Reform COMELEC now
by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Times
If there is one democratic institution that I hope to see major reforms being implemented at this year, it is the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which is mandated by our Constitution to conduct fair, clean and honest elections. The Comelec is very critical to our country’s growth and development since it is through the workings of this institution that we are able to select the right leaders for our nation. Sadly the credibility of the COMELEC along with its leaders has deteriorated steadily even as it proudly trumpeted its achievement of the first ever automated elections in our country held last May.
One of the major reasons for the lack of trust in the Comelec is its inability to enforce its own election laws, foremost of which is managing election spending and curbing rampant vote buying. Although we all know for a fact that vote buying has become a norm in our elections, I haven’t heard of any candidate who has been disqualified due to this illegal act. In the last elections, we saw several national candidates who clearly exceeded the maximum amount that one can spend during a campaign and yet not one of them was disqualified.
Due to this sad state of our electoral system, it is no wonder why many politicians would rather resort to conducting illegal activities and even bribing Comelc officials just to be able to win. In fact, I also haven’t seen any Comelec official who has been jailed for electoral fraud like what former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio “Hello Garci” Garcillano did during the 2004 national elections. It doesn’t also help that the resolution of protests in our Comelec and other judicial bodies take so much time that by the time a resolution comes out, the rightful winner will only have a few weeks left to serve his term.
This already presumes that the complainant is able to cough up millions just to be able to file his protest. Recently, a losing candidate who was clearly cheated in her province lamented to me that she had to raise more than P5 million just to be able to file a protest. This kind of scenario incentivizes cheating and fraud while putting upright and honest candidates at a huge disadvantage.
It also forces our political leaders to compromise their values and principles as they begin to accommodate bribe money from drug lords and jueteng lords so that they will have enough funds to again win in the next elections. Thus, it is no surprise that despite several efforts made by our national leaders, jueteng and illegal gambling continues to remain a perennial problem all over our country since many of our local officials continue to remain beholden to these gambling lords.
Aside from these, a major effect of a flawed electoral system is also seen in the delivery of basic services in our country. Government has become a business for many of our political leaders who treat election spending as an investment wherein when one gains the position, he or she profits from this investment by participating in graft and corrupt acts. An example is the overpricing of school bags wherein instead of paying only P60 per school bag, the mayor pays the supplier double the price so he also gets a percentage from the sale. So instead of being able to provide school bags to all students of his local government unit, the mayor is only able to provide half due to the overpricing.
Another is through road and infrastructure projects wherein huge contracts are awarded to favored contractors who then deliver substandard quality so as to maximize the amount that can be given to the government official. We see this so often when our roads would only last a few months, then they would have to be repaired or constructed all over again. In the end when these kinds of corrupt practices happen, it is the general public and the ordinary Filipino who is shortchanged since they do not receive the kind of basic services that they deserve.
Now, with the recent appointment of Atty. Sixto Brillantes as the new Comelec Chairman, we hope that much needed reforms are implemented not only in the national level but more importantly in the local Comelec offices all over the country.
This coming August, unless President Noynoy Aquino decides to postpone it, we will be conducting the elections for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Elections in ARMM are often marred by violence and massive fraud. Thus, this will be a test case for the new leadership on whether it can implement clean and honest elections in this region.
Aquino will also be naming two new Comelec commissioners with the departure of Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer and Gregorio Larrazabal this coming February. I hope that he would appoint reformists who have unquestionable integrity and character to replace Ferrer and Larrazabal. As an advocate of good governance in our country, I have always stressed that it is only by reforming our electoral system and Comelec that we can continue to grow as a true democracy that respects the real voice of the Filipino people.
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