POSTSCRIPT / April 25, 2013 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Despite critical noise, May elections to go on

TENABLE: It is amazing that until yesterday a few friends in media and some lawyers were still questioning the appointment of Al Parreño of the LTRFB as member of the Commission on Elections on the basis of his not being a lawyer with at least 10 years’ practice.

Apparently it has not sunk into them that the 10-year requirement in the Constitution does not apply to Parreño, who was appointed last week together with lawyer Luie Guia to complete the Comelec’s full membership of seven.

The appointment of Parreño may have looked to critics like a reward for his participation in the prosecution of impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, or part of the “Liberal-ization” of the poll body, but it is legally tenable.

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NOT APPLICABLE: Section 1 (1) of Article IX of the Constitution says: “There shall be a Commission on Elections composed of a Chairman and six Commissioners who shall be natural-born citizens of the Philippines and, at the time of their appointment, at least thirty-five years of age, holders of a college degree, and must not have been candidates for any elective positions in the immediately preceding elections. However, a majority thereof, including the Chairman, shall be members of the Philippine Bar who have been engaged in the practice of law for at least ten years.”

That part about majority (four members) of the Comelec being lawyers with at least 10-year practice no longer applies to Parreño and Guia as there is already a majority of four (Sixto Brillantes, Christian Lim, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph) who are lawyers of long-standing.

This majority will be bolstered as soon as Guia’s appointment is formalized. His appointment has been delayed a bit as papers were sent back to Malacañang for correction after discovery that his name Luie was misspelled as “Louie.”

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PARRENO RECORD: There is also a small problem with Parreño’s transfer to the Comelec since his departure from the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board will hobble the three-member body.

The LTRFB chairman had resigned and Parreño’s transfer will leave the board with just one member.

A UP law and business graduate, Parreño joined the bar in 2004. Linked-In shows that he specializes in developing legal processes and managing legal data. He established the legal processing center of both PLDT and Ayala.

At UP Law, he graduated on the top ten of his batch. He was an editor of the Philippine Law Journal and a recipient of the academic excellence award. He also co-authored a legal paper on electronic information that was adjudged best paper in UP Law. He was a litigator from the Villaraza and Angangco Law Firm and became the legal counsel for information technology company ePLDT.

After a research grant in Japan, he became a project manager and consultant on electronic data discovery management in Austin, Texas.

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I.T. IRRELEVANT: President Aquino had admitted that he was not aware of the 10-year requirement for lawyers being named to the Comelec. That added to the impression that Malacañang’s search committee again fumbled.

A presidential spokesman tried to salvage the situation by saying that Parreño’s being a lawyer (although short of 10 years) was a bonus, because he was appointed as information technology expert.

There is no need for him to be an IT expert. He is qualified as long as he satisfies (he does) the requirement that he be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, holder of a college degree, and not having been a candidate in the immediately preceding elections.

Note that before him, Commissioner Grace Padaca was appointed even if she is neither a lawyer nor an IT expert. She even has a graft case pending against her.

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SHOW GOES ON: The May 13 election is likely to proceed despite the noise from quarters concerned that the automated election law may be grossly violated with the use of PCOS machines without licensed software and some mandated security provisions.

Looking in the direction of the Supreme Court cowering at Padre Faura, however, one is wont to conclude that any question raised before the tribunal against the holding of the election or withholding the results will not prosper.

The High Court can always look at the sky and invoke supposed higher public interest despite obvious violations of requirements in the law protecting the integrity of automated elections.

This is reminiscent of the situation in Florida when, if memory serves, crucial computerized results in the reelection of President George W. Bush were questioned. The parties agreed with the court that to harp on technical aberrations would just sow confusion and instability.

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PUEDE NA: It would be another matter if Smartmatic (PCOS hardware supplier) were to be sued abroad by Dominion (software developer and owner) for infringement of copyright – and the Comelec were dragged into the case.

While an influential President Noynoy Aquino and a stubborn Chairman Brillantes may be able to keep the lid on local legal and political eruptions, it could be a different ballgame if the complaints spilled overseas.

It is not hard to justify a few irregularities or deficiencies in the electoral system. Filipinos are used to topsy-turvy polls. One even suspects that, hungry for entertainment, the natives may just lean back and say that politics is “more fun in da Pilipins.”

Then there is the “puede na yan” and “pare-pareho lang naman sila” mentality that tolerates the usual election misdeeds as long as these do not injure the individual personally.

This jaded observer thinks the specter of failure of election is not likely to materialize this May.

If ever, something else bigger might.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 25, 2013)

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