls. News reports quoted Abad as saying that the government entering into a lease contract with an option to purchase is a common practice. The Supreme Court later junked the petition questioning the contract’s legality.

While Abad’s statements may have supported Comelec’s purchase of the PCOS machines, he wrote the high tribunal’s decision that found the commission committing grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Rommel Apolinario Jalosjos, who had settled in Zamboanga Sibugay after spending 26 years in Australia, from running in the May 2010 polls as a gubernatorial candidate.

The 71-year-old Abad obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Manuel L. Quezon University in 1966 and law from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1968, where he was an honor student.

He passed the Bar in 1968 and began his law practice at the Jose W. Diokno law office as associate lawyer for one year. In 1969, he entered government service as technical assistant and later associate attorney in the office of Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro. He moved to the Office of the Solicitor General in 1975. By 1985, he had become Assistant Solicitor General. He held the post for one year under the supervision of then Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza, who later became head of the defense panel for former President Joseph E. Estrada in his impeachment and plunder cases in 2001. Abad found himself opposite his former boss when he served as counsel for the Equitable Banking Corp. and its officers and branch managers, who testified against Estrada during his impeachment trial.

Abad left government service and began his 23 years of private practice in 1986. He put up The Law Firm of Roberto A. Abad & Associates, and served as its senior partner until his appointment to the Supreme Court in August 2009.

He also taught at the University of Santo Tomas-Faculty of Civil Law for 33 years and became its dean from 2008 to 2009. He authored Practical Book in Legal Writing (Special Student Edition) in 2002 and Fundamentals of Legal Writing in 2004.

Abad has rendered free legal aid for the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a church-based group and a non-profit organization.

(To be continued)

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