I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

Comelec Chairman

Listening to Chris Monsod talk, one gets the impression that he knows everything there is to know about making the Comelec credible. Which is why one wonders at the logic behind his choices for Comelec Chairman.

Why nominate former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo? Apart from the question of age (Melo is 75 and will be 77 or 78 in 2010, raising questions about his ability to physically weather the ravages of the position) , Melo has not particularly distinguished himself for transparency – the favorite buzzword of monsod-types. Hasn’t he refused to reveal the findings of his Commission which investigated extra-judicial killings? In my book, that is a far more heinous omission than the refusal of the Abes Commission to release it’s list of nominees.

Why nominate Carlos Medina, 48, who has so far distinguished himself only as a co-convenor of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE)? Oh, wait. He’s also Executive Director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center. Wouldn’t he then be better situated in the Commission on Human Rights? – because being an observer in one single solitary elections certainly does not qualify anyone for the job of Comelec Chairman.

So, what exactly were the criteria? PDI reports only Monsod’s response to a set-piece question: why no politicians? His answer was equally set-piece:

“If we had one major conclusion, it’s that there should not be politicians in the Comelec. It would be very fallacious to say that if we appoint a politician who is identified with the administration and we appoint somebody who is identified with the opposition, then there is balance. I don’t think we can appoint partisan commissioners and expect that commission to behave in a non-partisan and impartial manner.”


It is ironic that he makes such a big deal about slapping politicians down. In Cayetano v. Monsod, he is described this way:

Monsod, in his personal capacity and as former Co-Chairman of the Bishops Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, has worked with the under privileged sectors, such as the farmer and urban poor groups, in initiating, lobbying for and engaging in affirmative action for the agrarian reform law and lately the urban land reform bill. Monsod also made use of his legal knowledge as a member of the Davide Commission, a quast judicial body, which conducted numerous hearings (1990) and as a member of the Constitutional Commission (1986-1987), and Chairman of its Committee on Accountability of Public Officers, for which he was cited by the President of the Commission, Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma for “innumerable amendments to reconcile government functions with individual freedoms and public accountability and the party-list system for the House of Representative. (pp. 128-129 Rollo)

Call me stupid, but lobbying is as political an activity as anything can be since it involves – to be honest about it – playing ball and horse-trading with politicians. And also, no one becomes a member of the Constitutional Commission without being a politician. The thing with Monsod is, he trades on the fact that the word ‘politician’ carries with it a very definite image in the popular mind: a fat-cat congressman living off of the wealth of the nation. That image, however, is only half true.

A politician is anyone who dabbles in politics, whether as a candidate or as a person who works behind the scenes, making things happen for other people with the expectation of getting something in return. Kinda like “the practice of law” doesn’t only mean engaging in litigation, but also covers any field of endeavor where a lawyer trades on his knowledge of law. Kinda like Monsod did before he was appointed Comelec Chairman.

And speaking of him being Chairman, he is known in election circles as the man who once said ‘perception is more powerful than the truth.’ True to his word, the Comelec under him was more public-relations savvy than any before it or since. The Comelec’s trustworthiness at that time was a function of Monsod’s ability to play to the media and the well-meaning civil society types who considered him their wunderkind, not stellar fairness or independence.

In fact, there have been two presidents whose legitimacy have been seriously questioned. GMA, because of Garci; and FVR, because of Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s protest. Of these two, GMA’s purported cheating has never been proven although it has crossed over from putative to totally accepted by a segment of the population. FVR’s purported cheating on the other hand was on its way to being proven before the Presidential Election Tribunal before Santiago decided to cut her losses and run for Senate.

At the time of that decision, “(Santiago’s) revisors discovered in the course of the revisions alleged irregularities in 13,510 out of the 17,525 contested precincts in the pilot areas and have objected to thousands of ballots cast in favor of (Ramos).” Now guess who the Comelec chairman was at the time of the May 11, 1992? Clue: his last name rhymes with … onsod.

Of that time, Chief Justice Reynato Puno has said: “Dismissing the case on the tenuous technicality that it has become moot and academic will not tell the people who really won the last presidential election. Only the light of truth can pierce the uncertainty that has enveloped its results.” Sound familiar? Yep, that’s pretty much how everyone now is characterizing GMA’s presidency.

Oh and, speaking of the pot calling the kettle black, the NYT carried this gem:

Election officials attribute the glacial pace of the vote count to computer and telecommunications problems, although they point out that they had always expected the count would take several days, if not weeks, because of the Government’s cumbersome tabulation process.

Does that sound familiar?

And by the way, Garcillano was out of the Comelec when Monsod came in. Monsod called him back from the States, they say, and gave him such glowing performance reviews that, while just a field official, Garci got a salary almost equal to that of a Commissioner.

Which brings me back to my first question: what is the logic behind his choices? If one accepts the conventional wisdom that politicians will run the Comelec to ground, then one has to contend with the evidence of Monsod himself – a politician who is now perceived to be one step away from sainthood, who led the Comelec to dizzying heights of public approval.

On the other hand, if one were use Monsod’s own record as chairman, one would have to conclude that we are going to trust someone who himself did better as a p.r. man than as a working Chairman. It’ll be like the smooth talking blind mouse leading the rest of the us gullible sightless rodents.

Leaving these arguments (which will be inevitably be dismissed by many as ad hominems when they, in fact, simply go to the character of the man who would have his word believed – otherwise known as impeaching the witness … well, kinda … close enough to make no neffer-mind) aside, just take a second look at the candidates and consider the demands of the office for which they are presenting themselves (via Monsod, of course).

Melo is a magistrate, and Medina is an academician. Both may have sharp legal minds, but being a Comelec chairman doesn’t only involve presiding over the en banc in its quasi-judicial capacity.

While the official enumeration of the Chairman’s duties make the job sound fairly sedate – almost sedentary – the truth is, as the Chief Executive Officer, the Chairman has to direct and supervise the operations of the Commission. Judging by how the 2007 elections went down, it is clear that those operations involve far more than just knowing what the law is.

What about their credibility? These two gentlemen may be credible as apple pie, but as Monsod himself said, perception is key. No matter how genuinely credible these men may be as individuals, how will they battle perception? The only sure fire way to do that is to do what Monsod did during his time: engage the media; play to the gallery; and when the mob becomes restive, entertain them with blood. Any idiot can do that. All it takes is money and a good p.r. machine.

So, why these two, Mr. Monsod?


Filed under: 2010 watch, politics, , , ,

4 Responses

  1. shiro says:

    Medina was my prof at the Ateneo Law School. He’s a constitutionalist along the lines of Father B… but far too bookish for my liking.

  2. rom says:

    tonio:that’s an added problem, luv. there’s no handbook on how to be comelec chairman i should think. especially in mindanao

  3. […] smoke takes a skeptical look at Christian Monsod. Studentstrike continues the debate on the Left and Edsa Dos. Related readings in the columns of Juan Mercado: Guarded skepticism, from June 20, 2006, Have-gun-will-tax collection, September 5, 2006;  Cry of the widows, September 6, 2007, Those grisly secrets, September 12, 2006, and Those sealed graves, September 14, 2006 (which may or may not include information presented in The CPP-NPA-NDF “Hit List” – a preliminary report). […]

  4. […] written about my views on Melo, and I stand by them. What has he done that makes him qualified to lead the Comelec out of […]

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