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Duterte names new Comelec chief, two new poll commissioners

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has named former National Commission on Muslim Filipinos Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan as the ad interim chief of the Commission on Elections.

Acting Palace spokesperson Martin Andanar confirmed in a briefing on Tuesday that Duterte has signed the appointment papers of Pangarungan.

He also said Social Welfare and Development Undersecretary Aimee Neri and veteran elections lawyer George Garcia have been designated as new poll commissioners.

"The directive of the president is to ensure an honest, peaceful, credible and free elections," Andanar said.

Pangarungan takes over the helm of the poll body after the retirement of Comelec Chairperson Sheriff Abas on February 2. According to the NCMF website, he was appointed to his post on July 9, 2018.

Like Duterte, Pangarungan obtained his law degree from San Beda College.

He practiced law with the Siguion-Reyna, Montecillo and Ongsiako law offices, where he served as legal counsel of local and multinational companies. Pangarungan was also governor of Lanao del Sur province from 1988 to 1992.

According to his NCMF profile, Pangarungan was appointed acting government of Lanao del Sur, "replacing governor Mohamad Ali Dimaporo, a powerful ally of then-President Ferdinand Marcos during the martial law regime."

Comelec vacancies all filled

With the appointment of Pangarungan, Neri and Garcia, Duterte has filled the vacancies at the poll body and completed the seven-member commission en banc.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya however raised questions over the recent appointments as it stressed that they "should prove their worth and ensure that they will live up to public expectations at a time when the commission’s credibility is affected by controversies."

"At this point, we ask the three people: What is your track record in election advocacy or lawyering? What is your relationship with the Duterte administration? What is your assurance that you will maintain independence from the powers-that-be, including former clients who are now running in the 2022 elections," Kontra Daya continued.

Neri served as the DSWD’s undersecretary for operations, and the national project director of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

Garcia meanwhile is a veteran elections lawyer who represented Sen. Grace Poe during her disqualification case in the run up to the 2016 polls. After that, he also served as the lead legal counsel of current presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in his poll protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

Most recently, Garcia served as legal counsel of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, also a presidential candidate.

Marcos’ presidential bid is facing a slew of legal challenges at the Comelec. Although he has been cleared at least at the division level, appeals remain pending before the commission en banc.

Garcia, in a report by News5, acknowledged he has been counsel to several senators and governors as well as to presidents Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

But the newly-appointed Comelec commissioner said he will inhibit from cases that he handled as an election lawyer. “If there are cases that even if I am not handling now, but have been my clients before or I have had a relationship on a professional capacity, I’m going to take no part,” Garcia added partly in Filipino.

Other incumbent Comelec commissioners are Socorro Inting, Marlon Casquejo, Aimee Ferolino and Rey Bulay. — with reports from News5/Greg Gregorio

2022 ELECTIONS

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