Comelec unseats Panlilio
By Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) Updated February 12, 2010 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – The Second Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ordered yesterday Pampanga Gov. Eduardo Panlilio, one of the governors critical of the Arroyo administration, to step down after a recount allegedly showed that he lost in the 2007 elections.
In a resolution more than 11,000 pages long, Second Division Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Elias Yusoph and Lucenito Tagle declared former Pampanga board member Lilia Pineda as the duly elected governor of the province.
Last year the Second Division had unseated Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, who was also a critic of President Arroyo, and Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza, who left the administration-backed Lakas-Kampi-CMD and transferred to the Liberal Party (LP).
Panlilio is seeking reelection as the official candidate of the LP in the May polls while Pineda is running anew for governor as candidate of the administration Lakas-Kampi-CMD party.
Pineda is the wife of Rodolfo Pineda, who was tagged as a gambling lord during the Senate trial on the plunder charges against former President Joseph Estrada. The Pinedas’ bailiwick is Lubao, in the district where President Arroyo is running for a congressional seat.
The latest resolution showed that after revising the votes from Pampanga, the Second Division found that Pineda garnered 190,729 votes against the 188,718 votes of Panlilio. This represents a margin of 2,011.
“We find sufficient merits in this election protest case. The division hereby resolves that the protestant Pineda is the duly elected governor of the province of Pampanga after review and examination of the contested ballots in this election protest,” the resolution states.
The Comelec directed Panlilio to step down and turn over the post to Pineda.
Tagle had issued a concurring opinion, which also finds Pineda as winner in the gubernatorial race but her vote margin is much slimmer at 356.
Panlilio was proclaimed Pampanga governor in 2007 after winning by 1,147 votes. Pineda contested the results, claiming that the former priest turned politician cheated her.
The Second Division ordered a revision of the votes from Pampanga’s 20 towns and one city.
Panlilio, who attended the promulgation at the Comelec, said his camp had been expecting an unfavorable decision from the Second Division.
“Since October last year (when the revision was still going on) all of our motions and requests have not been granted. This pattern has been leading us to think that we will not get a fair treatment of this case,” Panlilio said.
Panlilio’s lawyer Sixto Brillantes said he would file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec to seek a reversal of the decision.
Harvey Keh, convenor of civic group Kaya Natin for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, said they were extremely disappointed and appalled by the decision although they were expecting it.
Keh maintained that Pineda is a close ally of Mrs. Arroyo while Panlilio had been critical of the government, so they expected the Comelec not to side with him.
Pineda’s lawyer George Garcia said that he knew his client won because of the manner the Board of Election Inspectors had appreciated the ballots.
Garcia claimed that ballots containing votes cast for “Nanay Baby” were not credited to Pineda although such nickname is registered with the Comelec as his client’s nickname.
He added that if he could read the whole resolution overnight, he would file a motion for writ of execution today.
Pineda hailed the decision of the Comelec Second Division declaring her the rightful governor of Pampanga.
“I am very happy with the decision of the Comelec. This is the victory of the people of Pampanga who have been seeking the truth on who won in the last elections,” said Pineda.
Comelec says decision not yet executory
Ferrer said the decision is not yet executory since the camp of Panlilio was given five days from yesterday within which to submit a petition for reconsideration.
Panlilio’s chief of staff Armando Vitug called on their supporters to hold a prayer vigil at the provincial capitol in San Fernando, Pampanga. The capitol employees were told to wear black during the vigil.
The atmosphere in the capitol remained calm as news spread about the Comelec verdict at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday.
Ferrer said that the Comelec’s decision could also be appealed before the Supreme Court.
Members of the Pampanga Mayors’ League (PML) expressed jubilation over the decision but civil society groups have assailed the Comelec.
Aur Broquil, chair of the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya, accused the Comelec of bias in favor of Pineda, because Pineda and Mrs. Arroyo are known to be close friends.
“It’s all part of a grand scheme of Mrs. Arroyo to install Pineda because that would work well for her plans to run for Congress in the second district,” she said.
Broquil debunked the allegations of Pineda that Panlilio committed anomalies in the 2007 polls.
She noted that Pineda had vast resources when she ran as candidate of the administration party Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) while Panlilio, who had resigned as parish priest of Betis town, was an independent candidate without resources.
The PML also backed Pineda during the last elections. Pineda’s son Lubao Mayor Dennis Pineda was the league’s president.
Malacañang denied it had anything to do with the decision of the Comelec to unseat Panlilio.
Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar emphasized that the Comelec is an independent body and as such the Palace accepts its wisdom and discretion on this issue “as on all other electoral disputes over which they have jurisdiction under the law.”
“You can be sure that the Palace had no hand in this Comelec decision, although I should add that this assurance is unnecessary since nobody has offered any shred of evidence for such an allegation,” Olivar said.
Pineda has long been close to Mrs. Arroyo and the two are even kumares (fellow godparents) in a wedding.
Olivar said that the Pineda and the President’s relationship should have no bearing on the decision-making process of the Comelec.
“These kinds of allegations are purely speculative, disrespectful of our institutions and due process, and damaging to the higher objectives of civil discourse and credible elections,” Olivar said. With Ding Cervantes, Ric Sapnu, Marvin Sy