TO those who look to having presidential elections in 2016 all for the sake of having elections, the appointment of a new chairman and two new commissioners of the Commission on Elections is a welcome thing. To those who demand a complete overhaul of the electoral system before we hold any elections in 2016 or at any time, it is a meaningless and empty thing. We need a thoroughgoing electoral reform before we hold another election, and having a full Comelec of seven commissioners is not a reform. It is simply one of the many things crying for reform.
The removal of the rigged precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, which, to many people, rendered our two previous elections “hocus PCOS” operations, and its replacement by a publicly vetted and completely transparent voting system, is the first absolutely necessary reform. A large and vibrant scientific community is eager to help come up with such a system. In just a few days we could be looking at some of these proposals coming from our own experts. All that is needed is for the Congress, the Executive Department, the Comelec, and of course the citizenry to match the eagerness of this community with their own.
The second reform refers to campaign spending. It cannot possibly be true that Governor E. R. Ejercito of Laguna was the only one who had “overspent” in 2013 and therefore had to be disqualified from office after the elections. Overspending tends to be the rule rather than the exception in any election; it takes an extra dose of bad luck for a particular winning candidate to be found guilty of overspending when everybody else seems immune from investigation or prosecution.
Now, even if everyone followed strictly the law that specifies the limits of a candidate’s election spending, it is still an absurd law, which needs to be drastically reformed. The law allows a national candidate to spend the equivalent of P10 per voter. Thus, in a national election with 50 million registered voters, a presidential or senatorial candidate would be authorized to spend a maximum of P500 million each during the campaign.
But no serious presidential candidate spends P500 million only, and many senatorial candidates spend P200 million or so, to win or lose their bid. So assuming a president legally earns P5 million a year from his office (this is a gross exaggeration), this means P30 million in six years. He has no legal means of recovering what he or his financiers have spent; so to recover his “investment,” he has to resort to corruption. This could happen even before Day One. If we want an incorrupt government, we should eliminate all the basic incentives for corruption.
A necessary reform is a law that requires every candidate to spend not more than what he is expected to earn legally, within a period of one year, from the position he is running for. This would require a lot of related reforms, beginning with a ban on political advertising and propaganda surveys, and letting the state assume the cost of making the candidates of various parties known to the voters.
Not only will this reduce the cost of running for public office, and hopefully diminish the level of corruption in government; it will also reduce the patronage politics that makes it virtually impossible for the poor and honest man to provide the right kind of service to his constituents. As soon as politics becomes less of a lucrative business for people whose view of politics is purely pecuniary, the dynasties that have mushroomed in Congress and in local government might begin to vanish.
A third reform has to do with the role of political parties in choosing men and women for high office. We don’t have time or space for a lengthy discussion of this now, but as I have pointed out earlier in this space, our political parties here are privately owned like basketball teams, and presidential and vice presidential candidates are all self-nominated. This practice, instead of being universally deprecated, is now imitated in some African countries by politicians who call it the “Filipinization” of their political parties.
Now, either the Aquino regime intends to reform the electoral system or it does not. If it intends to, the mere appointment of Comelec chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Sharif Abbas fails to send us the right signals.
Tita de Villa of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting was the first to give Bautista her vote of confidence. Neither she nor the PPCRV, which some critics like to call Pinoy’s Pastoral Council for Rigged Voting, speaks for the Church, contrary to any apparent effort to make it appear so. But this is at least one vote in Bautista’s favor. The jury is still out as far as the public and the Commission on Appointments, which is expected to confirm the nomination, are concerned.
Bautista’s last job was as chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which has made many past commissioners enormously opulent. He has not figured in any public scandal, but one reader suggests that the public be given an inside view on how he ran the PCGG during his watch. The reader suggests that those who had any dealings with him, like those who were running a company like Philcomsat before the PCGG took over, be asked to provide their testimonial.
But Bautista’s real problem—if the CA decides to make an issue of it—-could be his allegedly poor psychological record. As the news pages have earlier reported, the last time he submitted to a government psychological testing was in 2012 when he applied for the position of Chief Justice. At the time he reportedly scored “4”, which is said to be a “failing grade.” Although he did not get the position, the one who did — now Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno—also scored “4,” according to the reports. And President B. S. Aquino 3rd has consistently ignored demands that he submit to a psychiatric or psychological examination to satisfy all doubts that he is not psychologically incapacitated. This should work in Bautista’s favor.
As for Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, some critics whose opinion I respect refer to her as a feisty, strong-willed lady with a fiercely independent mind. She reminds them of the late Haydee Yorac, who earned a lot of respect for herself. Guanzon’s moral convictions are entirely her own, according to these critics; it would be a mistake to suggest that Aquino could own her view of the world and the vigor of her mind.
Datucan Abas’ nephew?
Not much is known about the third new commissioner—Sherif Abas. But the most disturbing story that has hit the grapevine is that he is allegedly the nephew of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front “peace negotiator” who hides under the assumed name Mohagher Iqbal, but whose real name he has refused to reveal, but is supposed to be Datucan Abas. This adds a new wrinkle to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which flows from the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which Iqbal signed with his Aquino government counterpart, Miriam Coronel Ferrer, and which Malacañang wants to ram through Congress against all public opposition. Abas’ position needs to be fully clarified by Malacañang.
But whatever problems Bautista’s Comelec will inherit from the Brillantes Comelec, in relation to the conduct of the next elections, these will have to rank next only to the problems created by the four sitting commissioners for the entire Comelec. The four have created so much unnecessary mischief, which has rendered them liable for possible disbarment and impeachment for culpable violation of the Constitution. They have created enough trouble for the new commission that Chairman Bautista will not have to create any problems of his own in order to have his plate full.
Four commissioners do a ‘midnight act’
For reasons I cannot fathom, the Comelec Law Department filed a complaint against 14 individuals, who are not related to one another, alleging the theft of official ballots in Baguio City after the May 2013 elections, the tampering of said ballots and the “unauthorized use” of the same. The complaint is based on the affidavits of former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes, Jr. and a certain Worthy Acosta, who was initially identified as the very first among the respondents, but eventually removed as respondent to become a state witness. Included in the complaint are individuals who have nothing to do with the alleged theft, notably Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and myself. It now appears that our offense is that we are identified with the National Transformation Council, and we have made public statements questioning the legitimacy and validity of the last two elections and B. S. Aquino 3rd’s legitimacy as president.
None of us are accused of any overt act that is supposed to be in violation of any law, but we have been subpoenaed by the Law Department before any pre-charge inquiry was ever done to determine the veracity of the allegations in the two affidavits. The subpoenas were issued without the usual due process. In my case, the subpoena came without an accompanying complaint; the complaint was sent later after I wrote about it. We have filed before the Supreme Court a petition for certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, and the Court has asked the Law Department to comment on our petition. But one day before the President announced the appointment of Bautista, Guanzon and Abas, instead of complying with the Court’s directive, the four commissioners approved the absurd request of the respondent Acosta to be granted immunity as a state witness against all the other respondents, including those who have not committed any overt acts.
The four commissioners, acting as a Comelec en banc, acted on the request without any hearing to determine its merits, in violation of the legal procedure involving the Supreme Court and our right to due process.
It was clearly a “midnight act” on the part of the four commissioners, in contempt of the highest court of the land. The act is manifestly malicious and unjust, intended to scandalize and inflict unjust injury on all of us, apparently in the hopes of currying favor with the Palace. But in the process, the Constitution was violated, and they have imposed upon the new chairman and commissioners a burden they have not at all deserved. Chairman Bautista and the new commissioners need friends inside the Commission, but it appears they have found in the four commissioners a band of enemies.