OCCASIONS when institutions and pillars of our public life are brought together in one case before the high court are rare. We should treasure them as an opportunity for our citizenry to learn and understand the workings of our constitutional democracy.
In that light, we welcome the order issued by the Supreme Court to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to comment on the petitions filed by citizen groups, which seek to nullify the poll body’s holding of public biddings for the update and repair of voting machines for the 2016 elections. This case offers one glimmer of hope that sanity, order and legality can be made to prevail in the conduct of next year’s balloting.
None of the actions of the COMELEC in recent weeks has given reason for our people to feel confident that the commission will discharge its constitutional duty fairly and competently next year. To the contrary, some of its actions have strained public faith in the poll body and its top officials.
The petitioners include top religious leaders, members of academe, the media and citizen advocates – their diversity and personalities show the depth and extent of public feeling about the need to ensure the integrity of the 2016 elections. All represent institutions that enjoy high trust ratings from the public, higher significantly than government bodies, including the Presidency and Congress.
The solicitor general, as attorney for the government, will formulate the position and defense of the poll body on the petitions. We believe the Solgen must do much more than this. He should explain to the nation what the COMELEC is really doing to ensure the credibility and fairness of the forthcoming balloting.
Without fear or favor
We cannot stress enough the gravity of this issue for our people and our country, and the need for a clear and forthright ruling by the high court on this issue. With the election of a new President and a new legislature at stake in the balloting, nothing less than the future of our country and our people is on the line.
All our laws governing elections must be enforced without fear or favor. The Comelec must assure us that it can do the job. The need for clean, free and orderly elections takes priority over the concern of the President to influence the succession to his post.
Examining the integrity and qualifications of every company that aspires to be the official tabulator of the votes must never be subordinated to pecuniary or partisan interests.
It was already a grave mistake for President Aquino to meet with the chairman of one company bidding to provide voting machines. This compromises the decision-making of COMELEC, which is a constitutional body independent and separate from the executive branch.
The suits before the high court question the process of refurbishing the existing Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and the proposed lease with option to purchase new Optical Mark Reader (OMR) units by the poll body. The haste with which the Comelec, through its Special Bids and Awards Committee (Comelec-SBAC), has tried to issue a notice of award to Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. for the lease of 23,000 OMR machines for use in next year’s elections raises both alarm and outrage.
Comelec must allay, not exacerbate poll concerns
The purpose of the Comelec’s policy should be to solve serious problems and concerns governing the balloting. It should not exacerbate the problem of vote tabulation, or raise public anxiety about the elections.
We hope that through the process of written and oral argumentation on this great question, the Supreme Court will arrive at a forthright decision that will allay our people’s fears and anxieties about the elections.
The COMELEC should cooperate in every way with this court process. It is its public duty to comply. And it can render public service by not interposing obstacles to an enlightened SC decision on the petitions. President Aquino should desist from talking with the COMELEC commissioners.
By bringing together the high court, the election body and the 2016 elections in one case before the bench, the petitioners deserve our people’s unequivocal support. It is in that spirit that we state this position of The Manila Times.