As far as the 2016 elections are concerned, there is nothing – repeat, nothing – more important to the country than who the President will appoint as new Chairman and Commissioners of the Comelec.
In the new millennium, we had a series of three Comelec Chairmen with terribly disappointing terms. As a result, Comelec’s credibility suffered almost irretrievably. We are hoping that this can somewhat be put in good order by the President.
Benjamin Abalos, appointed by former President Arroyo, awarded a contract to Mega Pacific, which contract was nullified by the Supreme Court because of an anomalous bidding process. The SC also directed the Office of the Solicitor-General to recover the money paid to Mega Pacific and the Office of the Ombudsman to go after the people who committed the illegal and criminal acts. The SC decision was released in January, 2004. Today, that directive has not been acted upon effectively by the said two agencies.
Jose Melo, appointed by former President Arroyo, violated many provisions of the election automation law, R.A. 9369, as well as Comelec’s bidding rules when he awarded the automation contract to Smartmatic. 9% of those PCOS machines failed to electronically transmit the Election Returns data to the canvassing points.
Sixto Brillantes, Jr., appointed by President Aquino, violated many provisions of the election automation law, R.A. 9369, as well as the procurement rules, when he purchased the PCOS machines from Smartmatic in 2012. 23% of those PCOS machines failed to electronically transmit the Election Returns data to the canvassing points.
In the above two elections, nobody knows, except Smartmatic and perhaps, the Comelec, how the results of voting in those precincts were included, if at all, in the final counts.
People who know automation and election processes voiced out their objections, but they were largely ignored. Some analysts say that the officials of the Comelec, an independent body as it is, must have the backing of Malacañang for them to be so bold in making nonsensical decisions.
The “Hello Garci” scandal cast doubts on the results of the 2004 elections. In the 2010 and 2013 elections, transparency, among other things, was sacrificed because of the choice of technology and choice of vendor. Only the landslide victory of President Aquino saved the day for us in 2010. Had the administration candidate then been a close second to him, chances are strong that the results would have been different.
The 2013 elections, on the other hand, was one of the worst we’ve seen. Transparency was lost; accuracy of the counts was questionable. And in the local fights, there were results that many found difficult to believe. The system sorely lacked controls and so we were made to accept the results . . . blindly.
And so now we ask—no, we beg —the President to please choose a Comelec Chairman of known probity, who is independent-minded, who is not beholden to any politician (not another election lawyer, please?), but open-minded enough to study alternative systems in the automation of our elections. This is not like the appointment of a new Cabinet Secretary; this is far more important.
But isn’t the Comelec a collegial body? Why focus only on the Chairman?
In the past, the Chairman did not always get a majority of the votes in contentious issues. But today, he does. It seems that the only difference between then and now is what the Commissioners refer to as IF, or intelligence fund. In 2011, when I was with the Comelec, the Chairman authorized the issuance of checks amounting to P1.25 million to each of us (with the Chairman presumably getting double that). When liquidation time came, I returned my share (I thought it smelt of “pork”). I understand I was the only one who did so.
Soon after that, I was advised that then Senate President Ponce-Enrile would reject my appointment, so to “save” me from the ignominy, Malacanang decided not to re-appoint me. A few months after I left, Malacanang gave the Comelec P30 million, three times the fund given when I was still with the Comelec.
What about the replacement for the two Commissioners who also retired on February 2, 2015? They most definitely should be the IT/project manager types.
Between the two major functions of the Comelec – election administration and adjudication of election cases – the first is clearly the more important function. It is the Comelec’s reason for being. It requires skills in project management, as well as Information Technology (IT). In fact, there are quite a few countries without a single lawyer in their Commission on Elections because knowledge of law is not important at all in election administration.
Were it not for the fact that our Regional Trial Courts’ dockets are overflowing, adjudication of election cases could actually be passed on to them. But there’s a solution – create special Election Courts (or Election Tribunals), like Tax Courts. They would be the lower level equivalent of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).
Unfortunately, this may require an amendment of the Constitution, but however, it can be simulated, if the Comelec so decides. There are still four lawyers (minimum number) left in the Commission now that Brillantes, Tagle, and Yusoph have retired.
Perhaps, the President can appoint one of the remaining lawyers as Chairman. OK, then which of the four? I suggest that we look at the voting records of the four. Only two of them dissented to the horrible resolution that awarded the “diagnostics” contract to Smartmatic. The President need only choose between these two. I understand that one of them returned his IF, too.
Three – not just two – IT/project management practitioners can therefore be appointed to replace all the retirees. Makes good sense, doesn’t it?