As if being unseated as congressman for poll fraud were not enough, newly appointed Election Commissioner Macabangkit Lanto is accused of coercing election inspectors in the 2007 elections, an offense that carries a penalty of disqualification from holding public office and time in jail.
Lanto, 70, is a nominee of Sen. Franklin Drilon, campaign manager of the Liberal Party coalition’s Team PNoy, who is gunning for a 12-0 sweep of the senatorial elections.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) wants Malacañang to withdraw the appointment of Lanto, saying Drilon should apologize for allegedly misleading President Aquino on Lanto’s background.
After reviewing its records, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) found an existing case against Lanto for alleged coercion of the Board of Election Inspectors in Lanao del Sur, Election Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said Sunday.
Under the law, any person who, directly or indirectly, threatens, intimidates or coerces any election official or employee in the performance of his or her election duties, commits an election offense.
An election offense carries a penalty of up to six years in jail, disqualification from holding public office and from exercising the right to vote.
Brillantes said the Comelec law department had submitted a recommendation on the case to the commission en banc, which would have the final say on the case.
“It is already with us in the en banc,” Brillantes told reporters. But he declined to divulge the details of the recommendation pending decision to be rendered by the en banc.
On Friday, the Comelec chairman told reporters that he had ordered his staff to check whether there were pending complaints against Lanto after he received reports that the former lawmaker had unresolved cases in the Comelec.
But Brillantes noted that the case could not prohibit Lanto from filling one of the two vacancies in the Comelec, brought about by the retirement of Election Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco, once Lanto received his appointment papers from President Aquino.
“The pending case cannot stop him especially since his case is still in the investigation stage, wherein [his] guilt has not been established yet,” he said.
Nominated to the Comelec, along with Lanto, was election lawyer Maria Bernadette Sardillo. She later declined the nomination.
Malacañang on Friday said it was reviewing Lanto’s appointment after belatedly learning that the former congressman of the second district of Lanao del Norte was removed from his congressional seat in 1994 for election fraud.
Beneficiary of fraud
The House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) ruled that Lanto appeared to have been a beneficiary of fraud, citing two falsified certificates of canvass, which had been derived from tampered election returns.
Lanto denied he cheated in the elections, insisting that he was a victim of a syndicate in the HRET.
UNA campaign manager Toby Tiangco said in a statement that Drilon “has placed the President in an embarrassing situation of appointing a person with a tainted past.”
Tiangco said the UNA would rather think that Drilon managed to deceive the Palace into supporting Lanto by vouching for him.
“Otherwise, the other angle is that the Palace ignored Lanto’s tainted past for political ends. We don’t want to believe that. We don’t want to believe that the Palace was so sloppy in its background check of a nominee to a sensitive position like the Comelec,” he said.
Be frank enough
Drilon should come clean on his actions and say sorry to the President, Tiangco said.
“We want to hear from Senator Drilon himself. He should be frank enough to admit that he was Lanto’s principal backer. He should be frank enough to admit he tried to pull a fast one in recommending Lanto,” he added.
“Senator Drilon should also apologize to the President for misleading him. And the Palace should do the right thing and withdraw Lanto’s appointment.”
Tiangco also said that since the Comelec was such a crucial institution, its nominees must pass through a rigorous selection process to check their integrity and independence.
UNA believes Lanto’s appointment was intended to help the LP coalition in the 2013 elections and 2016 elections, Tiangco said.—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria