By ELLEN TORDESILLAS, VERA Files
Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento is urging President Aquino to make history by appointing state solicitor Jessica S. Magbanua, a person with disability, to the Commission on Elections, replacing Augusto C. Lagman who was bypassed by the Commission on Appointments.
"Attorney Magbanua is a lawyer, a woman, a PWD," Sarmiento said at the launching last week of Fully Abled Nation, a campaign that aims to increase the participation of persons with disability in the 2013 elections. "All things considered, she would be an asset to the commission."
Sarmiento, the election body's focal person for PWDs and other vulnerable sectors, also said the Comelec is fully supporting the campaign to encourage PWDs to exercise their right to suffrage. He added that Magbanua, who has been active in the campaign, would be a big help.
State solicitor Jessica Magbanua
"She will be an eloquent voice for the vulnerables," said Sarmiento, who is himself retiring early next year, leaving another vacancy open before the May 2013 midterm elections.
Sarmiento also cited what he called the inspiring experience of Indonesia, which has a blind election commissioner, as a reason for pushing Magbanua's appointment.
Magbanua, who had worked as a court reporter at the Comelec in the late 1980s, said just being considered for the position is "an honor." If appointed, "it will show that the government recognizes the competence of PWDs. It will really enhance the image of PWDs," she said.
Magbanua is a wheelchair user who was born with spina bifida and severe clubfeet. "Portions of my spinal cord are pushed outward, leaving them vulnerable to injury and infection," she said, describing her physical condition. She had also undergone kidney transplant. (Read Magbanua's personal account of her disability: "Your honor, my disability is not an issue".)
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Office Management from St. Scholastica's College, Manila in 1994 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Arellano University in 2000. She passed the Bar in 2002.
Her thesis when she took up her Master of Laws from the University of Santo Tomas was "Providing adequate legal assistance to persons with disabilities."
Magbanaua is a member of Consultative Advisory Group, Sub-Committee on Accessibility and Telecommunications (SCAT) of the National Council on Disability Affairs and board secretary of AKAP-Pinoy, a federation of organizations of and for PWDs in the Philippines.
In her 40s, Magbanua is also an athlete who has participated in the national and ASEAN Paragames. She won a gold medal in the Women's Wheelchair Table Tennis division in the 2005 Luzon Paragames and in the 3rd Davao City Table Tennis Open in 2006.
Magbanua can converse in sign language and is a member of the board of Support and Empower Abused Deaf Children.
She is also into broadcasting and has a radio program, "Ayon sa Batas," at DWBL.
Malacañang confirmed that President Aquino will not issue another ad interim appointment for Comelec Commissioner Lagman after CA members informed him that Lagman would have difficulty getting the nod of the congressional body.
Lagman said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who is the presiding judge in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, is blocking his appointment, having accused Lagman of depriving him of some two million votes some 25 years ago. (Read Lagman's letter explaining the issue.)
Lagman was a member of the poll watchdog National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), and managed its automated parallel election quick count for 10 elections from 1984 to 2007.
In the 1987 elections, the opposition Grand Alliance for Democracy party, which counted Enrile as one of its senatorial candidates, accused Namfrel of manipulating the count to make administration candidates win. The GAD accused Namfrel of stealing two million votes for each GAD candidate and giving them to administration candidates.
"Why Namfrel would be put to task in such a conspiracy more than the Comelec, whose count was official and therefore determined the winners, is still puzzling to Namfrel to this day," Lagman said in a letter last January to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms.
President Aquino reportedly refuses to antagonize Enrile, whose support he needs to convict Corona. If Enrile votes to convict, it is expected that three other senators would follow suit—Gregorio Honasan, Jinggoy Estrada and Tito Sotto.
Meantime, civil society groups lamented Aquino's decision to sacrifice Lagman in exchange for Corona's conviction and echoed Lagman's own call that he be reappointed and made to face the CA so that he could have his day in court.
In a letter to Aquino dated April 20, the Movement for Good Governance defended Lagman and said, "Gus was endorsed overwhelmingly by the IT community, by people who worked as volunteers in election watchdog organizations the past 28 years, by the business community, church groups, etc. because he was well-known in all those circles as an indefatigable volunteer who was at the center of citizen parallel count operations."
"Gus has served our country well," said the letter signed by Movement for Good Governance chair Solita Monsod and former finance undersecretary Milwida Guevarra. "He should be allowed to defend himself publicly from any accusation on his integrity and competence and the President should be the first to uphold that right by reappointing him and sending out the message to his allies in the Congress that they better have valid grounds to reject him."