Something wrong with this picture

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

One doesn’t have to be an election specialist to know there is something grossly askew with this picture: An Ampatuan election lawyer as Chief of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

What is even more disquieting are the “praises” heaped on President Aquino’s appointee by none other than Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Loren Legarda, who vouched for the man’s ability to head the Comelec.

More startling was the comment of Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima, who said the new Commissioner will improve the reputation of the Comelec. Either a change in the appointee’s life to the tune of a spiritual and religious conversion has recently happened, and of which the public is unaware, or these are all just commonplace political rhetoric.

President Benigno "Noynoy" Simeon C. Aquino III

Recently, President Aquino signed the appointment papers of veteran lawyer Sixto Brillantes Jr. as Comelec Commissioner, disregarding rants from civil society groups and raising eyebrows from his critics.

News reports said that the Palace chose Brillantes on account of his being a “practical” choice, over and above an “idealistic” one. Whatever Malacanang meant by that is anybody’s guess.

After an out-of-the-blue purchase of a yellow Porsche that sent his critics in a feeding frenzy, here’s another decision by the President that seems to be a number of rungs short in prudence and discretion—things most important in the display of leadership.

Brillantes reportedly admitted to being friends with former presidential hopeful Chiz Escudero and Vice President Jejomar Binay in his chat with Senator Mar Roxas, who initially protested the appointment of Brillantes.

An Inquirer report quotes Brillantes as saying that he is only filling in for former Comelec chair Jose Melo’s nine-year stint, which is partly unused and will supposedly end by 2015. This is a year shy of the next presidential elections by 2016. In short, there’s nothing to worry about (but what about 2013?).

As for President Aquino, he has yet to release an official statement on this matter.

I leave the Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano’s doubts on Brillantes’ integrity to himself. Having raised Brillantes’ stint as lawyer of the Ampatuans is as good a reason as any to cast doubt on the Comelec chief’s rightfulness for the job.

Now, why would President Aquino appoint someone whose alleged sense of integrity and “a job well done” is to defend the Ampatuans’ hold in Maguindanao? Not that I am positing by any stretch of the imagination that the Ampatuans don’t possess the right to have the services of lawyers during election period.

Maguidanao’s votes are crucial to any wannabe government official in that area; the fight to remain in power, on the other hand, is equally tempting. And we all know how the Ampatuans wielded power: Through the barrel of guns—and a trusty, rusty chainsaw.

Andal Ampatuan Jr., prime suspect in the massacre of 58 people in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, flashes "L" sign.

To pretend to know the answer to that quintessential question “why” is perhaps as arduous to one’s sanity as a whip on a penitent’s back.

President Aquino seems to be running on half-cooked fuel nowadays, deciding on luxury over wise discretion, and appointing officials who have no need for critics to besmirch their integrity. They have done quite an excellent job on their own.

This appointment, for all intents and purposes, reminds us that our political choices are beginning to thin out. And if not our political choices, it’s our mettle to do what is right.

We now transgress the rules of idealism and good decisions for more practical considerations, thinking all along, perhaps, that political pragmatism will get us somewhere.

Oh, yes it will, yes it will—in the bloated belly of a whale—if we’re lucky, that is. Problem is, the nation’s destiny has nothing of luck in its shortlist of receivables.

As in all cases of madness a textbook explanation will not suffice, it will take more than public relations creative machinery to squirm out of this one. We cannot simply invent sans running the risk of being found out—sooner or later.

The least we can expect from this kind of appointment is the lingering doubt that things will not go the way of a “straight path” come election time–again. Institutions as important to the Filipino people as Comelec will be put in dire straits with regard to its integrity–again.  And if you think having a sense of doubt is not as bad as it seems, try having a philandering partner by your bedside.

Is the risk worth it? Not when the Republic and its institutions are at stake.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle.

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