Election watchdog questions choice of Comelec chief amid credibility issues 

THE APPOINTMENT of George Erwin M. Garcia, a former election lawyer of the President, as chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) does not temper credibility issues faced by the agency, an election watchdog convenor said on Tuesday. 

“His appointment is a little surprising and alarming since we know the Comelec has trust and credibility issues due to the documented cases of fraud and other irregularities, and this recycled appointment does not help,” Danilo A. Arao, lead convenor of election watchdog Kontra Daya, told ABS-CBN TeleRadyo in mixed English and Filipino.

Mr. Arao also questioned why a shortlist of candidates was not released to the public as a transparency measure in the appointment process. 

Mr. Garcia previously lawyered for President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr, who faced several lawsuits seeking to disqualify him from the presidential race.

During his brief stint as election commissioner in March to April, he had inhibited himself from deliberations involving his former clients.

Mr. Arao added that Comelec should be led by a person with a proven track record of independence. 

“Inhibiting yourself is not a sign of independence, well at the most is a sign of prudence, which is commendable,” he said. 

“What we need at this point is for Comelec not to compromise its image, especially since we came from an election with a result that is generally in doubt.” 

Sought for comment, Mr. Garcia said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld: “From the point of view of law and jurisprudence, there is no conflict of interest. But I do give due respect to this argument. 

 In a statement on Monday evening following the announcement of his appointment, he said Comelec under his watch “will aim for meaningful reforms that will resolve issues identified by stakeholders and the voting public.” 

“Rest assured that I will remain impartial and independent as a Comelec Chairman. The will of the people will be the supreme law.”  

Last month, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said the May national and local elections did not meet the standards of free, honest, and fair voting due to various reports of human rights violations pointing to fraud.  

ICHRP also urged the election body and lawmakers to review the automated election system and introduce reforms that would discourage political dynasties from being elected.  

Acting Comelec Spokesperson John Rex C. Laudiangco disagreed with the group’s report, citing a lower number of election-related violent incidents. He asserted that Comelec did everything “according to the law and in fact above and beyond the call of the law.”  

Meanwhile, Mr. Garcia on Tuesday inspected the Comelec Information Technology department office in Manila, which caught fire on Sunday evening, Mr. Laudiangco said in a statement.  

The agency spokesperson noted that the Comelec chief said he would work on enhancing the health and occupational standards of the Comelec departments.  

Comelec earlier said election and voter registration data remained intact despite the fire that took place on the 7th floor of Palacio del Gobernador in Manila. John Victor D. Ordoñez