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(Updated 8 p.m.) Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. has asked President Benigno Aquino III to name the replacements of two Comelec commissioners who are retiring next month. Brillantes said the President may wait for Congress to resume session after its holiday break since he could make an ad interim appointment. Ad interim appointments are made when the President appoints an official when Congress is in recess, during which the Commission on Appointments (CA) cannot vote on the appointment. The appointee can then assume office unless rejected by the CA. The President can only nominate with the CA and not appoint once Congress convenes. Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco are both retiring on February 2, or three months before the May 13 midterm elections.
"Hinihingi ko sa Presidente na maglagay na siya as early as possible," said Brillantes, a former election lawyer of Aquino. If Aquino appoints the two commissioners while Congress is in recess, the appointees can only participate as consultants, which means they will have no voting powers in the deliberations. “I’m asking only the appointments to be made. If it cannot be made because ‘yung session ng Congress is Feb. 2, edi sabihin na niya kung sinong ia-appoint para ma-umpisahan ko nang umupo sila as consultants,” said Brillantes, who himself was also an ad interim appointee of Aquino. Retiring commissioners
A human rights lawyer, Sarmiento worked for the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process before being appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as poll commissioner in 2006. He replaced former Commissioner Rufino Javier.
Velasco was the poll director in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) before being appointed by Mrs. Arroyo in 2008 to replace the unfinished term of Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon. After his appointment, he was accused by former Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan for allegedly distributing money to some local Comelec officials in CAR to ensure Mrs. Arroyo's victory in the 2004 presidential polls. No effect on poll preparations
Still, Brillantes said losing two commissioners would not affect their work on election preparations. "We're practically finished for the preparations for automation," he said.
He noted, however, that they will have to divide the work among five commissioners instead of seven.
"Matatanggalan kami ng dalawa. Imbes na mahahati sa pito, mahahati na sa lima," Brillantes said.
Brillantes said Comelec will reshuffle the five remaining commissioners between the two divisions - Commissioner Lucenito Tagle from the second division will head the first, while Elias Yusoph from the second division will preside the second.
"Sila na ngayon ang magiging senior commissioners," Brillantes said.
The first division under Sarmiento is known as the stricter one in terms of accrediting party-list groups, requiring nominees to belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Meanwhile, it suffices for the second division under Tagle to accredit party-list groups whose nominees are advocates of the sector.
Reached for a comment on Wednesday, Sarmiento in a text message said he prefers a replacement who is "reform-minded, with passion to empower marginalized and vulnerable sectors, [and] open to automating electoral processes."
He also said he'd prefer someone who is "friendly to the media and civil society, open to work with other electoral commissioners abroad for mutual enrichment on best election practices, and fair and impartial in rendering decision involving election contests."
Velasco in a separate text message said he prefers someone "who possesses... competency, independence, dedication [and] fairness."
Brillantes said he has no preference as to who will replace Velasco and Sarmiento.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez also said he has "no preferences as to who will be appointed." He noted though that Palace should appoint replacements "better sooner rather than later."
President Aquino has appointed three election executives since assuming office in 2010 - chairman Brillantes and Commissioners Grace Padaca and Christian Robert Lim.
Both Brillantes and Lim were election lawyers of Aquino. A former Isabela governor facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan and Aquino's latest appointee, Padaca is allied with the Aquino-led Liberal Party.
With the retirement of Sarmiento and Velasco, the Comelec will soon be dominated by Aquino appointees. Commissioners Tagle and Yusoph are Arroyo appointees. — RSJ/KBK, GMA News