By John Victor D. Ordoñez
AN OPPOSITION senator on Monday urged a newly appointed election commissioner to resign to save herself, President Rodrigo R. Duterte and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from embarrassment and unnecessary distraction that could affect the integrity of this year’s elections.
In a statement, Senator Franklin M. Drilon said extortion allegations against Election Commissioner Aimee Torrefranca-Neri could affect the integrity of Comelec.
“Her appointment has created a distraction that can jeopardize the Comelec’s constitutional duty to conduct a fair, credible and honest 2022 election,” the senator, who is a member of the Commission on Appointments, said.
Mr. Drilon advised Ms. Neri to “run for your life,” adding that a smooth sailing of her confirmation at the appointment body was unlikely given the seriousness of the allegations against her.
A lawyer has accused her of extorting P10 million from a client who is a suspected drug lord to “fix” a robbery case before the Supreme Court when she was a Justice assistant secretary. She allegedly pocketed P3 million and returned the P7 million.
Ms. Neri did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
She would face the allegations, Comelec spokesman James B. Jimenez told the ABS-CBN News Channel last week. “I raised the matter with Commissioner Neri herself and she assured me that she was ready to face these charges in the proper forum. So, I guess we’ll just have to wait until that happens.”
“Commissioner Neri assures the public that all of these accusations are not substantiated and that ultimately, they will be proven false,” Mr. Jimenez said.
Mr. Drilon noted that in his 24 years of experience, the Commission on Appointments could be merciless sometimes. “And rightly so, because we will be remiss in our constitutional duties if we do not vet the credentials of the appointees.”
He also questioned Ms. Neri’s constant reassignment to different government agencies.
Mr. Duterte appointed her Justice assistant secretary in 2016. A year later, she was transferred to the Immigration bureau, where she became a deputy commissioner. In 2018, she was appointed Social Welfare undersecretary.
“Is that normal? Did Commissioner Torrefranca-Neri undergo a tour of duty during the Duterte administration?” Mr. Drilon asked.
During ceremonies last week at the election body, Ms. Neri vowed to ensure honest, fair and free elections this year “amidst all the issues thrown towards the commission.”
“As a public servant for almost 17 years in the Judiciary and Executive, the trust reposed by the public is sacred,” she said. “It is my personal oath to the Filipino people to repay the public by being truthful to the values and mandate of the Comelec.”
Meanwhile, victims of the martial law regime said Election Commissioner George M. Garcia’s inhibition from pending cases of his former client ex-Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. would not ensure an impartial resolution of the lawsuits.
In a statement, the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law said Mr. Garcia’s appointment “looms like doom for the democratic exercise of suffrage.”
“Considering the stakes in the 2022 elections, we cannot afford to rest on a mere inhibition say-so of a Comelec commissioner whose integrity, to start with, is already put in question,” they added.
Mr. Garcia last week said he would not participate in several lawsuits seeking to disqualify Mr. Marcos to avoid bias.
“The public’s confidence in this commission should not be eroded by any semblance of bias or prejudice,” he said in his letter to the Comelec clerk. “As a newly appointed commissioner, it is my duty to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
He lawyered for Mr. Marcos in his election protest against Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo in 2016. The Supreme Court later rejected his claim of cheating in several provinces.
The group also called for the public’s vigilance about the “shameless” new appointments at the election body.
Several groups have asked Comelec to disqualify Mr. Marcos from the presidential race this year after his conviction by a trial court in the 1990s for tax evasion.
“This is stretching the credulity of the public to the max,” the group said. “The appointment of no less than the election lawyer of Marcos, Jr. as a commissioner of the Comelec is a brazen move that, at the very least, does not bode well for fair play in the electoral process exactly at a time when the son of the dictator is hellbent on reclaiming Malacañang on wings of lies and propelled by plundered wealth.