Tribute For Sixto Brillantes Jr., Elections Lawyer in the Philippines, Dies at 80


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Sixto Brillantes, Jr., an election lawyer in the Philippines, loved to follow American politics, and when the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush came down to a court battle in Florida, where the votes were recounted, the Brillantes family had some thoughts about how the outcome could have been different.

Had Mr. Gore been able to hire Mr. Brillantes as his lawyer, his relatives told him, they were certain he would have won the case.

Mr. Brillantes thrived in these sorts of battles, rising to become chairman of the country’s Commission on Elections. It was a position his father had aspired to but never reached.

Mr. Brillantes died of the coronavirus in a hospital in Manila on Aug. 11, just three days before his 81st birthday, his daughter Sandy Brillantes Lennon said from her home in Connecticut.

In a statement, the elections commission praised Mr. Brillantes as a reformer who “zealously went after those who sought to undermine public confidence in the electoral system” and “cleaned house” within that oft-challenged body.

The virus has devastated the Philippines, which lifted its quarantine earlier than most East Asian countries and has been called an outlier in the region for its increasing rates of infections and deaths. His death was one of more than 2,500 in the country as of this week.

Sixto Serrano Brillantes was born on Aug. 14, 1939, in the Intramuros walled district of Manila, the fourth of five children of Sixto and Azucena Serrano Brillantes. His father was a governor and assemblyman who became an elections commissioner; his mother was a pharmacist.

In addition to his daughter Sandy, he is survived by two more daughters, Lyn and Zeena Brillantes; three grandchildren; and three siblings.

Mr. Brillantes was 16, entering San Beda University to study accounting and business, when his father became an elections commissioner. He said later that his father had one ambition: to become chairman. It was the elder Mr. Brillantes who persuaded his son to study law at San Beda. Sixto would be his class valedictorian in 1965.

Five years later he married Francisca Verde, a nutritionist and professor at the University of the Philippines Manila. She died in a car accident in 1992.

Though Mr. Brillantes was drawn to the intrigue of politics, he did not initially consider a career in elections law. “He didn’t think it would be lucrative,” Ms. Brillantes Lennon said, because of all the downtime between elections. “Then he realized that the cases last for years.”

After a stint in corporate law, working with business magnates who sometimes harbored political ambitions, he started his own firm with friends.

In 2004 he represented the presidential bid of the action film star Fernando Poe Jr., whose opponent, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, challenged his citizenship. Mr. Poe and Mr. Brillantes won the citizenship battle but lost the election. They charged fraud and asked the Supreme Court to nullify the election, but Mr. Poe died before the court dismissed their complaint.

The case “catapulted him into fame,” Ms. Brillantes Lennon said, with people stopping him on the street.

He was preparing to retire or downshift to an ambassadorship in 2011 when he was offered the chairmanship of the elections commission under President Benigno Aquino III, a former client. Eight groups petitioned to block his appointment, writing in a statement that his past experience with the commission “makes him too familiar with the game play, the intrigues, and the personalities in the institution: he may have accumulated favors to return, debts to settle, and accounts to collect.”

But Mr. Brillantes prevailed. He placed in his office a chair that had belonged to his father, explaining that he had been meant to take the job in his father’s place.

After retiring in 2015, he traveled often with his children, and had been planning a Disney cruise to Eastern Europe before the pandemic hit, Ms. Lennon said.

And he was watching the United States presidential election campaign, nonstop.

“He wasn’t a Netflix guy,” she said.



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