Brillantes' appointment confirmed

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.21

The appointment of Sixto Brillantes, Jr. as Chairman of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has finally been confirmed during the fourth hearing on his confirmation at the Commission on Appointments (CA) on October 5. After Brillantes’ confirmation was endorsed by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, co-chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Commissions and Offices, no other members of the CA opposed. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who had been against Brillantes’ confirmation, chose to abstain during the voting.

Brillantes gave his word to the CA that if he fails to implement reforms in the COMELEC, he will relinquish his post, reports said.

In the previous hearings, the poll body chief’s endorsement was delayed as the senators asked him to explain the amount of Php 15.8 million stated in his statement of assets, liabilities and net assets (SALN). Senator Franklin Drilon said that the CA would like to give Brillantes time to explain how he acquired his Php 15.8 million income by submitting his Income Tax Return (ITR) for the last five years.

The CA also gave way to the affidavit opposing Brillantes’ confirmation. The affidavit (http://bit.ly/pGYGIT) was submitted by Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, former COMELEC Law Department Director, who has accused Brillantes of convincing him to expedite the mitigation of the penalties imposed on the personnel that were involved in the ballot secrecy folder scam worth Php 690 million.

Rafanan also claims that the poll body chief asked him to convince the Ombudsman to reduce the suspension of the people involved from one (1) year to just six (6) months. Suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman were Attys. Maria Lea Alarcon and Allen Francis Abaya for the bid irregularities concerning the secrecy folders to be used during the 2010 general elections. Rafanan headed the investigation of the case in 2010.

Brillantes on the other hand firmly denied Rafanan’s accusations as lies. The poll body chief hinted that Rafanan is trying to get even because of his removal from the law department. Earlier reports said that the COMELEC en banc decided to reassign Rafanan because of his being “uncontrollable” especially in criticizing the commission on issues it has gotten involved in. Rafanan currently heads the planning department of the COMELEC. Brillantes was also told by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano to prove his worth by implementing reforms in the election commission. The senator told the poll body chief that if he will be able to institute reforms, the senator himself will push for his confirmation in the CA.

There were other issues for which Brillantes was asked to explain by the CA, like the COMELEC’s decision to remove Rafanan from the COMELEC- DOJ joint panel. He was also asked about the election commission’s presumed inaction on the “Hello Garci” controversy, among other issues. In earlier statements after his appointment, Brillantes said that investigating the alleged poll fraud in 2004 and 2007 was not his priority.

A coalition of election monitoring organizations and concerned civil society organizations and individuals also issued a “Statement of Concern” regarding the CA's confirmation of Brillantes. In the statement (http://bit.ly/obaLCw), the group doubts whether Brillantes will be objective in carrying out his duties. “His past association with officials of the COMELEC makes him too familiar with the game play, the intrigues, and the personalities in the institution: he may have accumulated favors to return, debts to settle, and accounts to collect.” The group also states that there might be conflict of interest as Brillantes was a prominent election lawyer who has “lawyered for many competing families through the years and this past association necessarily drew him into a complicated web of political and judicial issues. Even if he were to try to always act in the best interest of truth and justice, his decisions will always be seen as colored by his past association.” The statement concludes that though Brillantes had shown legal skills while lawyering for candidates and political parties, “they have no place in the Commission, much less in the post of Chairman of COMELEC.” The Statement of Concern was signed by officers of AES Watch, CenPEG, the Concerned Citizens' Movement, LENTE, Namfrel, Transparency International, the UP Information Technology and Training Center, the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches, and Manila auxiliary bishop Broderick S. Pabillo.

Now that Brillantes’ appointment as COMELEC chairman is confirmed, he is expected to expedite the reforms that he has promised to institute.