EVEN as Malacañang continues to keep the public in the dark about the short list of nominees for the next chair and two new commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), a committee of electoral reform advocates is recommending its own choices for the poll body’s top post — former Supreme Court Justice Jose A.R. Melo and election watchdog head Carlos Medina.

Former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo [photo courtesy of SC]The 14-member committee is led by former Comelec chairperson Christian Monsod and includes Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV); Edward Go, former chairperson of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel); Ramon Casiple, chairman of the Consortium for Electoral Reforms; Alberto Lim, executive director of the Makati Business Club; and Benjamin Tolosa, co-convenor of the Volunteers for Clean Elections (V-Force).

“Retired Justice Jose Melo brings with him a highly respectable record in the Supreme Court and a long and distinguished career in public service…As the chair of the Melo Commission, he showed independence with a transparent investigative process and a forthright report on the issue of extrajudicial and agrarian reform-related killings,” the committee said in a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Melo, 75, served for 23 years in the judiciary and was then President Fidel Ramos’s first Supreme Court appointee in 1992. He was previously an acting presiding justice of the Court of Appeals, where he held a record of having a zero backlog of cases.

Melo spent a total of 40 years in public service. In 1962, he joined government as an executive assistant in the Malacañang legal office during the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal. He entered the Office of the Solicitor General in 1971, and was concurrent acting commissioner of the Professional Regulation Commission until 1975. In 1979, he was appointed commissioner of the Civil Service Commission before being named to the Court of Appeals. Melo was also a “confidential assistant” to the chair of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and an adviser in the Philippine National Bank.

Born in Pampanga, Melo finished his law degree at the Manuel L. Quezon School of Law and later joined the firm of Senator Jose W. Diokno. In 1960, he obtained a master of law degree, with the highest grade of “meritissimus,” from the University of Santo Tomas. He was endorsed to the committee by the PPCRV.

Atty. Carlos MedinaIn its letter, the search committee said that Medina “best fits the qualities of passion, dynamism, reputation, track record and personal traits that will give the Comelec the new face and new beginning that the public is clamoring for. His personal vision of reforms at the Comelec, founded on the need to address the problem of eroded credibility and the return of professionalism and dignity to the institution’s bureaucracy are particularly refreshing and inspiring.”

Medina, 48, is the executive director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center and a co-convenor of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente). Lente was formed in May 2006 in order to enable lawyers, law students, and trained paralegals to monitor the canvassing process.

Medina graduated from the School of Law of the Ateneo de Manila University. He earned his Master of Laws from the University of London and Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. He has spent most of his professional career teaching and doing consultancies and advocacy work focusing on human rights. He was endorsed by V-Force members Benjamin Barreto and Randy Tuano.

Both Melo and Medina are rumored to be on the short list of candidates submitted to the President by the Palace search committee chaired by Bernardino Abes, chairman of the Government Service Insurance System and who served as former President Diosdado Macapagal’s labor secretary.

The other candidates are said to be former justice secretary Artemio Toquero, retired Supreme Court Justice Raul Victorino, and Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño. The President is reportedly leaning towards Melo. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye has said that the she would announce her choice near February 2, when the term of resigned Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. would have ended.

The Palace selection process has been criticized for its lack of transparency, as it has refused to release the shortlist of nominees. Comelec education and information chief James Jimenez said that revealing the nominees could politicize the President’s choice. But Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Francis Pangilinan assailed the apparent secrecy in the process, and said that Malacañang should reveal who were being considered for Comelec vacancies before making any appointments.

Invoking the constitutional right to access to information, “The fear of politicizing the process is without basis, the Comelec statement that the process could be politicized if the list is made public is downright ridiculous. On the contrary, the opportunity for horse trading, politicking, wheeling and dealing and boot licking is greater in a process that is secretive and lacking in transparency.”

Pimentel said the lack of transparency is contributing to the poll body’s low credibility.

“One of the main reasons that we organized ourselves is that we wanted precisely a very transparent process,” said Monsod. The committee emailed its network of electoral reform advocates to ask for nominees. It interviewed nominees and other people, including those from the provinces. They also shared the biodata and endorsers of their nominees with the media. The committee submitted its recommendations to the President and the Palace search committee last December 17.

The requirements of a candidate for Comelec commissioner and chairman are set out in Article IX (C) Sec. 1 of the Constituition. One must be a natural born citizen of the Philippines; at least 35 years of age at the time of his/her appointment; holder of a college degree; must not have been a candidate for any elective position in the immediately preceding elections, provided that the majority of the Commissioners including the Chairman, must be members of the Philippine Bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least 10 years.

The electoral reform advocates’ search committee also added their own criteria:

  • Academic qualifications
  • Special training and technical qualifications
  • Experience in government service or private practice
  • Record of positions held
  • Accomplishments
  • A member of the bar or professional board (when applicable), a member of a professional organization/body to which he / she belongs
  • At least 5 years of electoral experience in the various aspects of electoral process (cumulative)
  • Held top managerial post of an organization for at least 5 years
  • General understanding of information and communication technology
  • Preferably has experience in public service in government or civil society organizations
  • Proven track record of integrity and honesty in public and private life
Proven track record of:

  • Honesty
  • Word of honor
  • Consistency
  • Non-partisan
  • Autonomous
  • Ability to recognize conflict of interest and act accordingly
  • Loyalty to the duties and functions of the office, and not personal loyalties
  • No political party affiliations within the last 6 years
  • Not a candidate for public office nor an elected official within the last 6 years
  • No known social, fraternal, familial, formal and informal financial ties with the president and immediate family and / or known political families
  • Track record / reputation of independence

One striking feature of the search committee’s criteria is the prohibition on politicians. “I think if we have one major conclusion is that there should be no politicians in the Comelec,” said Monsod. “We would discourage, if not object to the appointment of a politician, particularly as chairman.”

Abalos’s appointment as Comelec chairperson was unprecedented in the commission’s history, as he is a politician and a known Lakas party stalwart.

Speaking on the Comelec’s fall from grace under Abalos, Monsod told the PCIJ, “I think it starts from the top. They have appointed the wrong leaders. They appointed commissioners that serve their own agenda. I blame the appointing power and Congress.”

Casiple says that things began to fall apart in 1995, during the term of Comelec chairperson Bernardo Pardo and the term dagdag-bawas entered the public’s vocabulary. It was also the Pardo Comelec that began the practice of hiring applicants endorsed by politicians to the poll body.

Since then, the Comelec has been embroiled in one fiasco after another. (See the i Report sidebar “Sins of the Commission.”

Looking for credible Comelec commissioners

With a vacancy for the Comelec chairperson, and the impending retirement of two commissioners, the search committee says that it is crucial to provide an alternative list for the President to choose from.

The committee also submitted eight nominees to fill in the positions of commissioners Resurreccion Borra and Florentino Tuason, whose terms will end on February 2.

They are the following:

Adoracion Avisado, 55, retired RTC judge

The executive director of Transformative Justice Institute, Judge Avisado was a former presiding judge of RTC Branch 9, the only Special Drugs Court in Davao City. She was awarded by the three branches of the national government for her outstanding performance in the judiciary. After her retirement as judge, she pursued her advocacy for the transformation of the justice system and the promotion of human rights particularly for women and children. “Judge Avisado is well-known for her honesty, integrity, credibility and competence,” according to the search committee. It considers her as a woman of passion and dedication who could help bring about change in the electoral process.

Howard M. Calleja, 41, lawyer

Atty. Calleja is the National Legal Counsel for PPCRV, a law professor at the Ateneo School of Law, Far Eastern University Institute of Law, and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila College of Law. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Santo Tomas and with a Juris Doctor degree from Ateneo. He earned his certificate in International Law at The Hague Academy of International Law, The Netherlands; and a master’s degree in international law at Duke University, Durham, North
California, USA.

“While Atty. Calleja is short of experience in electoral reforms, he has been regarded by the people around him as a person of integrity and competence. His work with PPCRV exposed him to the problems of the present electoral system and equipped him in advocating for reforms in the Comelec,” said the committee.

Luie Tito F. Guia, 42, lawyer

Atty. Guia is the president and founding trustee of the Lawyer’s League for Liberty (LIBERTAS). He is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. He was an executive assistant on legal matters for the Office of the Chairman of the Comelec during the time of Monsod. He has also been doing consultancies to different organizations and institutions on election laws and processes.

“Atty. Guia is known to the electoral reform advocates as a man of competence, compassion and character,” said the search committee. It believes that his “expertise and experience in Comelec would be beneficial in implementing genuine electoral reforms in the Commission.”

Teresita J. Herbosa, 57, lawyer

Atty. Herbosa is a partner of the Angara Abello Conception Regala and Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW). She is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Bachelor of Laws from U.P. She has practiced law for 30 years, and was the head of the litigation department of ACCRALAW for more than a decade. She is also a professorial lecturer on remedial law at the U.P. College of Law.

“Atty. Herbosa’s experience in ACCRALAW proves her competence, integrity and independence as she has been recognized as one of the top three litigation lawyers of the Philippines,” said the committee. “Aside from her legal expertise, she has also held several administrative positions, which could be valuable in pursuing reforms in the Comelec.”

Gabriel T. Ingles, 55, RTC judge

Judge Ingles is the presiding judge of RTC Branch 58 in Cebu City. He finished his law degree at the University of San Carlos College of Law in 1981 where he is now a law professor. He obtained his master of law degree at the San Beda Graduate School of Law. He topped the last Profile Taking of Judges covering all RTC and Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) judges in the cities and provinces of Cebu City conducted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter where he garnered an average of 91.78 percent, with the highest scores on integrity and competence.

“Judge Ingles’s experience, educational and professional qualifications would be of help in restructuring and renewing our electoral system,” said the committee. “He is regarded as a man of competence, integrity, independence and humility by those he has worked with.”

Ma Caridad P. Manarang, 57, information technology and business professional

Manarang is a research analyst and programmer at the National Compute Institute. She earned her Master of Business Administration from U.P. She was the regional coordinator of the Institute of Advanced Computer Technology (I/ACT), SGV & Co., Arthur Anderson & Co. and a member of its consulting division (now Accenture). She was also the country principal for the Unisys Corporation and a senior lecturer at the U.P. computer science department.

“Ms. Manarang has an outstanding career in the field of information technology and is highly regarded by those inside and outside of the IT arena,” said the committee. “She would add a critical competence and balance to the Comelec especially that the Commission is moving towards automation and election modernization.”

Nasser A. Marohomsalic, 52, lawyer

Atty. Marohomsalic is a member of Lente, the Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties. He was as a commissioner of of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) from 1994 to 2001, and was also the founding deputy legal counsel of Lakas Christian-Muslim Democrats of the Philippines. He has published books and articles on peace and human rights issues, as well as on Philippine laws. He earned his Bachelor of Arts at the Far Eastern University and finished law in U.P.

“Atty. Marohomsalic is a man of integrity and dedication to work,” said the committee. “His experience in advocacy work equipped him in understanding the issues and concerns on the present electoral system. His being a Muslim might be of advantage in understanding and dealing with the ARMM electoral problems.”

Undersecretary Enrique D. Perez, 73, lawyer

Perez has been with the government since 2003. He is the undersecretary of the Palace search committee for a new Comelec chairperson. He was the senior executive vice president and board member of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. He obtained his master’s degree in law from the University of Michigan.

“Usec. Perez’s integrity, competence and independence are known to the legal and business arena,” said the committee.

Read the full list of nominees, including their biodata and endorsers.

Manarang is especially cited in the committee’s letter to the president for her specialization in IT. Monsod stressed that three commissioners are not required to be lawyers, and people with different expertise would be needed, especially as the Comelec moves toward poll automation.

“We believe that the individuals that we are nominating would help in husbanding or shepherding the modernization program of the Comelec which is long overdue and the rebuilding of the Comelec’s credibility and also therefore of the electoral process itself,” said Monsod.

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