Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Comelec wags assert that Commissioner Guanzon refused to submit her SC memo on Grace Poe's DQ case to Chair Andy Bautista because she treats him as her junior in age. But other wags also note her close links with LP presidential bet Mar Roxas as they both are Western Visayans. Guanzon's appointment may be politically motivated, but so is JPE's request to re-open Mamasapano case---with poetic justice, on Jan. 25, its first anniversary. Chair Poe insists her committee report on Mamasapano can't be revised any more, but trust JPE to try to write new one.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon

The Comelec is in a mess---as are several other crucial offices of government nowadays---and the disunity may be traced mainly to the fact that ex-politicians are appointed to sensitive positions that call for political neutrality, but some appointees cannot seem to be neutral. 

Take the case of Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, former mayor of Cadiz, Negros Occidental, who drew up the memorandum for the Comelec en banc that seeks the disqualification (DQ) of Sen. Grace Poe from the May presidential race.  The Comelec en banc position merely backed up the posture of its first and second divisions, which sought Poe's DQ owing to the question over her natural-born citizenship status and inconsistencies in her residency.

When Commissioner Guanzon went straight to the Supreme Court to submit what was supposed to be the poll body’s en banc memorandum, as ordered by the SC,  it made enormous headlines in the outside world. But what went wrong was that, as Comelec Chair Andres Bautista protested loudly, Guanzon did not bother to check that memorandum with him as head of the Comelec. Chair Bautista felt offended by this move and threatened to tell the SC to disregard Guanzon's memorandum, but this only drew a loud rejoinder from the lady commissioner. Said she: “As a Commissioner I’m not a subordinate or employee of Chairman Bautista and he has no control or supervision over me,” and that she has every right to go direct to the SC with the memorandum. 


I submit that Guanzon is wrong, very wrong from several counts. The Comelec is a collegial body and after the en banc drew up its decision to seek Poe’s DQ from the presidential race and Rowena Guanzon prepared the memorandum for the SC on this decision, she should have had the courtesy of showing the petition in its final form to Chair Andy Bautista, prior to submitting it to the SC and issuing the news item to media.  

Any organization has to have some kind of a binding structure---and now that the Comelec is running a very tight ship and is in the middle of so many controversial issues, it especially needs to calibrate all its responses. Bautista was so offended that he now threatens to ask the SC to ignore Guanzon’s  memo as unauthorized.


As a result of this scandalous quarrel inside the Comelec, much is being attached now to the fact that Commissioner Guanzon, who was first appointed OIC mayor of Cadiz by President Cory Aquino and subsequently won that office on her own, is said to be a very close ally of LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas and Senate President Franklin Drilon, as they come from the same Western Visayas region. Guanzon is thought to have made this preemptive move in the SC in order to ensure the DQ of Grace Poe, who, with Vice President Jejomar Binay, lead in the presidential race, while Roxas comes in as a poor fourth  after Davao Mayor Rody Duterte.

Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesperson, was quoted by the Tribune as saying that his principal and her camp regard Guanzon as among the “personalities in the Comelec who have a political agenda against Sen. Poe.” No doubt about that, but wags inside the Comelec also note that perhaps Guanzon thought age should prevail over rank: Andy Bau is junior to her in age.


This blogger subscribes entirely to the notion that Sen. Poe is unqualified to run for president of this country due to the twin issues of her inability to prove her status as a natural-born citizen as well as her lack of the ten-year residency---conditions required by the Constitution for presidential candidates. 

But in this fight between Comelec Chair Bautista and Commissioner Guanzon I can see that  the disarray within the poll body stems from the fact that the appointing power, President Aquino, has filled what should be a very sensitive position, such as that within the Comelec's top hierarchy, with a clearly partisan official---when the better thing to do would have been to get lawyers with towering reputation but who are not aligned with any political party.

The Comelec in the tenure of Sixto Brillantes and now under Andres Bautista lacks the stature of officials of old, such as Jaime Ferrer and Christian Monsod in earlier decades who were respected highly by the people. Now you see political pygmies like Rowena Guanzon who are ready to defy logic and common sense for partisan reasons.


The Palace fought hard against provisional bail for Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile over the past three years, keeping him in hospital detention due to his ill health and advanced age, for a good reason: if he’s back in the Senate he could wreak a lot of havoc on the P-Noy administration because of his continuing sharp mind, unequaled in the Senate despite his advanced years---as well as his good contacts and links within the military/police developed in the long years he served as Minister of Defense.  But with super-lawyer Estelito Mendoza arguing for him, Enrile went to the Supreme Court and won provisional bail---and promptly resumed his seat in the Senate.

Now JPE has petitioned the Senate committee on public order, headed by Sen. Grace Poe, to reopen the Mamasapano case, following his claim that he has uncovered new testimonies and findings on this tragedy that rocked the country nearly a year ago. Poe was left with no choice but to agree to the reopening which is set, very much with poetic justice, on Jan. 25---the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Massacre that snuffed the life of 44 members of the PNP's elite Special Action Force (SAF) and a good number of civilians. 

Sen. Poe had little choice but to acquiesce to JPE's request, but not before emphasizing that the report her committee had prepared nearly a year ago  can no longer be changed or revised---as it was signed by no less than 21 senators.


Perhaps the old report cannot be changed anymore, but then there will have to be a new report, as JPE claims new evidences he gained, interestingly enough, from some of his fellow detainees at the PNP Hospital inside Camp Crame. Trust Enrile to come prepared as he is a most cunning investigator and a brilliant lawyer. 

Malacanang quickly termed the re-opening of the Mamasapano hearings "politically motivated" and government agencies such as the NBI were quick to assert that there are no new findings on this case. But politically motivated of course it is, as JPE was detained in the PNP hospital all the time that the hearings on the SAF massacres were being conducted; he will be heard on this issue only for the first time now. 

Interesting times.