Comelec confirms case vs Lanto

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday confirmed that newly appointed commissioner Macabangkit Lanto has a pending case before the poll body.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said the commission is set to discuss and rule on the case filed against Lanto in connection with the 2007 elections.

Brillantes said based on the case, Lanto allegedly coerced a member of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) in Lanao del Sur.

“Our law department already has a recommendation on the case and now, it is already with us in the commission en banc,” Brillantes disclosed.

He however declined to discuss details.

Under the law, it is unlawful for “any person who, directly or indirectly, threatens, intimidates, terrorizes or coerces any election official or employee in the performance of his election functions or duties.”

An election offense carries a penalty of one to six years in prison, removal of the right to vote, and disqualification from public office.

Brillantes said the Comelec still needs to verify claims that Lanto has a pending election offense case before the poll body.

But he stressed that a pending case cannot stop Lanto from assuming his post once he has received his papers from Malacañang.

“It cannot stop him especially since his case is still in the investigation stage. The guilt has not been established yet,” Brillantes explained.

In 1992, the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) unseated Lanto as Lanao del Norte congressman due to alleged election fraud.

Lanto maintained that he was unseated not because he was involved in fraud, but as a result of the “machinations of the corrupt HRET Technical Group personnel” conniving with his political rivals.

Meanwhile, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the Comelec should clarify what happened to the case of Lanto.

While Lanto appeared to be the beneficiary of alleged electoral fraud, the complainant failed to present evidence of guilt, said Macalintal.

Macalintal said Lanto was not included among the persons that were recommended for investigation for election fraud and irregularities because of the aforesaid ruling by the HRET that “there is no causal link between such fraud and Lanto.”

“Perhaps it is appropriate at this time to ask or inquire from the Comelec what happened to the HRET’s referral of the said case to the Comelec since July 1994 to the present or after 19 years,” Macalintal said.

Malacañang had earlier appointed Lanto and poll lawyer Bernadette Sardillo as new Comelec commissioners replacing retired commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco.

Brillantes said if he had been given a choice, he would rather have “an insider” as new poll commissioner.

He said an insider knows how the commission works and would no longer need to adjust to the new job.

“You don’t need to teach them that much since they already have an idea how we work here,” Brillantes said in a radio interview.

He then expressed support for the nomination of Comelec planning department Director Ferdinand Rafanan as the next commissioner.

“Director Rafanan is really qualified since he is a Director IV. I am pushing at least for a senior staff member of the commission and Director Rafanan is a Director IV, which is a senior staff position,” he said.

Aside from Rafanan, the Comelec Employees Union also nominated Santiago City, Isabela election officer Alexander Pilotin for commissioner.

A Comelec source said that Sardillo declined her appointment due to opposition by Commissioner Grace Padaca.

Sardillo served as counsel for former Isabela governor Benjamin Dy in his electoral protest filed against then Isabela governor Padaca.

But Brillantes said he is unaware of such opposition from Padaca’s camp.

“I do not see any issue on her (Sardillo), except that it was her that handled the case against Padaca. And now, they will be working together here at the Comelec. That is all I know. But I don’t know the reason why she really declined,” said Brillantes.

Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo, a spokesperson for the administration coalition Team PNoy, took exception to allegations of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) that the appointment of Lanto to the Comelec is part of a grand plan to rig the results of the May elections.

Quimbo said President Aquino “will not tolerate, much more, be involved, in any form of electoral fraud.”

“Any insinuation to that effect is completely baseless and malicious. Such accusations only betray the ignorance of their knowledge of the President’s personal history and conviction,” Quimbo said.

UNA secretary-general and Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco was quoted in news reports as saying that with Lanto in the Comelec, the stage has been set for a modified version of the 2004 elections where then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo allegedly cheated the late movie action king Fernando Poe Jr.

He said if there is anyone who has personally felt the pain of being victimized by electoral fraud, it is Aquino himself.

“His father was cheated in 1978. His mother was robbed of victory in 1986. It was likewise the discovery of the electoral fraud that happened in 2004, that pushed the President to lead the opposition in 2007 to victory,” he said. With Paolo Romero

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