Election lawyer Maria Bernadette Sardillo has declined her appointment to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as President Benigno Aquino III races against time to fill the vacancies in two commissioner posts before the election ban on appointments starts on March 29.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Saturday confirmed Sardillo’s decision to decline the appointment.
“The President has accepted the withdrawal of the application,” said a Malacañang spokesperson, explaining that Sardillo begged off due to “health concerns” affecting a member of her family.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte said Sardillo wrote the President a letter on March 7 in which she formally declined the nomination.
In her letter, Sardillo said she was deeply grateful for having been considered as a commissioner in the Commission on Elections.
“However, it is also with deep regret that I am withdrawing my application to the commission. This decision was reached after consultation with my family which has prevailed upon me to remain in the private sector. Nevertheless, please be assured of my continued support of your administration. Thank you,” she wrote.
Mr. Aquino was still unaware of Sardillo’s letter when he was interviewed by the media on March 7 in Davao City, where he announced that he had appointed Sardillo and Macabangkit Lanto to the Comelec.
“This letter is dated March 7. I understand that it was shown to the President the next day, March 8, and the President has accepted the withdrawal of the application,” said Valte.
She said the Palace was also informed that “a family member of Sardillo has health concerns, and I think that was the reason the family asked her to remain in the private sector.”
Letter of desistance
But a member of the Cabinet told the INQUIRER that Sardillo wrote the “letter of desistance” after “her family strenuously objected (to her application), and she could not convince them otherwise.” The official asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The family member is undergoing dialysis, the official said.
“Perhaps she thought she could overcome her family’s objections, but in the end, she could not. Her family didn’t want her to join the government, citing the stress and low pay. Her private practice paid well, allowing her to pay for the medications (of the sick family member),” said the official.
Brillantes said he was saddened by Sardillo’s decision.
“I learned that attorney Beng Sardillo declined her appointment as Comelec commissioner. I am deeply disappointed and saddened by it,” Brillantes said in his Twitter account.
Brillantes said Sardillo would have made a “great addition to the Comelec, particularly in disposing of the numerous election cases pending in the commission.
Sardillo and Lanto were to assume the two Comelec posts left vacant by the retirement last month of Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco.
Forced to answer
But on Friday, a day after he was named a Comelec commissioner, Lanto, 70, was forced to answer attacks on his credibility arising from a 20-year-old poll fraud case.
Malacañang is reviewing Lanto’s appointment after learning belatedly that he was unseated as a congressman in 1994 for electoral fraud.
Lanto was stripped of his congressional post after the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) ruled that he appeared to have been the beneficiary of fraud, which got him elected representative of the second district of Lanao del Norte in the 1992 elections.
The HRET cited two falsified municipal certificates of canvass, which it noted were derived from tampered election returns. It also noted that ballots had been tampered with to support the fake ERs.
In a statement, Lanto insisted that he “was a victim, not a beneficiary of poll fraud.”
As a neophyte politician then, Lanto claimed he fell “victim to the machinations of corrupt HRET Technical Group personnel who connived with members of a powerful clan in Lanao del Norte whom I embarrassed with my election victory.”
Lanto yesterday appealed to his critics to give him a chance to prove that he would be an independent and impartial election official.
Lanto admitted that he had sought Sen. Frank Drilon’s endorsement because the senator, “a long-time friend,” knew of his long, untainted record in government.
He said Drilon endorsed his appointment in April 2012 when a vacancy was created by the departure of then Commissioner Gus Lagman. He said that Drilon did not know at the time that he (Drilon) would be named campaign manager of the administration’s Team PNoy.
‘Baseless and silly’
“The insinuation that I was endorsed by Senator Drilon to manipulate the May elections for the administration candidates is totally baseless and silly,” Lanto said.
With Sardillo backing out, the Comelec Employees Union urged President Aquino to appoint an insider as commissioner.
The union earlier nominated Comelec Region II regional election lawyer Alexander Pilotin and Comelec Planning Department Director Ferdinand Rafanan.
“Our nominees are persons of integrity and competence. They are not tainted and, having served in the commission for a long time, their capabilities have been tested not just in running elections but also into looking after the welfare of Comelec employees,” the union said in a statement.
Brillantes said he was hoping the President would appoint an insider or an IT expert as commissioner.