Comelec on fire!

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

Do you remember what happened on Feb. 7, 1986? Deposed president Ferdinand Marcos called for a snap election. It was between Ferdinand Marcos-Arturo Tolentino and Cory Aquino-Salvador Laurel.

Two days later on Feb. 9, 1986, Comelec employees tabulating the votes walked out of the plenary hall of the Philippine International Convention Center in protest. They were angry, noting how their Comelec superiors were manipulating the results of the election in favor of Marcos. This event became the catalyst of the first People Power Revolution.

On Feb. 20, 1986, Marcos proclaimed victory. Cory Aquino led the people’s victory rally at the Luneta. The election process failed. On Feb. 23, Juan Ponce Enrile, minister of national defense, and General Fidel Ramos, chief of the Philippine Constabulary, defected from Marcos and led the revolution. Marcos and his family were forced to flee into exile in Hawaii. On Feb. 25, 1986, Cory Aquino was sworn in as the elected president.

What’s the point? Well, everyone should know our history. An educated person learns from history or “his” story. The Comelec officials, being part of an independent body, should discern more. Don’t they realize that anything triggered from within can be a repeat of what happened in the past? Clearly, things are not looking good from a distance.

The people are not that stupid to believe lies and deceit. Members of Comelec should know where the buck stops, where patronage ends and where loyalty to the country begins.

*      *      *

Lack of work on the ground, “epal,” corruption issues, “paghihiganti” and other personal jabs among the candidates are beginning to ignite the campaign fireworks. As if the heat in the election atmosphere is not exciting enough, now there is FIRE in the Comelec.

The Presiding Commissioner of the First Division, who wants to finish her term on Feb. 2, 2022 with zero backlog, prematurely revealed her vote to disqualify candidate Marcos in the pending consolidated cases. She claims that they agreed to release the decision on Jan. 17, 2022 but the ponente, Aimee Ferolino-Ampoloquio, is deliberately delaying her resolution.

Under Comelec rules, the conclusions of the Commission in any case submitted to it for decision shall be reached in consultation before the case is assigned by raffle to a member for the writing of the opinion of the Commission or the Division. Since the ponente was already assigned on Jan. 10, did the First Division reach such decision? Or could it be possible that with the restrictions of the pandemic, the procedure was modified so that the ponente would have to first draft the resolution for the others to concur or dissent or, alternatively, the commissioners will just write their individual opinions with their votes?

The assigned ponente, in her letter to the Comelec Chairman, denied any agreement to release a resolution on Jan. 17, 2022, saying it was only the Presiding Commissioner who announced on Twitter that the case is set to be promulgated on that date. Explaining the timeline, she opined that the unavailability of the resolution after 12 days from the time the last pleading was forwarded to her office is not undue delay, positing that the 15-day period for the ponente to draft a resolution applies to a single case and not to consolidated cases.

She also alleged that the preliminary conference could not be set on an earlier date to accommodate the caprices of the Presiding Commissioner, who “wanted to personally take part in the proceeding and that it be broadcasted live on Facebook.” She further stated that the Presiding Commissioner is “trying to influence my decision and trying hard to persuade me to her direction.”

From her end, the Presiding Commissioner, in a memorandum to the ponente, directed the latter to explain the delay in the resolution of the consolidated case. The plot thickens and the internal squabble between the two lady commissioners is expected to heat up until Feb. 2, 2022, when the other one will perhaps continue her fight outside of the Comelec.

Why would the Presiding Commissioner, a few days before the end of her term, risk everything if the consequences would be so dire and serious? Is it simply because she wants her vote disqualifying Marcos to be counted? Will it matter if she is only a dissenter?

Or is there something more important she wants to expose? Is the allegation that an outsider politician, maybe a senator, is trying to influence the outcome of the pending disqualification cases, only a suspicion out of a fertile imagination? It is public knowledge that there are “influencers” everywhere, but considering the great powers of the Comelec at this time, this allegation cannot just be ignored.

The Constitution mandates the Commission to ensure a free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible election. We deserve a Comelec that is totally independent and with an unblemished institutional integrity. How can we expect credible elections if “influencers” are allowed to sway the decisions of the Commission? And how could there be orderly elections if there is “disorder” in the Commission?

There will always be dissent in the Commission, but we can’t afford this kind of discord. I hope the Comelec will act with dispatch to bring order to its ranks before the people lose their faith in what’s left of its integrity, lest there be another walk out or People Power Revolution. They say there will be peace in a few days when the feisty Presiding Commissioner ends her term.

But I guess this will only be temporary. If her allegation about the “influencer” is true, she must reveal what she knows, for a more lasting effect. Her quest to insulate the Commission from outside “influencers” is worth fighting for, and surely she will gain the respect and support of the people. Abangan!

*      *      *

In my column a few weeks back on the Comelec and the disqualification case against BBM, I wrote that it appears clear that the law imposes an accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding any public office, voting or participating in any election, when a public official is convicted of violating the NIRC, even if it is only the failure to file an Income Tax Return. Since it appears unlikely for the President to issue an absolute pardon in favor of one he believes to be a weak leader, what legal potion could bring out an acceptable justification for the Comelec to completely disregard the perpetual disqualification?

I hope the Commission on Elections could resolve the case of BBM with the objectivity and cold neutrality of an impartial tribunal, without being intimidated by personalities or cowed by threats from all parties concerned.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas, we now turn to you. This is your call to protect and preserve the democratic principles guaranteed by the Constitution. It is your responsibility to defend all election laws and regulations. It is also your role as the Chairman to remove those who seek to tarnish the purity of the ballot. They are enemies and traitors to our country. You should take this duty of yours seriously, not only to the Filipinos but also to yourself.


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