Open up, Comelec chair once told 'gods of Faura'

MANILA, Philippines – "It's about time that the gods of Faura realize that they are more human and less divine."

Referring to Supreme Court (SC) justices, then Presidential Commission on Good Government chairman Andres Bautista urged the "gods of Faura" on July 24, 2012, to make the most secretive branch of government more transparent.

Back then, Bautista faced the judiciary's screening council as he was nominated for the position of chief justice. An SC insider, Maria Lourdes Sereno, ended up getting the job.

Nearly 3 years later, the 51-year-old Bautista found himself in another office assailed for lack of transparency. On Monday, May 4, Bautista took his oath as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), as the poll body faces an unprecedented crisis while preparing for the presidential elections in 2016.

His proposals before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which vets SC nominees, could give a preview of his thrust as the Philippines' elections chief.

These things stood out during his JBC interview in 2012:

    •    His push for transparency
    •    His focus on attracting "the best and the brightest"
    •    His appeal to patriotism

On transparency, Bautista said: "The time of being cloistered, the time of being like a hermit, I think, is gone. Because even the Pink Sisters or the Trappist monks of Guimaras now use the Internet and also text [messaging]. So I think it's high time that the court open up its operations and receive constructive feedback from the public so it can improve its operations."

He even advised the SC to hold "its own State of the Judiciary Address" to tell the public about its performance. He pointed out that every year, the SC "should let the public know what its goals, objectives, and key results areas are."

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," he said.

Recruit 'best and brightest'

Bautista, the dean of Far Eastern University's Institute of Law for 16 years, also said the SC should "mount an aggressive campaign to recruit the best and brightest lawyers and law students."

"This should be done fully realizing that its work is only as good as the people who do them," he told the JBC.

To attract "the best and the brightest," Bautista said the SC should appeal to the "patriotic sense of being a lawyer."

Schooled in the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University for 12 years,  Bautista cited a campaign to recruit Jesuits when he was in college. The tagline of the campaign was something like, "Why sell soap? Build people."

Bautista, the valedictorian of the Ateneo law school in 1990, imagined a similar tagline to attract patriotic lawyers: "Why just practice? Dispense justice."

This is consistent with Bautista's reputation as a lawyer. President Benigno Aquino III said Bautista, who took his master of laws degree at Harvard University, is "acknowledged in legal circles" and "has proven his mettle."

"We should not lose sight of our larger objective, which is to overhaul an ineffective, inefficient, and inadequate justice system," Bautista said in 2012.

Fast-forward to 2015, Bautista entered the Comelec as it deals with a most pressing problem: a Supreme Court ruling that might render 82,000 vote-counting machines useless. Critics attribute this crisis to the Comelec's alleged lack of transparency in dealing with technology provider Smartmatic.

Bautista told reporters after his oath-taking: "The directive of the President to me is that one of the legacies that he wishes to leave to the nation is a credible, honest, and peaceful election in 2016….I will work with our commissioners in order to achieve that objective." – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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