Confirmation of Comelec, COA, CSC execs in limbo; confirmation hearing deferred
MANILA, Philippines — The confirmation of the top officials of three constitutional offices, including the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Commission on Audit (COA), has been put on hold after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said it would “be better” that these positions be filled by the next president’s appointees.
The ad interim appointments of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan and Comelec Commissioners George Garcia and Aimee Torrefranca-Neri were set to be deliberated on Monday.
Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Rizalina Justol and Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chairman Karlo Nograles were also up for confirmation.
Their confirmation hearing, however, was deferred to Wednesday this week, the last session day of the 18th Congress, after Zubiri raised a query regarding their appointments.
Zubiri disclosed that there was a plan to invoke, during the CA plenary session, Section 20 of the CA rules, , which allows a member to move for the suspension of the consideration of a nomination or appointment.
This section, however, cannot be invoked during the last session day prior to the sine die adjournment of Congress.
“Sine die adjournment of Congress is this week, end of the week. So, technically I have also the right to invoke Section 20 later in the plenary if need be. But I would just like to lay the predicate when we discuss all the members of these constitutional bodies para alam po naman nila. To be fair with them that, that is the plan,” he said.
“Because many of my colleagues feel that maybe it is or it should be the choice of the new president, particularly in the appointments of these constitutional offices,” he added.
Zubiri noted that Justol will have a term lasting for seven years—more than the six-year term of the incoming president.
“With due respect to these gentlemen and ladies here—many of them are my close friends—but the question is asked, wouldn’t it be better—because some of them have if I’m not mistaken the chair of the Commission on Audit will be there for seven year…ibig sabihin this new president with the mandate of 31 million votes, will not even be able to appoint the head of the COA until even up to the last day of his term, because she will have longer period of time than the president,” Zubiri said during the hearing of the CA’s Committee on Constitutional Commissions.
Zubiri recalled a CA plenary session in 2016 when then-Senator Juan Ponce Enrile invoked Section 20 of the CA rules.
“He’s rationale…when he invoked Section 20 on the constitutional offices—it was ambassadors together with members of COA and other constitutional offices and members of the DFA—and I quote, he says ‘I will tell you, ambassadors deployed are representatives of the president. It will be unfair to the next president if these people are appointed by the outgoing president. ‘[It] will deprive him, the [next] president, of selecting the people that he would want to represent him’,” Zubiri said.
“And he (Enrile) goes on saying with the other appointees on the constitutional bodies, ‘Why not leave that to the incoming president? He is outgoing’,” he added, still quoting Enrile.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III pointed out that Justol was appointed several months back and her confirmation was only put on hold because Congress was on break for the elections until May 23.
Justol was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Feb. 17, 2022.
“With the appointee before us, nasasayangan lang naman ako, kasi walang opposition, no opposition against her, yung kanyang biodata, yung mga career highlights niya, most outstanding accounting, hall of famer in the most outstanding accounting office,” Pimentel said.
“Maybe we can proceed on a case-to-case basis. Naka-break na tayo noon e..but if a deserving appointment was made by the outgoing president and then months earlier—by accident na naka-break na tayo because it was campaign period—maybe we can proceed on a case to case basis na if there is an appointee like this one before us which we can say also caps her career in government with a post which is very respectable and a constitutional office, maybe a relaxation of that proposal can be requested,” he added.
But Zubiri argued that pursuing a case-to-case basis approach may be “unfair” to the other appointees.
“I have no problem with Ma’am [Justol] but it’s the whole principle. If you make it case-to-case, how are you going to choose the others? Is it because they have bad character? Is it because there is an opposition, hindi natin ipapasa? If we make it a case-to-case basis then we are favoring one over the other which I think is not correct at this point of time. That would be unfair to the appointees,” the majority leader said.
Zubiri then moved for the rescheduling of the confirmation hearing to Wednesday.
“We can take it up on Wednesday…Definitely, some of us, not only me, I know some colleagues in Congress will raise the issue of Section 20, e di sayang din,” he said.
With no objection, Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the CA committee, approved Zubiri’s motion.
Last week, the confirmation of the five officials was also deferred in light of the ongoing congressional canvassing of votes for president and vice president.
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