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Row over Grace divides comelec

THE row within the Commission on Elections deepened Sunday as Commissioner Rowena Guanzon tore into Chairman Andres Bautista for taking her to task for submitting without his clearance a comment to the Supreme Court defending the poll body’s decision to disqualify Senator Grace Poe from the presidential race.

“My question is, does he want us to win or lose in the Supreme Court?” Guanzon said in Filipino in an interview over radio dzBB. “My question to all of you listening is, do you want us to lose in the Supreme Court? I don’t want us to lose because I don’t like losing.”

Bautista drew Guanzon’s ire after he sent her a memo requiring her to explain within 24 hours why she filed a comment to the Supreme Court without letting him read and sign it.

Countdown. Officials release doves during the kickoff ceremonies for the start of the gun ban and the countdown for the election period for this year’s elections at the Palacio del Gobernador in Intramuros, Manila, on Sunday. Danny Pata
He added in the memo that if she did not explain herself, he would inform the Supreme Court that the comment was unauthorized.

But Guanzon said the comment filed last week had the authority of the Comelec en banc, even if it was not signed by Bautista.

She noted that the Comelec was given only 10 days to file a comment from Dec. 28, 2015—and that if they did not submit it by Jan. 7, they might lose the case.

Bautista, on the other hand, said the Comelec had sought and was given a five-day extension, or up to Jan. 12 to file its comment, so Guanzon did not need to rush her Jan. 7 submission, an assertion she also disputed.

Guanzon, who voted with the majority to disqualify Poe, described Bautista’s attitude as “peculiar.”

“The Comelec has an interest in filing its comment on time. It is so peculiar that our chairman has become the obstacle to this filing,” she said. 

Bautista had voted in the minority in favor of Poe.

Guanzon said that while Bautista is chairman, the poll body’s authority emanates from the seven-person en banc. She added that Bautista could not have written the Comelec comment on Poe’s petitions because he was one of two commissioners who dissented from the majority decision.

“It would be awkward because his heart is not in it. His mind is not in it because he wrote a dissenting opinion. Besides, the en banc designated me to write the comment,” she said.

Guanzon said the Comelec en banc had decided during its Jan. 5 session that she would prepare and file the Comelec’s comment on Poe’s petitions.

In fact, Bautista was present when the commissioners decided on the course of action.

“Bautista was present during the meeting. Just because he didn’t sign the comment doesn’t mean it’s not valid,” Guanzon said.

She said as a co-equal member of the Comelec en banc, Bautista had no authority to discipline her.

“He  has no power over me. He has no authority to discipline me. How dare he issue a memorandum to me telling me to reply to him within 24 hours. What does he think of me? His employee?” she said.

Guanzon also asked why Bautista chose to issue a memo instead of talking to her on the phone or in person.

She said she was compelled to air her side because Bautista made his sentiments known in public.

Despite the row, Guanzon denied suggestions that the Comelec was in disarray. She said she and other commissioners who have been tasked to represent the Comelec in the oral arguments on Poe’s case Jan. 19 are already preparing for them.

 “We want to assure the public… [that] we’re getting ready for the oral arguments,” she said.

Bautista declined to comment further on Bautista’s statements, saying that these would be taken up in the Comelec en banc meeting Monday.

The Palace on Sunday said it would wait for the results of Monday’s meeting.

“In our opinion, the stability of the Comelec is important, especially [now] that the election period has already started,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., during an interview over state-run radio dzRB.

“The Comelec is an independent constitutional body, so it would be best that we wait for the results of their meeting,” Coloma said.

The camp of Poe on Saturday expressed alarm that the Comelec was “in disarray” following Guanzon’s filing.

Poe’s spokesman Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian called on Bautista to “put the house in order.”

“It is alarming to see the very institution tasked to oversee the conduct of the orderly elections in disarray. We are calling on the good chairman of Comelec to put the house in order,” Gatchalian said.

In his Jan. 7 memo to Guanzon, Bautista said her filing was “not only irregular but personally disrespectful.”

Gatchalian said Guanzon was wrong in usurping the powers of the en banc.

“From day 1, we have been saying that certain personalities inside Comelec have political agendas against Senator Poe. These personalities have been driven by political and partisan biases against Senator Poe,” Gatchalian said.

“Chairman Bautista should unmask these personalities and make them publicly accountable. The actions of Commissioner Guanzon are undermining our electoral process and endangering our very democracy,” he said.

Poe’s running mate, Senator Francis Escudero, also called on Bautista to expose “saboteurs” within the poll body and to fight attempts to undermine the poll body’s integrity.

“I implore Chairman Bautista to stand his ground and expose these people who are seeking to sabotage the electoral process,” said Escudero.

He said it is his duty to the Filipino people if only to reassure voters that their sacred right to vote, to choose the next leaders of this country is protected.

Escudero said he was appalled at Guanzon’s insubordination and disrespect toward the chairman.

“Even assuming that she is not a subordinate of the chairman as she claims, the Comelec is a collegial body that always acts collectively, and not individually,” Escudero said.

“This validates our observation that Commissioner Guanzon is threat to our democracy and the conduct of elections come May,” he added. 

Escudero also urged the public to remain vigilant against the dangerous tendencies of some Comelec officials to weaken the institution and erode the foundation of the democratic right to vote. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

Topics: Grace Poe , Comelec
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