Lanto Declines Comelec Post

MANILA, Philippines --- Newly appointed commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) former Ambassador and Lanao del Norte Rep. Macabangkit Lanto announced yesterday that he is declining his appointment.

Lanto, in a statement, cited the controversies that hounded him ever since he was appointed to the commission as the main reason for his withdrawal.

"With deep regret, I respectfully decline my appointment as a member of the Comelec," he said in a letter addressed to President Benigno S. Aquino III dated March 9, which was set to be delivered to Malacanang yesterday.

"After a thorough consultation with my family, I have arrived at this decision, owing in large part to the controversy that surrounded my appointment." added Lanto.

Lanto became the second Comelec appointee to withdraw. Last week, election lawyer Maria Bernadette Sardillo likewise declined her position as Comelec commissioner, saying that her family talked her into staying in the private sector.

The appointments of Lanto and Sardillo would have completed the vacancies at the Comelec left by Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco, who both retired last month.

Lanto said the media attention on his electoral protest case that led the House of Representative Electoral Tribunal (HRET) to unseat him as a representative from Lanao del Norte 20 years ago has raised questions on the propriety of him serving as a member of the poll body.

"The past few days have been difficult for me and my family," Lanto said.

"The incessant media focus on my House of Representative Electoral Tribunal (HRET) case 20 years ago has unfortunately overshadowed my public service record and as a result, I will find it extremely difficult to pursue my advocacy for electoral reforms in the Comelec," he added.

Lanto reiterated that he did not commit electoral fraud contrary to the findings of HRET in 1992 and that he was a victim, not the perpetrator of electoral fraud, in the said case.

"Rest assured that my interest to pursue reforms in our electoral process, will, however, remain, in my personal capacity," he assured the President.

Lanto, a former ambassador, justice and tourism undersecretary was appointed as poll commissioner last Thursday, March 7, together with Sardillo.

Lanto's decision surprised Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes. "I was surprised because I thought all along that he is going to fight for it and clear his name," he said in an interview.
He said the HRET case should have died down already since it happened two decades ago.

With regard to the 2007 poll offense case, a copy of the Law Department's recommendation to the Comelec en banc revealed that Lanto's case on alleged coercion is being dismissed.

"Complainants failed to sufficiently establish (Lanto's) presence more so his participation in the incident... The complaint against respondent Macabangkit Lanto is hereby dismissed for lack of probable cause," said the 10-page recommendation dated January 12, 2008.
Brillantes, meantime, expressed hope that Aquino will not take long in finding new appointees.

"I just hope the President will appoint the two new ones immediately... Hopefully, within another 10 days," he said.

For its part, the Comelec - Employees' Union (EU) pushed anew their two nominees for the post, namely Comelec - Planning Department head Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan and Santiago City, Isabela election officer (EO) Atty. Alexander Pilotin.

"With the elections only two months away, it is imperative that the President name insiders to the Commissioner posts," said Comelec-EU President Mac Ramirez in a statement.
Malacanang said yesterday the withdrawal of Lanto from his position as Comelec commissioner shows his "personal delicadeza."

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the replacement for Lanto will be announced "at the proper time."

"The highest consideration for the country is to restore confidence in the electoral system," Valte said. "Mr. Lanto's decision to withdraw as commissioner of the Comelec is a demonstration of personal delicadeza and gives the President an opportunity to make a new appointment to the position," she added. (With a report from Madel Sabater - Namit)