Former envoy to Egypt, election lawyer named to Comelec
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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 3 – 3:29 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III has appointed two new elections commissioners to fill up the vacancies in the seven-member poll body.

In an interview in Davao City aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan on Thursday, Aquino named former Philippine ambassador to Egypt Makabangkit Lanto and election lawyer Ma. Bernadette Sardillo to the Commission on Elections.

He said he will be sending their appointment papers to the Senate for confirmation.

The two replaced Rene Sarmiento and Armando Velasco who retired last month after finishing their seven-year term.

Lanto, a former Philippine ambassador to Egypt and Sudan, was recommended by the President’s partymate Senator Franklin Drilon. 

Lanto was a former justice secretary and was also among those considered to serve as acting governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a post that was eventually given to Mujiv Hataman.

Sardillo's appointment may be awkward for Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca as the former served as election lawyer for Padaca's political opponent, former Isabela Gov. Benjamin Dy.

Sardillo also served as the lawyer of retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Dante Tinga in his failed electoral protest case against Taguig City Mayor Lani Cayetano, wife of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who is running for re-election under the President’s administration coalition. 

Comelec Commissioner Sixto Brillantes Jr. welcomed the appointment of the two, although he had earlier recommended that at least one new commissioner be an "insider" from the poll body or be an information technology expert because of the automated elections. 

“Ok lang pareho, makatutulong sila dito sa commission. I have twitted, they are both welcome, period,” Brillantes said.

“Ngayon kumpleto kami, mas okey na ngayon ang Commission (Now we are complete, the Commission is more okay),” he said.

He also noted it is the first time the Comelec will have two Muslim commissioners in Lanto and Elias Yusoph.

Brillantes said Sardillo can help the Comelec in a lot of cases pending before the en banc since she is an election lawyer.

“Atty. Sardillo can help up in the quasi-judicial function of the Comelec since she was a practioner, and for Lanto, his experience in government service, walang problema (there is no problem),” Brillantes said.

A graduate of the Ateneo de Manila School of Law, Sardillo is also an associate at the Belo Gozon Elma Parel Asuncion and Lucila Law Offices.

Lanto, on the other hand, completed his Bachelor of Laws at the University of the Philippines in 1967. Among his classmates in law school were Vice President Jejomar Binay, former environment secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr., the late Violy Drilon, first wife of Senator Franklin Drilon, USA-based billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz and Court of Tax Appeals Presiding Justice Ernesto Acosta.

He finished his Master of Arts in the New York University in 1981 and was a Ph.D. candidate in the same school. Lanto was a consistent government scholar under the Commission on National Integration Scholarship Grant and was a Fulbright-Hays Fellow to the New York University. 

Despite his ties to Drilon, Lanto vowed to uphold the impartiality, independence, and integrity of the Comelec.

“I am both humbled and honored by the trust and confidence bestowed on me by President Aquino when he appointed me as commissioner of the Commission on Elections on the eve of the 2013 midterm elections,” Lanto said in a prepared statement.

 “I intend to reciprocate that trust with a firm commitment to join the current commissioners in upholding the impartiality, independence, and integrity of Comelec to ensure the holding of honest, fair and orderly elections in May this year,” he added.