Lanto declines Comelec post
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - March 12, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former lawmaker Macabangkit Lanto has declined his appointment as election commissioner following reports of his alleged involvement in fraud in the 1992 elections in Lanao del Norte.

In a letter to President Aquino dated March 9 and delivered to Malacañang yesterday morning, Lanto said the media focus on his case before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) 20 years ago has overshadowed his public service record, and as a result he would find it difficult to pursue his advocacy for electoral reforms in the Commission on Elections (Comelec). 

“With deep regret, I respectfully decline my appointment as a member of the Comelec... I have arrived at this decision, owing in large part to the controversy that surrounded my appointment,” read the letter. In a statement, Lanto decried the media attention on the HRET case that “raised questions on the propriety of my serving as a member of the poll body.” 

“I maintain that I was the victim, not the perpetrator, of electoral fraud in that HRET case... I have been in government service for more than 30 years, holding high and sensitive positions in the bureaucracy, and never was I involved in any case of fraud, corruption or misconduct. I am proud of my public service record,” he said.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes expressed surprise at Lanto’s decision. 

“I was surprised because I thought all along that he is going to fight for it and clear his name,” he said.

The Comelec’s Law Department has recommended the dismissal of the election offense case against Lanto for lack of probable cause, he added.  

Brillantes hopes that Aquino will soon appoint two new election commissioners. 

“Hopefully, within another 10 days,” he said.

Election lawyer Bernadette Sardillo had earlier also declined her appointment as commissioner, citing family health concerns.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and the Comelec  Employees’ Union have endorsed the appointment of lawyer Ferdinand Rafanan, director of the Comelec Planning Department.  Rafanan’s “known probity and integrity as a long time official of the Comelec” and “his vast experience and competence” will be beneficial for the poll body, Macalintal said.

The Comelec union also endorsed lawyer Alexander Pilotin, Santiago City, Isabela election officer, to be commissioner.  

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said: “Mr. Lanto’s decision to withdraw as commissioner is a demonstration of personal delicadeza and gives the President an opportunity to make a new appointment to the position.” 

The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) asked yesterday the Liberal Party (LP) to explain its role in the appointment of Lanto. 

UNA secretary-general and campaign manager Toby Tiangco said they have credible information that Lanto’s appointment did not pass through the regular screening process of the Cabinet Search Committee and the appointment was apparently “detoured” through the Presidential Management Staff.

“Is it true that Lanto’s appointment did not pass through the Cabinet Search Committee?” he asked.  “Now, the plot thickens, and the grand conspiracy gets clearer now that the LP has reached its limbs in the search committee.” 

Tiangco said Malacañang’s Cabinet Search Committee should explain why it failed to check Lanto’s pending election cases in 2007 and alleged election fraud involvement in 1994. “Again, we want to hear it directly from Senator (Franklin) Drilon himself,” he said. “He should be frank enough to admit that he was Lanto’s principal backer, and be man enough to admit that he tried to pull a fast one in appointing Lanto in Comelec.” 

Tiangco said Drilon, the LP campaign manager, cannot easily wash his hands of the appointment that placed Malacañang in an embarrassing situation. “Although we commend Macabangkit Lanto’s decision to graciously decline his appointment to the Comelec, the story does not just end there,” he said. “Drilon should also explain his role in the selection process.” 

Tiangco said the LP is maneuvering within Malacañang to ensure victory in the May elections.

“The imprimatur of the Balay Group of the Liberal Party is clearly seen everywhere,” he said.

Drilon said he had recommended Lanto as election commissioner when the initial vacancy occurred in 2012. 

He was provided a copy of Lanto’s  letter to Aquino declining his appointment, he added.

Speaking to reporters in Gumaca, Quezon, Drilon said he had no knowledge of the electoral protest case against Lanto when he recommended him to Aquino.

“I didn’t see the case itself at the time,” he said. 

“I was told there was a HRET case, I did not know the details. I did not know it was about fraud.”

The Team PNoy campaign manager denied UNA’s allegations that he was part of an effort to rig the results of the May elections through the appointment of Lanto in Comelec.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I think it’s malicious, It’s a lie. But it’s all part of the game and I take that. But I deny it and it’s malicious.” 

UNA senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri welcomed Lanto’s decision. “That’s the best thing he could do because his name has been tainted by the cases against him,” he said.

“It’s really important to have people with clean names in Comelec.” 

Former senator Richard Gordon said Lanto’s appointment reflected “poor research” on the part of Malacañang.

“It’s symptomatic of what is happening to our country,” he said.

“There’s always knee jerk reaction without studying their moves. They telegraph it and then they find out we’re in trouble.

“The people around the President must advise him well. He must be careful. There are many agenda as you approach your midterm, Mr. President.” 

Gordon said the Comelec commissioners should have integrity and remain non-partisan.

“Comelec should be neutral and impartial. It should be clear. Its integrity cannot be sullied,” he said.

Sen. Francis  Pangilinan said Lanto did the right thing when he declined his appointment as election commissioner.

“His decision to decline the appointment spares the President from being dragged into a brewing firestorm,” he said. –With Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano, Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero   

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