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Opinion

In no-win situation

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

If you describe a situation as a “catch-22,” you mean it is an impossible situation because you cannot do one thing until you do another thing. But you cannot do the second thing until you do the first thing. There are other idiomatic expressions and related phrases and words that mean the same as “catch-22.” These include words like dilemma, paradox, predicament, quagmire and popular idioms such as chicken-and-egg; damn if you do – damn if you don’t; like a Gordian knot; between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place, just to name some.

This is how the seven-man Commission on Elections (Comelec) headed by chairman Saidaman Pagarungan find themselves while they complete the preparations for the country’s holding of the May 9 national and local elections. Speaking for the Comelec, newly installed commissioner George Erwin Garcia told us in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum the poll body is in such “catch 22” situation in the discharge of its duties before, during, and after the holding of the elections.

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Garcia and former Social Welfare undersecretary Aimee Neri as Comelec commissioners and Pagarungan as chairman for a term of seven years. They joined their four other sitting colleagues, namely, Comelec commissioners Rey Bulay, Marlon Casquejo, Aimee Ferolino, and Socorro Inting.

Although the Comelec is an independent, autonomous constitutional body, Garcia admitted he is still learning though to cope with “catch 22” situation that the poll body have to contend with. Nonetheless, a veteran election lawyer like Garcia hit the ground running after being appointed to the Comelec last March 8.

With just three days left to go before that singular important nationwide event, Garcia aptly described how the Comelec commissioners brace themselves to meet head on these challenges. Garcia though reassured the Filipino voters that all of the Comelec commissioners and the rest of the poll body officials have sworn to perform their job to the best of their abilities to help keep the country’s democracy alive.

As in the past immediate four elections we had had, Garcia disclosed, Comelec has already addressed and updated the alleged security breaches of the automated election system (AES) of Smartmatic and other issues raised against the voters counting machines (VCMs) of the company.

The use of the Smartmatic technology, however, worries presidential adviser on political affairs Jacinto Paras in the Comelec’s conduct of the next presidential elections. Also guesting in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, Paras fears what he calls as “nightmare” that the Comelec faces with the use of the Smartmatic VCMs. Citing allegations of the past elections that the Smartmatic has a “cheating mechanism,” Paras questioned why the Comelec continued its contract with this company.

In fact, Paras cited no less than President Duterte has repeatedly asked the Comelec to replace the Smartmatic. When President Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, Paras expressed dismay that none of the Comelec commissioners appointed by the former Davao City Mayor heeded his call against the Smartmatic despite so many cases and complaints against the company.

“They (Comelec) may be very honest themselves but the system they have chosen which was ordered by the President to be junked, they still maintained it. It’s funny. What do they love about Smartmatic?” Paras quipped. However, Comelec official spokesman James Jimenez previously announced in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last January 26 that this is the last presidential election that the poll body is using the Smartmatic VCMs.

Calling it pejoratively as “Smartmagic,” Paras pointed to the latest reported hacking of security features of the VCMs being used by Comelec. Based from the findings of the Senate inquiry into this particular “hacking” incident, Paras warned this could enable cheaters anew to tamper the election results in the presidential race on Monday. Particularly worrisome, Paras noted, the top contenders in the presidential contest are wary over Comelec’s avowed independence and fears of “interference” from foreign interests groups.

Garcia, however, assuaged the public that the Comelec has the full control and jurisdiction of the May 9 elections. For security, he cited the deployment already of the police and military personnel as deputized by the Comelec to help ensure the holding of Safe, Accurate, Free and Fair Elections S.A.F.E from Monday until all the results come in.

Along with election preparations, Garcia cited, the Comelec continues with its other administrative functions that include completion of all pending disqualification (DQ) cases against candidates. Just last Monday, Comelec en banc upheld a division resolution of the poll body canceling the certificate of candidacy of Sultan Kudarat gubernatorial candidate Datu Pax Ali Mangudadatu.

Garcia noted this amid claims against the Comelec’s allegedly sitting on the motions for reconsideration of several groups that filed DQ cases against front-running presidential aspirant ex-Sen. Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. (BBM). Garcia clarified it can never be too late for the Comelec to hand down DQ cases even after the elections are held.

At the outset, Garcia already inhibited himself from any election cases related to his former politician clients, including BBM. Garcia served at one time as counsel of BBM in the May, 2016 vice presidential contest the latter lost to Vice President Leni Robredo.

As of Thursday last week, Garcia quoted Pagarungan announcement that only two of six other Comelec commissioners have not signed the en banc Resolution of the consolidated MRs seeking to reverse the dismissal of all the DQ cases against BBM. The two included the Comelec chairman himself. As of this writing, Garcia learned only one signatory is missing on this Comelec Resolution.

As succinctly admitted by Commissioner Garcia, it will always be a “catch-22” for the Comelec in whatever decisions or actions they will make.

Since it’s really a no-win situation for the poll body, then damn the torpedoes.

COMELEC

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