MANILA, Philippines?Sixto Brillantes Jr. took his oath as chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Sunday after overcoming objections from former Sen. Mar Roxas that his appointment would favor the latter?s potential opponents in the 2016 presidential elections.
?I will do what is right,? the 71-year-old veteran lawyer told Roxas, Liberal Party (LP) president and defeated vice presidential candidate, in a meeting over lunch before President Benigno Aquino III signed his appointment on Saturday night.
Brillantes said in a phone interview with the Inquirer Sunday that he had met with Roxas on Friday on the request of Mr. Aquino, who informed him that his running mate in the May 2010 elections was the only one who objected to him.
?He (Roxas) supposedly told the President: ?If you choose him, you?d be handing over the presidency to Chiz or Binay in 2016,?? Brillantes said, referring to his former clients Sen. Francis Escudero and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
?I think this is not important because you are the one who will appoint and not him,? Brillantes said he replied to the President whom he also served as counsel in last year?s balloting.
Still, just to accede to the President?s request, Brillantes said he agreed to have lunch with Roxas at an exclusive Chinese restaurant in Makati City.
Brillantes was sworn in by Associate Justice Antonio Nachura, a former senior law office partner who hurriedly flew to Manila from a weekend in Tacloban City at 3 p.m. for the hastily arranged ceremony in his Supreme Court chamber.
?I spoke with him over the phone and told him that he should take his oath with no one else but me,? Nachura said. ?I also wanted to show that there is only one true contender for the chairmanship.?
During Friday?s lunch, Brillantes asked Roxas why he did not want him as the Comelec chair. He said Roxas replied that he did not want anybody named in the Comelec that he did not know personally.
Chair until 2015
Roxas gave up his own presidential ambition and stepped aside for Mr. Aquino in last year?s elections after seeing the outpouring of sympathy upon the death in August 2009 of his mother, democracy icon and former President Corazon Aquino.
The former senator is widely regarded as a potential presidential contender in 2016, along with Binay and Escudero.
Brillantes told Roxas that he was simply serving the unexpired portion of Comelec Chair Jose Melo?s nine-year term that officially ends in 2015.
Melo tendered his resignation by the end of this month, but its effectivity was advanced so that the appointment of Brillantes would not coincide with the resumption on Monday of the session of Congress, allowing him to immediately assume the post without going through tedious confirmation proceedings.
Brillantes said that while he admitted that he was a friend of both Escudero and Binay and that he had served as general counsel of the Nationalist People?s Coalition for nearly two decades, he told Roxas that it would all be different once he took over the Comelec.
?All of this will be done away with once I am there. Of course, I will be neutral. It?s too late in my life to take a risk. I did not give him any assurances. I just told him I will do what is right,? Brillantes said.
Asked in what capacity Roxas was talking to him as a candidate in the Comelec chair sweepstakes, the silver-haired Brillantes assumed that it was as head of the ruling party.
Brillantes reckoned that Roxas was satisfied with their meeting because the President called him up later to tell him about the ?good news.?
Roxas and his allies, dubbed the ?Balay? group in the LP with headquarters in Cubao area in Quezon City, are widely seen as holding a grudge against Escudero who had endorsed an Aquino-Binay tandem in the 2010 horse trading. Binay was then running mate of former President Joseph Estrada.
Escudero and Binay are part of the ?Samar? group?the street where the headquarters of the PNOY Lawyer?s group is located in Quezon City.
Mr. Aquino deferred comment about Brillantes? appointment.
?Will issue a statement tomorrow,? he said in a text message to reporters shortly after his arrival from Cebu where he attended the Sinulog fiesta.
Earlier Sunday, Brillantes told reporters that he had been telling his clients that he would no longer represent them in their cases in the Comelec to maintain the neutrality and integrity of the poll body.
?They should know that. Let?s forget one another starting now. No allies, no friends, sorry,? Brillantes said in Filipino.
He acknowledged giving up a lucrative law practice. ?We didn?t ask for this but it is also something that you cannot just reject.?
A law graduate of San Beda College, Brillantes placed seventh in the 1965 bar exams. His father, Sixto Sr., served as Comelec commissioner from 1956-1965, during the Magsaysay, Garcia and Macapagal administrations.
?We want to get the ball rolling for the preparations for the next elections and also the reorganization because, you know, more or less, we already know what the problems are inside Comelec,? he said when asked about his plans.
?We don?t want to cram again for the preparations if we want to do better,? he said. With reports from Jerome Aning and Miko Morelos