Concerns about Comelec chairmanship in 2022


Always in dread that Caligula will put his horse in the senate, a critical question we never avoid to ask is: Will the Commission on Elections be credible each forthcoming election? Three commissioners will retire this February 2, 2022: chair Sheriff Abas, Rowena Guanzon, and Antonio Kho. Abas and Guanzon are the last Aquino appointees in the poll body (albeit Abas was appointed chair by Duterte). That means the next seven members of the commission will all be Duterte appointees.

For Comelec chair, the president can appoint an outsider or from among the existing commissioners, four of whom comprise the “Davao Bloc.” Of the Davao Bloc, one poses the most conflicting of interests. If he appoints Michael Braganza Peloton as chair, Comelec credibility will be finished.

It has nothing to do about Peloton’s person but about his previous official occupation with Duterte, and for that, we have senator Bong Go as the source. Go sent a statement to media on September 21, 2020, four days after Duterte nominated Peloton: “Matagal nagsilbing abogado ni Pangulong Duterte si Atty. Peloton” (Atty. Peloton served as lawyer of President Duterte for a long time). The president’s long-time lawyer -- that was his job.

However, a Davao city lawyer who was once Peloton’s law professor provides a different version. In fact, he said, Peloton was not Duterte’s lawyer but Go’s. If that is true, was Go’s statement just meant to influence the mainstream narrative with a little smokescreen? By saying Peloton was Duterte’s lawyer, was Go deflecting a conflict of interest situation: the PDP Laban Cusi Faction on August 4 has endorsed Go as its presidential candidate. Was Peloton’s appointment scripted in anticipation of Go’s projected run for the presidency? In a country where elections are often used to bastardize the democratic process, that question has to be asked and answered.

In any case, one thing is clearer than the seeming smokescreen: Go does not understand the implications of his statement. Whether Peloton was Go’s or Duterte’s lawyer is immaterial; neither case removes vested interest. Appointing one’s long-term lawyer to an independent constitutional body poses conflicts of interest. The top electoral positions of president and vice president in 2022 are planned to be occupied by two of three personalities in the Duterte camp. Duterte himself said he would run for vice president to claim protection from the International Criminal Court indictment. Based on their political striptease, the post of presidential candidate appears to go to both Go and to daughter Sara. The contemplation appears to be to field two candidates for president, unless one withdraws to give way to the other. Go’s recent August 6 statement only exacerbates the political greed angle: “Only Duterte as my VP will make me run for president in 2022.”We are not saying that Peloton may do “a Garci” for Duterte/Go in the 2022 elections, but his previous appointments under Duterte place him in a conflict of interest. Let the government’s own newswire service Philippine News Agency reveal the truth: He was board member of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (2018), and technical assistant at the Presidential Management Staff (an office directly related to the Office of the President, 2017).

When Duterte nominated Peloton in September of 2020, Chairman Abas welcomed his “vast experience in law and information technology.” Abas never mentioned Peloton’s past ties to Duterte/Go and his previous appointment in the Office of the President. In fact, Peloton should have declined the appointment to the Comelec out of delicadeza.

Contrast him to the other Davao appointees. Aimee F. Ampoloquio and Marlon S. Casquejo were career workforces at Comelec. In that sense, they know the ropes. Socorro B. Inting was at the Court of Appeals. None of them were ever related to Duterte, at least as far as we know. Their Davao origins, however, tell us that Duterte has no known executive recruitment search beyond classmates, fraternity brothers, or Davao regional mates. This is a serious reflection of his sense of meritocracy. In the interest of the collective common good, then, it is par for the course to ask the question of Ampoloquio, Casquejo and Inting: To what extent will they not do favors for Duterte?

Danilo Arao of the University of the Philippines, convenor of the poll watchdog Kontra Daya, has precisely articulated since last year fears about Peloton’s appointment. “It is the independence of the commission that is being questioned. The credibility of the 2022 elections is in peril. Comelec’s credibility issue will be questioned all the more.”

There is another interesting sidelight as to who Peloton is. A press release on his appointment mentioned the Insurance Commission’s listing of him as “overseer of FLT Prime Insurance Corporation.” A provincial media outfit corroborated the information. In the setup of an insurance firm, an overseer does administrative functions in relation to carrying out insurance contracts such as life policies. But here’s the mystery: Two business publication sources have disclosed that FLT Prime has been shut down and is now moribund.

Just this May 2021, the Insurance Commission withdrew FLT Prime’s license to operate for being unable to meet the 2019 capitalization requirement of PHP900 million and, previously, the minimum requirement of PHP500 million in 2016. The business section of a national daily reported the same. In other words, the company was a failure in profitability, with aggregate outstanding liabilities of P23.9 million.

So who, really, is Michael Peloton, and what is his role, if any, in the 2022 elections of apparent candidates Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte-Carpio, and Bong Go?

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

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