​ Another Davao Comelec commissioner

Rodrigo Duterte, then vice-mayor of Davao City, as one of the sponsors in the wedding of Aimee Torrefranca and Glenn Neri in December 2012. Photo from the video of the wedding posted online.

She and her husband call President Duterte “ninong” (godfather). They also call Sen. Bong Go ninong. Under the Filipino cultural system, godparenthood is not just a spiritual ministerial function at one’s baptism or wedding. “Ninong” also translates to sponsorship by way of favors – such as providing a job – for the godchild..

In true Filipino cultural fashion, Aimee Torrefranca Neri, got exactly that in abundant ways. Duterte appointed her as assistant secretary in the Department of Justice in 2016. A year later, her “luck” continued and Neri was appointed deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Immigration. She was on a roll – by 2018, the next stop in the merry-go-round of juicy appointments got Neri the job of undersecretary of social welfare and development.

Ninong Digong also endorsed her husband, Glenn, when he ran for provincial board member of Misamis Oriental in 2016. The couple both openly refer to the president and Go as ninong in social media. Duterte was principal sponsor at their 2012 wedding.

Last week, the President’s goddaughter became a member of the Commission on Elections.

Right after attending the welcome rites for her as Comelec’s new commissioner – her fourth appointment under this administration – Neri visited the Comelec office in Davao City, posed with the regional election director Michael C. Abas, and sans delicadeza, posted the Duterte fist bump in social media (see post in COMELEC XI: Office of the Regional Election Director).

Neri’s having no sense of propriety should alarm us.

We have another Comelec commissioner who has no scruples and shame in accepting a job at a government agency for honest and fair elections while flaunting her deep connection with Duterte.

Comelec is now in the abyss.

Neri is the fourth Comelec appointee from Davao (after Marlon Casquejo, Socorro Inting, and the controversial Congress-and-the-Supreme-Court-rolled-into-one Aimee Ferolino Ampoloquio).

The key question above all is, what is Neri’s background that she has merited multiple roles in her Ninong’s government? She is tasked to guard the sanctity of the Filipino ballot in all future elections. She is expected to be fair and impartial, without even a modicum of doubt as her work is to guarantee the sovereign will of the Filipino people.

So yes, how did she get here and where did she come from?

Neri was special consultant in the office of the Davao city mayor. She acted as special counsel on violence against women and children. And that, in short, is how she got her numerous national appointments — as many others from the Davao City hall have.

And now, Neri expects us all to believe that she will treat the Dutertes without fear or favor in the forthcoming elections where the interest of the first family is very much at stake. How will she comport herself in a case that may fall in her division’s lap that may, for example, involve the Duterte daughter who is running for a national position?

Current public fears about Neri’s appointment to the Comelec are reasonable. As we have seen recently, the President’s goddaughter can invent and ideate laws the way her namesake and Comelec colleague did when she said non-payment of income taxes is not punishable by law.

The public is stunned that seven Duterte appointees will run the May elections. But we should be more distressed that four of these Comelec appointees are from Davao City – garapal! – and that one is a brother in the Lex Talionis fraternity (Rey Bulay). That means majority of the Comelec commissioners with Davao connections will manage the integrity of the coming elections.

An appointing power who has no plans to use the Comelec to cheat can pick from a list of persons not just with proven integrity but also no compadrazgo, kabababayan and Davao City hall ties. That is, granting that there will be no election cheating.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.