Mon. May 23rd, 2022
Cartoon by Steven Pabalinas

Who is Maria Rowena Amelia Villena Guanzon?

Three years last December 6, Guanzon used the restroom reserved for persons with disabilities at the Mabuhay lounge while waiting for her flight. Because she stayed inside for a long time, a Philippine Airlines attendant got worried and knocked on the door to check if everything was okay.

When she got no answer, the attendant got the key and tried to open the restroom, but someone said “I’m here.” So the relieved attendant left and went back to her post.

Philippine Star reported however, that Guanzon was irked and when she got out, she confronted the first attendant that she saw. “Do you know who I am? Don’t you know I am a government official? I am going to sue you all,” she fumed.

In a phone interview, the Comelec official said she, lawyer Lorna Kapunan and her staff, Rose Garcia, were waiting for their flight to Hong Kong when she used the restroom for PWDs.

“I am a PWD. I was using a walking cane to travel abroad. I have a PWD card because I have osteoarthritis. The PWD CR in their Mabuhay Lounge was open [and] before using it I asked from the PAL staff of Mabuhay Lounge,” she explained.

Next yellow flag

On August 2019, Guanzon expressing her utter annoyance over Duterte Youth party-list first nominee Ronald Cardema, resorting to Twitter to call him “overaged trying hard name-dropper”.

Earlier Cardema accused the Comelec official of attempting to extort P2 million from him aside from asking other favors supposedly for the accreditation of the Duterte Youth as a party-list group.

The poll body commissioner said it would be impossible for her to ask money from Cardema, who she said, may not even have half-a-million pesos in the bank. In an interview at ANC, Guanzon said she thinks Cardema is poorer than her.

Inquirer.net also reported that “she also slammed the Duterte Youth party-list group, taking notice that members who attended the organization’s general assembly last Saturday can no longer be considered ‘youth’.”

The report said that according to Guanzon, Cardema’s strategy was “out of spite because he lost his dream of having millions in pork barrel funds.”

Even with peers

But Guanzon’s high-handedness goes even further in January 2016, when she was asked by then Chairman Andres Bautista to prepare a comment intended to be submitted to the Supreme Court.

This was in connection with the disqualification cases against Roxas’ election rival, Senator Grace Poe that Guanzon appeared to have favored on the grounds that she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen.

In that regard, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes blasted the junior Comelec lady commissioner as “too aggressive” to the point the she is “hard to deal with.

The late Sixto Brilliantes said that having been appointed by President Benigno Aquino III last year, Guanzon was the one who has shown bias in the whole comment-filing brouhaha before the Supreme Court, allegedly being a follower of administration bet Mar Roxas.

“Guanzon is blowing up the matter when in fact she’s the one at fault. She makes it appear that Chairman Bautista is biased…when her comments are the ones in favor of somebody else,” white-haired Brillantes added… “(she) should be aggressive in the Supreme Court during oral arguments, not against the Comelec Chairman”.

Fast forward

In preparation to hearing the disqualification case this time against presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Guanzon made unsolicited tweets on December 29, 2021:

“Yes @COMELEC has power of contempt like the Senate . Manila city jail . Don’t make us use it . Follow rules, court protocol, health protocol. Do not attempt to speak while a Comm or another lawyer is speaking. Never interrupt me.”

The next day, she followed up:

“Lawyers in Akbayan et al vs Marcos better stick to the facts  and issues on Jan 7. No grandstanding. Walang sikat sa inyo, ako lang ang sikat sa hearing.

@COMELEC”

Finally, the day of the preliminary hearing came last January 7 but when former senator and presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was not able to attend, Guanzon got infuriated.

She scolded Marcos’ counsel “Do you know the consequence under the rules if your client is not present during preliminary conference? It will be submitted for decision without his evidence.”

The commissioner offered this explanation, “I want to see him because you don’t have medical certificate so I want to see him on video.”

Under Comelec rules, the presence of the respondent, is not necessary.

A medical certificate from Marcos’ physician was eventually presented stating that Marcos was visited by his doctor the day before after complaining of a “painfully congested throat.”

“Upon examination, the medical certificate read, he had a temperature of 37.8 degrees Celsius and his throat was swollen. He reportedly had direct contact with at least two individuals who later tested positive (for Covid-19).”

Thereupon, Guanzon directed both camps to submit their final responses to the petitions within 48 hours or on January 9.

Cantankerous behavior continues

The commissioner then went on Facebook Live unannounced twice, on January 19 and 26. In both times, she discussed arguments in the petitions and the processes of the division, but did not state her vote on the case.

In a surprise move on January 27, however, Guanzon disclosed that she voted to disqualify presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., an announcement made ahead of the promulgation of the poll body’s division ruling on petitions against him. She said she informed her fellow commissioners of her vote to disqualify Marcos as early as January 17.

Guanzon identified Aimee Ferolino as the “ponente” or commissioner assigned to write the main resolution for the First Division, adding she has not been able to contact her in the past three days. She also named Marlon Casquejo as the third commissioner.

But the commissioner said that her vote may have caused a delay in the release of the main ruling, hinting at external forces attempting to influence the Comelec division.

“That’s why this is happening. Because my vote is [to] disqualify Marcos Jr. I think there is moral turpitude based on evidence and the law,” she said in Filipino.

Speaking on the basis of mere suspicion, she told Philippine Star “Ang kutob ko talaga may nakikialam na eh. Some people are trying to influence the commissioners. Yan ang ayaw ko.” (My gut feel says there is someone trying to influence [the outcome] Some people are trying to influence the commissioners. That’s what I don’t like.)

Guanzon feared it might be that the unnamed people would want to have her vote to disqualify invalidated if the promulgation of the main ruling is delayed until she retires on February 2.

But qualifying herself, she asserted that that could not happen since she already submitted her draft opinion on the case to all commissioners prior to the day of her retirement. “That should already be on the record that I voted already. That should be counted and considered by the next presiding commissioner after me,” she added.

Marcos’ party hits back

For her premature and “illegal” disclosure of her vote, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas wants Guanzon probed and sanctioned. General counsel George Briones said Guanzon should be “disbarred, with forfeiture of her retirement benefits and lifetime pension.

“The [PFP] requests the Comelec En Banc to conduct an administrative investigation immediately against [Guanzon]” for alleged violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and Code of Judicial Conduct before her retirement benefits are released,” Briones said.

Briones said Guanzon’s announcement, done ahead of the promulgation of the division’s decision, put her fellow commissioners “in a cloud of suspicion” with her allegation that a politician is intervening in the case.

The PFP lawyer also accused the Comelec commissioner of showing “undue interest” in the case with her disclosure of her vote.

“To the extent that she will forfeit her retirement benefits and lifetime pension to support the candidacy of Vice President Leni Robredo who the petitioners in this case openly support speaks of how deep she (Guanzon) is interested in this case,” he added.

Guanzon hit back at Briones and challenged the PFP lawyer to a debate on TV.

Alam ba ni [Marcos] that Partido Federal is threatening me, the presiding commissioner while his case is pending? Baka e contempt ko kayo ipakulong ko kayo sa Manila City Jail,” she added. (Does Marcos know that Partido Federal is threatening me, the presiding commissioner while his case is pending? I might cite you in contempt, send you to Manila City Jail.)

Guanzon also said the Comelec en banc has no jurisdiction over an administrative complaint against a commissioner because she is an impeachable officer.

Meanwhile, Briones declined the poll body Commissioner’s invitation citing their fraternity’s Code of Action.

“Since Commissioner Rowena Guanzon disclosed that I am her Sigma Rho Fraternity brother. I respectfully decline her invitation to debate with her. For I firmly believe in our Code of Action which is ‘to give due respect if not love to a Sister Deltan’,” he said in a statement.

Frankly, I hope she sends George Briones to jail, so we will be able to know what netizens really think of her.

So who is Guanzon?

I am more interested in what Briones said that she should have inhibited herself from participating in the case because of her close association with the Liberal Party interests.

The Comelec commissioner, who is retiring February 2, 2022, just like the haciendero Aquino-Cojuangcos, comes from a landed and affluent family, the Guanzons, who have been owners of sugar cane plantations in Negros.

Rowena Guanzon was appointed mayor of Cadiz City, Negros Occidental in 1986 by President Corazon C. Aquino after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and the end of the martial law years.

On March 8, 2013, she was appointed commissioner to the Commission on Audit (COA) by President BS “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Rejected by the Commission on Appointments for the COA, President BS “Noynoy” Aquino III gave her new papers on April 28, 2015, to serve instead as commissioner to the Commission on Elections for a seven-year term.

Briones is correct, “Suspicion of being warped by political bias will attach to a judge who becomes an active promoter of the interests of one political party against another, Commissioner Guanzon’s mad rush to come out with a decision of the first division bares her true color which is yellow.”

But more than undue interest, Guanzon represents today the cellar that the practice of law is scrubbing in the Philippines. I am forever nauseated at how government officials, like her, flaunt their power and influence with arrogance and sense of impunity. Silliman Law School must be embarrassed no end for the sobriety, maturity, civility, maybe even delicadeza that her alumna had thrown out of the window.

On the other hand, ponente Commissioner Aimee Ferolino saved the day for the Comelec.

In her letter to Chairman Sheriff Abas, she spoke on her own words on how Guanzon “consistently took liberties” in telling her to adopt her opinion to disqualify Marcos.

“She is trying to influence my decision and trying hard to persuade me to her direction. But I am not like her, not even close,” her letter dated January 28 said, a copy of which leaked to the media.

“It is quite appalling that Commissioner Guanzon was able to draft an opinion when the ponencia has not yet submitted the resolution and all the case records are in my possession,” she added.

There is no outside party in play. It is Guanzon who is lobbying Ferolino.

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