HOPE this is not a sorry case of “trick or treat.”
On the eve of All Saints Day, or what is more popularly known as Halloween, a day when holiday revelers typically don costumes depicting ghastly characters and other underworld creatures, Malacañang has announced that a new commissioner has been named to the Commission on Elections.
The new poll official, according to Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, is Moslemen Macarambon, the presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 04 in Iligan City. Macarambon is said to have served more than 30 years in the judiciary and had also been the presiding judge of RTC branches in Malabang, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.
Beyond those credentials, however, little is known about the new Comelec commissioner’s background and other qualifications — a seeming specter that is not inspiring confidence among electoral reform advocates.
Vince Lazatin, executive director of Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), said they are not aware who Macarambon was or what his qualifications were.
Earlier news reports could also not determine whether he is related to Benasing Macarambon Jr., the former Lanao del Sur congressman, or to Renault Macarambon, the Mindanaoan lawyer who was detailed with former Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano during the 2004 elections. (Macarambon was mentioned in at least two conversations in the “Hello, Garci” tapes where he was caught discussing with Garcillano the political opposition’s plan to present election officer Rashma Hali as a witness on the alleged cheating in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, as well as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s concern that a teacher from Languyan, Tawi-Tawi was in the opposition’s “witness protection program.”)
Contacted by PCIJ through email, his eldest son and namesake, Moslemen Jr., however denied that they are related to either Macarambons. “I believe there are two or three Macarambon clans in Lanao province,” he said, adding that they are a different Macarambon.
In his blog, the young Macarambon also defended his father from criticisms regarding his appointment, saying he is the “fiercest and the most feared judge in Lanao Province because of his integrity” — a reputation attested to by awards like being named “one of the most outstanding judges in the Philippines.”
As early as January, the names of Judge Macarambon and Maguindanao provincial prosecutor Salick Panda were already being considered for the post vacated by Mehol Sadain in February 2007. Then presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor intimated that Arroyo may appoint a new poll commissioner before the start of the campaign period for the 2007 midterm elections and that Malacañang had reserved the position to a Muslim.
The party-list group Akbayan warned that time that Malacañang was looking for a new election commissioner who will “reprise the role of Garcillano in the alleged cheating in the 2004 presidential elections.”
Yet another reason for the lukewarm reaction is the timing of Macarambon’s appointment itself, which came amid the clamor for a more transparent selection process to fill up two vacant posts — one recently vacated by disgraced Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos Sr., who resigned after being implicated in a bribery scandal involving the botched $329-million National Broadband Network project awarded to ZTE Corporation, and another that has been vacant since 2002.
Lazatin called the nomination of Macarambon as having been “clandestinely and surreptitiously” made.
Only recently, Senator Francis Pangilinan had also urged Malacañang to allow the public to actively participate in the process in order that there would be no doubts on the credibility of the selection.
“The trouble with the lack of transparency in the process is that people will doubt the outcome of the process and assume palakasan or ‘connection’ as the sole basis of the appointment,” said Pangilinan. “This undermines the capacity of the new appointees to secure critical public support.”
Pangilinan suggested that instead of merely waiting for names to be submitted to it as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced the other day, the search committee should conduct public consultations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and have citizens groups, the church, people’s organizations participate in the selection process.
The senator also recommended that the nominees should attend a public forum covered by the media wherein they are interviewed by the committee and their vision of a modernized election process presented for public scrutiny.