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On the confirmation of the chairmanship of Atty. Brillantes

by Damaso G. Magbual
Member, NAMFREL National Council
Chairperson, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.14

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On arrival from the conclave in Rome to elect a new Pope, Jaime Cardinal Sin was reported to have said that had the Philippines’ Commission on Elections presided over the conclave, he would have been elected Pope. While it was obviously said in jest, this story underlies the lack of trust the public has on the COMELEC. The issue of credibility has persistently haunted the COMELEC through the years. The executive branch of government is partly responsible for failing the “Caesar’s wife test” in the selection of appointees to the
COMELEC. The choice of election lawyer Sixto Brillantes may yet be another misguided choice of the appointing power.

The credibility of an election hinges largely on the credibility of the people running the election. When the credibility of an election body is put into question, the degree of legitimacy of the election suffers. The results of an election are much easier to accept when all the political actors and the voters as well accept the legitimacy of the election body. Unfortunately, the appointment of Brillantes to the COMELEC does not enhance the credibility of the election body.

Philippine elections have been for so long the battlegrounds of bitter family and clan rivalries. Through the years, Brillantes has acted as lawyer to many of these competing families and clans. These same families and clans will again go to the COMELEC for settlement of disputes considering that our politicians “either win or they are cheated”. If confirmed to be the Chairman of the COMELEC, he in effect becomes the chief arbiter of electoral disputes. Will the decisions of the COMELEC be perceived as impartial and non-partisan? Will the existing dispute resolution mechanism in place, which has been tarnished by what he himself referred to as “the notorious second division” operate in an impartial and non-partisan manner with him at the helm?

The COMELEC has in the past been faulted, for its lack of transparency – a hallmark of a democratic election. Brillantes’ refusal to name the notorious commissioner of the second division during the Commission on Appointments hearing, gives us an indication of the degree of transparency we can expect under his leadership. As a citizen and more importantly, as an officer of the law, he ought to denounce wrongdoing when he finds one. His silence does not augur well for the cause of free and fair elections. Or is it because he has become a part of the “system”, taking the more pragmatic stance of “you-win-some, you-lose-some”, after all there are other cases before the commission.

The issues and concerns raised by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano say a lot. The appointing power has failed the “Caesar’s wife test”. The Commission on Appointments must not condone this failure. It must not confirm Brillantes’ appointment. Let us start to build public trust in our electoral system. The first step is to place people in the COMELEC who  are independent, impartial and non-partisan and are perceived as such.

(CAVEAT: These are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of NAMFREL)
 
 
 
 
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