Dr. Prospero E. de Vera
The spirited battle to get the status of "dominant minority party" between the NP-NPC and the Liberal Party has hugged the front pages of major newspapers in the past week. The battle started in the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) where the NP-NPC coalition won recognition by a vote of 5-2 and shifted to the Supreme Court where the Liberal Party got a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the COMELEC from proceeding with its recognition.
I had not given this issue much thought in the past months until I wrote my blog "A Very Dangerous Maverick" and sifted through the COMELEC website to check out the claim of Joey Salceda that he will carry Noynoy Aquino to victory in the whole Bicol region. Indeed the NP and LP seem to be slugging it out toe-to-toe in most of the provinces and given the continuing defection of LAKAS-KAMPI candidates to the two parties it appears that the Bicolanos will witness a real battle royale in the region.
And then I came across a Cesar V. Sarmiento who is a candidate of the Liberal Party running against former representative Jun Verceles (LAKAS-KAMPI)(one of my best and favorite students in the NCPAG graduate school, but that is another story) in the lone congressional district of Catanduanes .
Could this Cesar V. Sarmiento be a member of the famous Sarmiento clan in Catanduanes that includes former National Telecommunications Commission Deputy Commissioner Jorge V. Sarmiento and COMELEC Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento?
I asked around and it appears that he is.
I also know for a fact that Dr. Larraine Sarmiento, my UP undergraduate batch mate and an alumni of UP NCPAG, is running for councilor in Quezon City (4th district) under the Aksyon Demokratiko party which has openly supported Senator Noynoy Aquino (http://aksyon.org/?p=53). Larraine is married to Rene Sarmiento.
Now here's the problem.
COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento participated and voted against the NP-NPC petition for recognition as the dominant minority party. If he is indeed the brother of an official LP candidate and the husband of an official Aksyon Demokratiko candidate in the May 2010 elections, then there is a clear conflict of interest issue here.
Should'nt Commissioner Sarmiento have taken the high road by disclosing that he has relatives running under the LP and inhibited himself from the deliberations?
And why did the NP-NPC not raise this issue and demanded that he inhibit himself from the COMELEC deliberations on the dominant minority party issue?
The Philippine Constitution and R.A. 6713 (Ethics and Accountability law) clearly state that "public office is a public trust" and call on officials to indicate potential conflict of interest and inhibit themselves from the discussions when making decisions that directly or indirectly benefit them.
Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, as one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, should know this important requirement.
It is bad enough that this accountability and transparency requirement is not given the proper importance by members of Congress. It is worse that the public has allowed this congressional transgression to continue. It is terrible if our Constitutional bodies do the same.
Or does the COMELEC have a different set of rules guiding its commissioners?
I have always held Rene Sarmiento in very high regard since I first met him during the campaign for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution in Catanduanes. My respect has grown since then because of his openness to public scrutiny and criticism in various public fora where we have been invited to speak. I have publicly said that he is the only commissioner that has given COMELEC some decency. I can not understand why he allowed himself to be put in this position.
He should have clearly declared a conflict and interest issue and should have refrained from participating in the deliberations.
It is the only honorable thing to do.