Last of four parts
THE last sector to address the subject of how to ensure the credibility of the coming May 2016 national and local elections was the COMELEC. The presentation was made by then Acting Chairman Christian Lim and Commissioner LuieGuia.
Here are the highlights of their paper.
Legislative and judicial “defanging” of the COMELEC into a toothless tiger, reducing its enforcement powers to create a culture of impunity. For example, the Commission foresees that candidates and political parties will circumvent application of the Fair Election Act by claiming that election propaganda and political advertisements favorable to them as free speech of their private supporters and the Supreme Court recognized the possibility of abuse by candidates and parties; insofar as candidates are concerned, the election offense related to premature campaigning under the Omnibus Election Code has been impliedly repealed vis Section 13 of RA 9369, which describes the “official ballot”; no warrantless arrest, even if committed in “caught in the act” situation in connection with election campaigns; candidates and parties are compelled to under-declare their contributions and expenditures to avoid prosecution for election overspending because of the outdated expenditure limits set in RA 7166, Section 13; and, irresponsible journalistic headlining has given the public the wrong impression that the rules for registration/accreditation of party-list groups were relaxed when in fact that this was done in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling in the Atong Paglaum case, wherein new parameters were laid to determine who can participate in the party-list elections.
Regarding the last issue, COMELEC cited that one of these parameters read: “[n]ational parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent any ‘marginalized and underrepresented’ sector.” This particular parameter is an example of judicial legislation and a radical departure of how the Commission interpreted the policy of the Party-List System Act (RA 7941) for the 2013 elections, wherein the COMELEC required that parties who wanted to participate in the party-list elections to demonstrate that they belonged to marginalized and underrepresented sectors or that they lacked “well-defined political constituencies who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole.”
Selective compliance of election and other laws related to accountability of public officers (e.g., the public clamor for strict enforcement of and demand for compliance with campaign finance disclosure laws are focused only on candidates and parties though emphasis should also be given regarding compliance of the required disclosure requirements by donors/contributors, election contractors and business firms engaged in the production of election paraphernalia; no strict enforcement of the constitutional prohibition against direct or indirect electioneering or partisan political campaigning by any government or civil service officers and employees [See Article IX-B, Section 2 (4) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution]; and, no active prosecution by the concerned agencies of “epal politicians” or public officials who misuse public funds for premature or early campaigning).
The COMELEC stressed that the most common form of misuse of public funds is the posting of unnecessary promotional materials extolling a government project or service, accompanied by the name and image of the public official allegedly responsible for initiating and/or implementing government projects to improve infrastructure, provide basic services, etc. COMELEC further explained that this gives the general public the misleading notion that government projects are only being implemented through the generosity, initiative, extraordinary effort of the public official whose name and image appears on the promotional materials.
COMELEC independence as a Constitutional Commission undermined due to highly politicized environment and Commissioner-confirmation process (e.g., because the Commission regulates candidates, who later become incumbent public officials particularly in the legislature, its actions to strictly enforce election laws against erring candidates and its decisions or resolutions in election cases are almost always construed to be tainted with some political motive or always being accused of favoring one side or the other; the Commission on Appointments is composed of elective officials from the legislature, who have been known to block the confirmation process of COMELEC appointees for whatever reason by interjecting their opposition and/or objection to the appointment; and, the Commission does not enjoy complete fiscal autonomy as its proposed budget is always radically reduced by the DBM, and further whittled down by Congress during the budget/GAA deliberations.
Causes: Laws are enacted by members of Congress, who are elective officials subject to the regulation of the COMELEC during election periods. They will always enact laws that benefit them and limit their exposure to liability. COMELEC actions questioned and assailed before the Supreme Court, whether by candidates, incumbent officials, and even private citizens and corporations (e.g. those who benefit from the election spending) whose profit margins are threatened under the guise of freedom of speech or of the press.
Solutions: To correct the inequalities in the law, authored by legislators who are not motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, clear legislation has to be crafted. A Constitutional amendment is needed to remove the Commission’s quasi-judicial functions so that the institution would only focus on the operations and administration of elections.
Recommendations: All sectors (i.e., business, political parties, civil society organization, and IT group) must do their part to have successful and credible 2016 elections.
Assistance or support from the sectors is welcome to help the Commission in conducting public information and/or voters’ education programs. Concerned sectors are asked to pledge to stop corrupt candidates by contributing to their campaigns.
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The multi-sector discussion was successfully facilitated by Mr. Telibert Laoc of NAMFREL. Mr. Laoc’s over a decade of work with National Democratic Institute (ndi.org) focuses on democratic governance, citizen participation, non-partisan support to political parties and for women to be in politics, technology and elections.
It is prayed, therefore, that the solutions and recommendations laid down during the forum on April 24, 2015 be seriously considered by the new COMELEC Chairman, Atty. Andres D. Bautista, in ensuring the credibility of the 2016 elections. We have high hopes in you, Mr. Chairman!