Sat. May 28th, 2022

(February 3, 2022) Seriously, if the nation is polled, the majority of our people will most probably declare, as I do, that liberation from Rowena Guanzon and her loony antics is more gratifying than the news that we may now be exiting from the pandemic.

Yesterday, February 2, I confronted a strange dilemma in deciding which of the following to welcome or celebrate more:

First, the country’s surpassing of the worst of the pandemic, and the subsequent easing of restrictions and protocols in our individual and social life; or

Second, the irrevocable retirement of “in your face” Commissioner Rowena Guanzon from the Commission on Elections, and the end of her stint as the hobgoblin of the 2022 elections.

The country’s beating the worst of the pandemic and the start of our exit from the emergency is, of course, a very big deal.

For two whole years, we have been subjected to draconian and sometimes capricious restrictions on our lives. Jobs have been lost and many have died. The economy has tanked from being locked down, and it is only now that we are breathing free again.

The worst is over

No less than OCTA Research, the Cassandra of the pestilence, has declared that the worst of the pandemic is now over for most of the country. It spilled the beans on this turn of events before the Department of Health or the IATF could announce the good news to the nation.

New daily Covid-19 cases have continued to fall, dropping to 14,546 on Monday, OCTA reported.

Speaking at a forum Monday, OCTA Research fellow Guido David said Covid-19 infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant have probably peaked. He pointed to the downward trend of new Covid-19 cases in the cities of Cebu and Davao.

But David cautioned that the public should still be mindful of minimum health protocols because although the numbers are declining, they are still substantial.

“We should still follow health protocols as we go out. There’s still a significant number of cases. We still have to self-isolate if we’re feeling symptoms, we have to wear face masks,” he said.

He also said the actual number of Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila was probably 1.8 times the number reported by the Department of Health (DoH), based on random antigen tests conducted by the Department of Transportation.

Provinces still experiencing a “significant increase” in new cases include Bukidnon, Camiguin, Cotabato, Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Maguindanao, Negros Oriental, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, mostly in Mindanao, where the surge came later, after cases began to decline in the National Capital Region, Cavite and Rizal, he said.

The country logged 14,546 new Covid-19 infections on Monday, as the DoH said there were 112 new deaths and 26,500 new recoveries.

Region 11 (Davao Region) posted the highest number of new cases at 1,381 (14 percent) in the recent two weeks. It was followed by Metro Manila with 1,053 (10 percent) and Region 7 (Central Visayas) with 973 (10 percent).

There were 190,818 active cases — the first time since January 11 that these dipped below the 200,000 mark.

Of the 190,818 active cases, 97.4 percent were mild or asymptomatic, 3,126 were moderate, 1,540 were severe, and 329 were critical.

The positivity rate was at 28.4 percent out of the 52,013 tests conducted on January 29, the lowest rate since January 4 (26.20 percent).

Respite from retiring Guanzon

But, that said, the news on Wednesday that Rowena Guanzon will no longer be a Comelec commissioner was cheered as a form of liberation that stands comparison to the nation’s relief from so many other ordeals.

It was thrilling to read the morning papers Wednesday without Guanzon’s face hectoring and hurling accusations in the front page. It was exhilarating to surf the internet without Guanzon interrupting with her latest claims and innuendos. Nobody in our public life has been more annoying and louder than Rowena Guanzon,

There is an English idiom that perfectly describes Guanzon’s style and behavior: in your face.

It means “shocking and annoying in a way that is difficult to ignore,” says Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Wikipedia says in-your-face behavior is brazenly unapologetic and unpleasant.

What she has done

What are the telltale signs of Guanzon’s behavior? Consider:

She disclosed the possible decisions and votes of her fellow commissioners in the first Comelec division, before the division could release its decision on the disqualification cases against presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

She challenged all seven commissioners of the Comelec to resign.

She challenged lawyer George Briones, counsel of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, to a debate on the disqualification issue; before he could respond, she changed tack and challenged him instead to fisticuffs in the Iloilo City plaza, with the Iloilo city mayor as referee.

She made public her suspicion that a senator from Davao had intervened in the decision on the Marcos case, and that this caused the delay of the resolution.

Lastly, she has challenged Marcos to admit to bribery of the Comelec division handling his case.

With her retirement on February 2 looming large in the calendar, Guanzon kept on inventing new stories and charges to tell the media. And these became wilder at every turn.

Disciplinary action

Before the effectivity of her retirement on Wednesday, the Comelec en banc was asked to investigate and impose disciplinary sanctions against Commissioner Guanzon for putting the poll body and her fellow commissioners in a “bad light” after she leaked her decision to disqualify Marcos.

There is a sound basis for disciplinary action against Guanzon, an election lawyer told the Times last Saturday.

Lawyer Manuelito Luna said: “Leaking her vote, disclosing the identity of the ponente, disparaging a fellow commissioner, discussing a confidential matter (pending case) in public, not only violate the sub judice rule, but also constitute a serious breach of the Internal Rules and the Comelec Rules of Procedure, putting the institution in bad light or public ridicule.”

Luna said the Comelec “as a constitutional body, may investigate and punish such acts even if the member involved is an impeachable officer.”

He cited as an example the cases of former Supreme Court associate justice Ruben Reyes and former Comelec chairman Juan Andres Bautista.

In the case of Reyes, Luna said the high court permanently barred the magistrate from holding public office and imposed a P500,000 penalty for breach of confidentiality and leakage of internal documents. Reyes was found responsible for the leak of his draft decision on the citizenship case of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyun Limkaichong to one of the parties.

The Comelec, Luna added, also exercised the same power in the case of Bautista when all the six commissioners then, which included Guanzon, issued a statement urging the former Comelec chairman to either go on leave or resign after an impeachment case was filed against him, citing betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

“Guanzon is destroying the very institution she has sworn to serve, protect and defend,” Luna said. “As a judge and lawyer, she should know or should have known, the limits of her functions.”

But what will happen to the disciplinary action against Guanzon since she retired from her post effective Wednesday.

Luna says that even if Guanzon is retired, she cannot escape responsibility for her alleged damaging actions.

“In the case of Justice Reyes, the investigation against him started when he was still a member of the [Supreme Court] until he retired. Despite that, the court still continued investigating him and sanctioning him,” the lawyer added.

While Guanzon is under investigation, Luna said, the commission en banc can either withhold the release of Guanzon’s clearance and retirement pay or censure her.

Luna also said that if Guanzon is found guilty of wrongdoing, the Comelec en banc has the authority to forfeit partly or totally the retirement benefits due her.

Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, the ponente in the Marcos case whom Guanzon has accused of deliberately delaying her decision, in a letter to Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas on Friday, asked the commission to review the appearance of Guanzon before various media outlets and in social media sites last Thursday.

“Her excitement and eagerness have taken over her that she may have forgotten the sub judice rule,” Ferolino said, adding that Guanzon’s disclosure that she was the ponente of the case “will expose me to possible pressure from different personalities and organizations and will pose a threat to my safety and security.”

Also last Thursday, Partido Federal counsel Briones also asked the Comelec en banc to conduct an administrative investigation against Guanzon for alleged violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and Code of Judicial Conduct before her retirement benefits are released.

When Guanzon leaked her vote on the Marcos case last Thursday, she unwittingly provided the noose that could hang her.

Can Guanzon cite one instance in Philippine jurisprudence where a dissenting opinion was issued ahead of a ponencia in the Supreme Court?

Similarly, can Guanzon cite a decision of the Comelec where a dissenting opinion was issued ahead of the ponencia?

She plainly cannot. She can box or debate anyone she can imagine; she will find nothing.

The nation is fortunate to be rid of Guanzon at the Commission on Elections.#

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