The Manila Times : Guanzon probe, discipline urged

30 January 2022

By William Depasupil | The Manila Times

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc should investigate and impose disciplinary sanctions against Commissioner Rowena Guanzon for putting the poll body and her fellow commissioners in a "bad light" after she leaked her decision to disqualify presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., an election lawyer said on Saturday.

"Leaking her vote, disclosing the identity of the ponente, disparaging a fellow commissioner, discussing a confidential matter (pending case) in public, not only violate the sub judice rule, but also constitute a serious breach of the Internal Rules and the Comelec Rules of Procedure, putting the institution in bad light or public ridicule," lawyer Manuelito Luna told The Manila Times.

Luna said the Comelec "as a Constitutional body, may investigate and punish such acts even if the member involved is an impeachable officer," he said.

He cited as an example the cases of former Supreme Court associate justice Ruben Reyes and former Comelec chairman Juan Andres Bautista.

In the case of Reyes, Luna said the high court permanently barred the magistrate from holding public office and imposed a P500,000 penalty for breach of confidentiality and leakage of internal documents. Reyes was found responsible for the leak of his draft decision on the citizenship case of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyun Limkaichong to one of the parties.

The Comelec, Luna added, also exercised the same power in the case of Bautista when all the six commissioners then, which included Guanzon, issued a statement urging the former Comelec chairman to either go on leave or resign after an impeachment case was filed against him, citing betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

"Guanzon is destroying the very institution she has sworn to serve, protect and defend," Luna said. "As a judge and lawyer, she should know or should have known, the limits of her functions."

Guanzon is chairman of the Comelec First Division, which handles the three consolidated disqualification cases against Marcos Jr., with Commissioners Aimee Ferolino, as the ponente or who was tasked to write the resolution, and Marlon Casquejo as members.

On Thursday, in a precedent setting move, Guanzon leaked her vote on the Marcos case even before Ferolino could finalize the ruling on the consolidated cases against Marcos.

Guanzon expressed belief that somebody powerful was influencing the Marcos case, thus the delay in Ferolino's submission of the resolution.

Guanzon is set to retire on February 2, together with Chairman Sheriff Abas and Commissioner Antonio Kho Jr.

But Luna said that even if Guanzon is retired, she cannot escape responsibility for her alleged damaging actions.

"In the case of Justice Reyes, the investigation against him started when he was still a member of the [Supreme Court] until he retired. Despite that, the court still continued investigating him and sanctioning him," the lawyer added.

While under investigation, Luna said, the commission en banc can either withhold the release of Guanzon's clearance and retirement pay or censure her.

Luna also said that if Guanzon would be found guilty of wrongdoings, the Comelec en banc has the authority to forfeit partly or totally the retirement benefits due her.

Ferolino, in a letter to Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas on Friday, asked the commission to review the appearance of Guanzon before various media outlets and in social media sites on Thursday.

"Her excitement and eagerness have taken over her that she may have forgotten the sub judice rule," she said, adding that Guanzon's disclosure that she was the ponente of the case "will expose me to possible pressure from different personalities and organizations and will pose a threat to my safety and security."

Also on Thursday, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas chief legal counsel George Briones also asked the Comelec en banc to conduct an administrative investigation against Guanzon for alleged violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and Code of Judicial Conduct before her retirement benefits are released.