MANILA, Philippines—Two seats on the Commission on Elections are now vacant following the retirement of Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco, who have completed non-renewable seven-year terms, and the commission’s head said he was contemplating holding on to their services as consultants.
On the sidelines of their ceremonial sendoff on Friday, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he would like to appoint Sarmiento and Velasco as consultants in light of the approaching mid-term elections in May. But he has yet to make a formal offer, he said. Sarmiento and Velasco will officially retire Saturday.
“As consultants they can sit during the en banc sessions but they cannot vote,” Brillantes told reporters.
In a separate interview, Sarmiento said he would decline the offer because he believed that “new blood” should be allowed to work for the Comelec.
“Of course that is an honor but personally I don’t like it. First, there are so many Filipinos who are qualified and more competent… let’s give way to new blood,” he told reporters. “Honestly, when you say consultancy, it’s like being ‘kapit-tuko’.”
He would rather continue his advocacy empowering vulnerable voters, such as people with disabilities and indigenous people, in his own private way, said Sarmiento. He was also keen on working with the Comelec in pushing for electoral reforms. “I can lobby with the Comelec,” he said.
Velasco was more open to Brillantes’ offer but he had no intentions of staying on after the elections.
“I will enjoy my private life but if the Chairman wants me to continue [as a consultant], I will consider but only during the preparations for elections. I will have to let go during the implementation,” he said.
The 59-year-old Sarmiento served as vice chair of the government’s panel in talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF during the Ramos administration and peace adviser during the Arroyo administration before he was appointed election commissioner in 2006.
Velasco, 56, joined the Comelec in 1990 as election officer in Baguio City. He was appointed in November 2008 to serve the five remaining years of the term of former Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon.
Earlier, Brillantes appealed to President Aquino to immediately name the two commissioners’ replacements since the election body was swamped with work in relation to the upcoming balloting.
The Comelec head said on Friday that while they were waiting for the appointments, he and the remaining four election commissioners have already divided among themselves the duties left behind by Sarmiento and Velasco.
“Actually, we are on the end side of the preparations for the May 13 elections but we are still swamped with work for the implementation so we really need seven people in the en banc,” said Brillantes.