Saying she never walks away from a good fight, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon on Sunday challenged Chairman Juan Andres Bautista to open all records and minutes of the en banc to determine who between them lives up to the ideals of integrity in public service.
Guanzon, an Ilonggo from Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, at the same time slammed Sen. Grace Poe for allegedly interfering into an otherwise internal affairs of the Comelec, an independent constitutional body.
“As an honest public servant with 20 years of government service, I have never walked away from a good fight especially when my integrity has been impugned,” she said in her Twitter account.
Guanzon added: “Sen. Poe urges [Chairman] Bautista to probe us. This is my challenge to [Bautista], let us open all the records and minutes of the commission to show to the public how the commission members, IN THE SPIRIT OF TRANSPARENCY, acted into the discharge of their functions. And let the public decide who among us genuinely lives up to the ideals of integrity in public service.”
On Poe’s call for an investigation, she reminded the senator that the Comelec is an independent constitutional commission and politicians should respect its independence.
“It is improper for Senator Poe who lost her case in the Comelec to urge [Bautista] to probe us commissioners. She has no power to do that and that would be seen by the public as a retaliation [to her disqualification by the Comelec],” Guanzon said.
Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) Mayor Rex Gatchalian issued the comment in a statement, saying, “We believe the action of Commissioner Guanzon is wrong as she is usurping the powers reserved for the en banc.”
But an unperturbed Guanzon said the records of the ccommission meetings will prove that she has the authority of the en banc when she filed the comment before the SC.
“The records of en banc meetings will bear me out. Our primary goal should be the integrity and fairness of the Comelec,” she added.
A Comelec source said that on January 5, the en banc issued a resolution authorizing Guanzon to file the comment on behalf of the commission.
“It was an internal resolution, not for public consumption. It cannot be released except by the en banc,” the source added.
When asked about the existence of the internal resolution, Guanzon referred The Manila Times to her two-page comment on a memorandum issued by Bautista against her.
Item No. 9 of Guanzon’s statement says, “The Comelec en banc on 05 January 2016 did not require that all of us have to review or approve the comment before it is filed because of the urgency. Neither did the Comelec en banc require that all of us must sign the comment. Not all of the commissioners have MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) Compliance and cannot sign pleadings.”
On January 6, according to Guanzon, the chief of staff of Bautista, lawyer Marina Demetrio, called her office to ask for a copy of the comment but the same was not yet available, and was only finished early morning of January 7.
“[Demetrio] told my COS (chief of staff) that even if [Bautista] could not sign it because of the lateness of the hour, to please put his name on the comment. She sent his MCLE Compliance number, so I had his name written on the comment above my and [Law Department] Director [Maria Norina S. Tangaro-] Caringal’s.”
Guanzon said hours before the Comelec comment was filed on January 7, Bautista was not in his office and “did not send word or a note that he wanted to sign the comment.”
“In sum, the preparations and filing of the comment had the imprimatur of the Comelec en banc,” she pointed out.
Bautista’s memorandum, Guanzon said, damaged the image of the institution and might prejudice the Comelec’s case in the Supreme Court (SC).
Earlier, Bautista questioned the filing by Guanzon of a 73-page comment, in behalf of the commission, before the SC in response to a petition by Poe questioning her disqualification by the Comelec en banc to run for President in the May 2016 elections.
Poe has been disqualified by the First and Second Divisions of the Comelec, which were later affirmed by the en banc, to run for President for not being a natural-born Filipino citizen and failure to comply with the 10-year residency requirement.
In the assailed comment, Guanzon asked the High Court to dismiss Poe’s petitions alleging that the poll body committed grave abuse of discretion when the Comelec en banc sustained the decisions of its two divisions that canceled the senator’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for President.
The poll body denied Poe’s claim that it committed grave abuse of discretion when the commission en banc upheld the decisions of two of its divisions canceling Poe’s COC for President, saying the decisions were based on evidence presented.
A day after the filing of the comment, Bautista issued the memorandum to Guanzon, saying the filing of comment was without clearance from the Comelec en banc, and Guanzon’s act was ““not only irregular but personally disrespectful.”
Bautista also claimed that Guanzon was aware that the SC has given the Comelec until January 12 to submit a comment.
But the commissioner denied Bautista’s claim, saying she had it checked with the SC and “there was no order granting us extension of time.”
“Who told him that we can file on January 12?” Guanzon said, adding that had they followed Bautista, not the order of the en banc, the Comelec would have failed to file its comment on time.
She said Bautista should not washed the poll body’s dirty linen in public, and should have waited for the en banc meeting on Monday and Tuesday to air his piece on the filing of the Comelec comment.