The Manila Times : Comelec under attack from within

1 February 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

I WOULDN'T call it a catfight because of its misogynist undertones. But this open fight between Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioners Ma. Rowena Guanzon and Aimee Ferolino are diminishing the stature and integrity of the institution.

It all started when Guanzon released her opinion on the consolidated disqualification cases against presidential front-runner and former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. even before the release of the main decision, which by itself is already an unprecedented move. But what is even more explosive is her allegation that the main decision is being deliberately delayed by Ferolino, its assigned ponente, who Guanzon further alleged to have gone incommunicado. Guanzon further insinuates that a politician is trying to influence Ferolino.

Guanzon complains against what she perceives as the undue delay in the release of the resolution. She earlier declared on Twitter, in her capacity as the presiding officer of the Comelec's First Division, that such a decision should have been released on January 17. Guanzon's distress is driven by the fact that she is set to retire tomorrow, February 2.

The Marcos Jr. camp reacted with a statement from George Briones, general counsel of Marcos Jr.'s Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP), urging that Guanzon be investigated for unethical conduct; even calling her an "incorrigible narcissist." Guanzon angrily retaliated by threatening to cite Briones and others in Marcos Jr.'s legal team for contempt and throw all of them in jail. She also challenged Briones to a debate, which Briones first accepted but later declined, citing fraternal respect considering that Guanzon was a member of a sorority, which was the counterpart of the fraternity to which Briones belonged. This did not appease Guanzon, who now demanded that Briones be disciplined by his fraternity for disrespecting her, a sorority sister.

And all of this was happening on Twitter. And as if the steep descent of the ethical conduct of our public officials and officers of the law into becoming a matter for fraternities to settle within their internal codes is not enough, Ferolino, in a letter to Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas dated January 28, fired back with even more damning revelations.

There is no doubt that Guanzon shares a lot of responsibility for the entire spectacle. Lawyers, including some judges that I have talked to alleged that her conduct was unbecoming of a member of the bar, and a member of an important constitutional body bestowed with judicial functions on election-related matters. She allegedly violated the sub-judice rule, in open defiance of a long-held doctrine. More fatally, she openly insinuated corruption among her colleagues.

What she should have done was to rely on the internal procedures of the Comelec, and have the matter addressed and settled. If she indeed, as she alleged, has knowledge of political interference, she should have brought this to her division first, if not the Comelec en banc.

She left Ferolino no choice but to respond to her allegations and accusations, contained in a letter, which she sent to chairman Abas, a copy of which was obtained by the media.

It is not certain if a decision would have already been promulgated by the time this piece is published. But whatever the outcome, the decision on the consolidated disqualification petitions against Marcos Jr. is now overshadowed by this unnecessary noise created by the Guanzon-Ferolino squabble. This is bad for the Comelec, but even worse for all of us.

Guanzon is an intelligent lawyer, and it is doubtful if she did not foresee the consequences of her actions. It behooves us to ask, therefore, is there another reason behind this distraction? Is it really the concern about an impending retirement that may render her opinion moot if the decision is released after? Is this worth throwing the legitimacy of an institution under the bus, by creating chaos and attacking the Comelec from within?