Who is Saidamen Pangarungan, the new Comelec chairman?

Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan started his political career as an opposition candidate during the Martial Law years

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte named National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan as the new chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), becoming only the second Muslim and Mindanaoan to lead the poll body, after his predecessor, Sheriff Abas.

While he is not a career official who rose from the Comelec ranks unlike some of the present Comelec commissioners, Pangarungan is a lawyer with years of experience in government, from appointive to elective positions.

Opposition bet during the Marcos years

According to the NCMF website, Pangarungan’s first foray into politics was in 1979, when he ran as an opposition candidate against the ruling Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) in his hometown in Mindanao. He was elected assemblyman until 1982.

According to the book An Anarchy of Families, in February 1986, Pangarungan and other prominent Muslims attended a meeting in Manila “which deounced the conduct of the elections in Regions 9 and 12,” due to irregularities. At the time, Pangarungan was president of the Muslim Association of the Philippines and chairman in Lanao del Sur of Laban, the political party formed by then-senator and democracy martyr Benigno Aquino Jr.

After the success of the 1986 EDSA uprising, then-president Corazon Aquino appointed Pangarungan as governor of Lanao del Sur acting. In 1988, he ran for a full term and served until 1992.

Appointed to government multiple times

The Corazon Aquino administration also had Pangarungan as one of its interior undersecretaries.

During that time, Pangarungan led an interagency committee that went after ghost barangays. A six-month investigation resulted in the abolition of 2,000 villages in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, “saving the government billions of pesos in regular allotments to the non-existent or uninhabited villages,” the NCMF website said.

In July 2018, Duterte appointed Pangarungan to the NCMF, and in 2019, he headed the delegation of Filipino pilgrims to Mecca. The delegation was almost barred from participating due to an outstanding debt of the NCMF to a company handling some hajj-related activities, prompting Pangarungan to order an investigation.

Academic achiever, practicing lawyer

Pangarungan graduated in 1971 with a liberal arts degree from San Beda College, where he was “a consistent college scholar,” according to the NCMF website. He finished law in 1976, and passed the Bar exams later the same year.

He has been a private lawyer for years, serving as legal counsel of multinational companies such as Bank of America, PLDT, Philippine Airlines, San Miguel Corporation, and Caltex.

New responsibility

As new Comelec chairman, he will steer the poll body as it handles numerous petitions seeking to block the candidacy of 2022 presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos Jr. At least three motions for reconsideration are still pending with the en bank.

With all eyes on the disqualification saga, Pangarungan faces an important task of speeding up the resolution of the cases at the soonest possible time.

Pangarungan is also leading the Comelec in time for the 2022 elections, where over 67 million Filipinos are eligible to cast their ballots.

That vote will determine the successor of the man who selected him to fill the vacant Comelec chairmanship post. – Rappler.com

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