YEARENDER: Midterm polls fortify success of first automated elections
Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - This year’s May 13 elections fortified the success of the country’s first automated elections three years ago.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the May 13 elections proved the success of the 2010 polls was not a fluke.

“There were improvements in 2013. While the 2010 elections was already a qualified success, the 2013 elections, while it is not perfect, is actually more than improvement,” Brillantes said.

While there were still some glitches, particularly on the transmission of electronic results, Brillantes said people hardly contested the results, pointing out that there were a few electoral cases filed with the Comelec unlike in the past.

And for the first time, there was no failure of elections declared in any area in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the May elections. The region has been tagged as the “cheating capital of the Philippines” primarily because of violence and coercion during elections.

“That has never happened in the history of the Philippines. It’s the first time for us,” he said.

This early, the Comelec is preparing for the presidential elections in 2016.

“Our target now is 2016. We want to improve the system even further so we’ll be starting with the preparation this early,” Brillantes said.

Reforms

In the May elections, the Comelec had attempted to institute reforms, particularly on campaign finance rules.

For one, the Comelec tried to stop the age-old problem on vote-buying during elections by issuing Resolution No. 9688 which was to imposed the so-called “money ban” on some bank transactions.

The Comelec banned the “withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instruments into cash” exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency per day starting May 8 until election day on May 13.

The poll body also prohibited the “possession, transportation and/or carrying” of more than P500,000 in cash or its equivalent in foreign currency during the election period.

The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) assailed the poll resolution, saying it was unconstitutional.

BAP asked and succeeded in getting the Supreme Court (SC) to issue a status quo order on the resolution.

Brillantes said the “money ban” would be the best way to combat vote-buying, which, the Comelec believed, would become more rampant with the automated elections.

“Experience wise, we never prosecuted a single vote buying incident in this country. It has been going on, it has been rampant... because it was the only way, plus intimidation, that could not be controlled by automation,” he said.

Comelec’s efforts to purge the party-list system of bogus groups also suffered another blow from the SC this year when the high tribunal had overturned the poll body’s resolution in disqualifying the Senior Citizens party-list group.

The high court said the term-sharing agreement, which was used as basis by the Comelec in disqualifying Senior Citizens, was never implemented, therefore there was “no violation of an election law, rule or regulation to speak of.”

Senior Citizens had obtained 677,642 votes in the elections or 2.38 percent of the total party-list votes and ranked 10th overall. It will get two seats at the House of Representatives.

Campaign finances

The Comelec also tried to tighten its grip on the campaign finances of candidates by issuing a resolution that sets the prescribed form of the Statement of Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE) whose filing is required under Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Elections Law of 1991.

With this, Comelec thought it would be easier for candidates to comply with the law because the guidelines had been simplified.

The poll body formed the Campaign Finance Unit (CFU), headed by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, to strictly scrutinize the SOCE filed by candidates.

CFU was tasked not only to see who among the candidates failed to file their SOCEs on time and in appropriate forms.

According to Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, they are now working to institutionalize CFU at the poll body to make sure that even after the present Comelec leadership retires, this will be sustained.

Tagle, however, underscored the need to amend RA 7166 prescribing the “authorized expenses of candidates and political parties” during the campaign.

A provision of the law states that candidates for president and vice president are allowed to spend P10 for every voter while other bets can spend up to P3 for every voter in the constituency where they filed their certificates of candidacy. A candidate without any political party is authorized to spend P4 for every such voter.

Political parties, on the other hand, can spend P5 for every voter currently registered in the constituency or constituencies where it has official candidates.

“The amount is really not realistic anymore. Unless the law is amended, I don’t think any candidate can,” he added.

Campaign overspenders

This year also saw Comelec’s First Division to disqualify Laguna Gov. Emilio Ramon “E.R.” Ejercito for campaign overspending, the highest elected official to be sanctioned for this violation.

Comelec records showed Ejercito had used up more than P20 million during the campaign while he was allowed to spend only P4.5 million.

Brillantes said this goes to prove that the poll body is serious when it warned candidates against violating the campaign spending limits. Ejercito, for his part, filed a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec.

Ejercito’s disqualification, however, stemmed from a petition filed by his political rival, Edgar San Luis. It was not a result of the ongoing audit being done by the Comelec on the SOCEs.

The barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan

On Oct. 28, the Comelec conducted the elections for the barangay only, not including the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) following the enactment of a law postponing the electoral exercise to Feb. 23, 2015.

Brillantes said this would also allow Congress to study if “the country can do without SK.”

The Comelec believes that SK had not achieved its goal of training the youth on governance and leadership.

The SK became a breeding ground for political dynasties as many SK candidates were sons and daughters of barangay and local officials.

It is also believed that SK only exposed the youth to the way regular politicians have been mishandling their funds.

SK was an offshoot of the Kabataang Barangay (KB) that was abolished by the Local Government Code in 1991. KB was formed in 1975 during the Marcos administration.

SOCE violators

Only a few weeks before the year ends, Comelec made a bang when it ordered 422 officials elected in May to vacate their posts for failing to meet SOCE requirements. They are composed of 20 congressmen, four governors and 398 local officials.

Most notable in the list are former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Ilocos Sur. Gov. Ryan Luis Singson, Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. and Ejercito.

The 422 officials either failed to file their SOCE within the deadline or were not in prescribed forms like they were not signed personally.

The Comelec maintained the officials are considered not to have validly assumed office so they should vacate their posts unless they have corrected or rectified their SOCEs.

Brillantes said they decided to come up with the list to prove that the Comelec was serious in implementing election laws and policies.

“These policies have long been existing but they were not implemented strictly. What we want the people to know is that they cannot disregard the law, that is our important message,” he added.

The Comelec is now doing an audit of the SOCE filed primarily by winners in the elections and it will come up with the list of those who violated the campaign limit caps.

BRILLANTES CAMPAIGN CANDIDATES COMELEC EJERCITO ELECTIONS SANGGUNIANG KABATAAN SENIOR CITIZENS
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