During the so-called dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, whenever the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines denounced electoral fraud, it was enough to send jitters to Malacañang and the Commission on Eletions (Comelec). The fear was that whatever the bishops were complaining about would cause an outrage enough to topple the dictatorship. The Marcos government used to suspect the CBCP’s NASSA (National Secretariat for Social Action) of communist leaning because of its activism during the martial law years.
Times have changed.
On May 28, NASSA, the 47-year-old social action and development arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which has about 92 bishops and archbishops, denounced “the glaring discrepancies and election violations, the highly-suspicious interventions during the canvassing, and the possible manipulation of election result during the lull hours of transmission, canvassing and consolidation of votes.”
Yet, the scathing condemnation by the NASSA bishops hardly caused a ripple. It may be that we have become too inured to electoral cheating that we dismiss it as a fact of Philippine life and then move on.
Or that the standing of the Catholic Church has come to such low almost nobody listens to what it says. Or maybe, it is a question of leadership. We have a new cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle, who smiles more often than necessary, even if he is trying to scare the faithful to please reform naman because you might go to hell. Tagle seems to me the youngest, most active, dynamic and credible of our three cardinals. The two other cardinals, Ricardo Vidal and Gaudencio Rosales, are retired or “emeritus”. That leaves only Tagle defending the faithful from the abuses committed against them by the Comelec. About 83 percent of voters are Catholic.
Does Cardinal Tagle have any sense of outrage? When that girl from UP killed herself after the state university of the Philippines didn’t allow her to enrol for failure to pay a P6,000-tuition debt, did Cardinal Tagle say anything? If he did, I didn’t hear it.
Now that Tagle’s fellow bishops in the NASSA have denounced the conduct the of the May 2013 elections and the behavior of the Comelec, what has the good cardinal got to say? Did the Catholic Church issue a pastoral letter read in every mass in all its churches nationwide on the conduct of the election and the dubious actions of the Comelec?
For those interested, here is the full text of the CBCP NASSA’s statement on the questionable 2013 elections:
“The recent mid-term national election makes a mockery of our democracy. Reports of rampant and large scale vote-buying, disenfranchisement of voters, malfunction of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, corrupted Compact Flash (CF) cards, transmission failures and the non-compliance on the election laws by the Commission on Election (Comelec) which is mandated to manage and protect the electoral processes, create public mistrust among the Filipinos, thus making questionable the authenticity of the result of the 2013 automated election.
“Even before election, the refusal of Comelec to allow interested parties to review the source code, as well as to install the necessary safeguards on the PCOS machine, as provided by law, including the proper implementation of the random manual audit, cast doubt about the sincerity of the Comelec to conduct a transparent and authentic election. Source code review and other safety features are basically confidence-building mechanisms to attain clean, authentic and credible election.
“We could not understand why Comelec sacrifices accuracy and truthfulness over “speed.” Almost all transactions and decisions of the Commission are characterized by speed, especially in conducting bidding and the buying of the PCOS machines. Ironically, the Comelec did not show the same speedy consideration to the suggestions and recommendations from election advocates and watchdogs.
“We question Comelec in proclaiming, on an installment basis, the 12 senators without factual or legal basis. It is a violation of election rules relating to winners to be proclaimed only after all ballots are officially canvassed (Comelec Resolution Nos. 9700 and 9700-A).
“Yes, we recognize there is an exception, that the candidates who have insurmountable lead can be proclaimed winners if the remaining uncanvassed ballots will not adversely affect the result.
“Comelec, however, acted suspiciously when it proclaimed the first six winning candidates for senators on May 16, with only 72 out of the 304 certificates of canvass (COCs) accounted for, representing only more than 13 million of the country’s 52 million registered voters.
“When it proclaimed the next three winning candidates on May 17, about 23% of the totaled clustered precincts (18,187 clustered precincts with potentially 8.6 million voters) were still to transmit the election returns.
“Obviously, the number of votes can adversely affect the 7th to 12th senatorial candidates.
“We ask: why did Comelec proclaim the “winning” candidates without factual evidence? Why did it do so with haste? Can the “8-3-1”conspiracy be true? Can we blame our people of entertaining such thoughts?
“While we respect the positive observation and assessment of some Filipinos on the recent mid-term election (being relatively peaceful, the process easier and faster made easier by teachers/BEIs on duty, faster parallel manual counting, etc.), NASSA is not blind to the glaring discrepancies and election violations, the highly-suspicious interventions during the canvassing, and the possible manipulation of election result during the lull hours of transmission, canvassing and consolidation of votes.
“The Comelec and its deputies, as well as other stakeholders who subvert the will of the people, should be made accountable for their actions.
“Already many people are openly saying that this election is ruled by money. Vote buying is common knowledge. This is against the law and yet the Comelec has done very little to prosecute perpetrators of this crime. This is another instance of the ineptitude of the Comelec Those who buy votes will continue to make people poor so that they can continue buying them!
“We join the Civil Society watchdogs in demanding accountability from Comelec. We call the responsible agencies for a thorough investigation of election irregularities and incidents reported, and challenge all the faithful and people of goodwill, to break the culture of impunity. Huge penalty and punishment should be imposed on those who easily took advantage and violate the law. Public office is a public trust; it should be public service for the common good.
“We as citizens should speak now. This so-called automated election with its malpractices will be perpetuated in the coming elections if we do not loudly clamor for accountability.
“How can we obey and respect our leaders if we are not sure whether they are really elected by the people? The stake is the future of our democracy!”