Stand with the truth
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - May 11, 2019 - 12:00am

As a son of a Comelec officer back in the 1980-90s, then as a journalist, and later on as a lawyer, I can say that I’ve had a near front-row seat in elections. Perhaps I can make anecdotal comparisons of how the Commission on Elections was run as a reformed institution right after democracy was restored by the Cory Aquino government, and how the poll body has been struggling with its image after its more prominent and credible heads like Christian Monsod and Haydee Yorac had retired.

In fairness to the Comelec now, there have been no serious allegations of corruption against the agency or its members, or if there are, these are few and far between – and usually a matter of public perception than of actual or proven facts. Most of our Comelec officers are competent and honest (or isn’t it natural to expect that they should all be?).

But four days before the elections this Monday, the Comelec may have to parry public perception that it is giving an unfair disadvantage to the national opposition. This after it declared the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) of the administration as the dominant majority party (which is expected) and the Nacionalista Party (NP) as the dominant minority party. How can that be when PDP-Laban and NP are both allied with the Duterte administration, asked Otso Diretso’ campaign manager Senator Francis Pangilinan.

Under the law, the dominant majority party and the dominant minority party are entitled to copies of the election returns and the certificates of canvass. They are also allowed to install official watchers in every polling place and canvassing center.

Judging from Comelec spokesman James Jimenez’s statement, there might be a plausible reason for this which does not point to any bias on the part of Comelec. Jimenez said the dominant majority and minority parties are selected based on the “number of candidates being fielded” and “the number of positions occupied as incumbents.”

Undeniably, the opposition Liberal Party has been decimated by defections to the administration while other parties like the NP have allied themselves with the administration. Still, that does not negate the fact that the LP is the real opposition party in Monday’s polls. Pangilinan vowed to oppose the Comelec’s decision before the Supreme Court, but elections are already two days away. How come the Comelec didn’t decide on this much earlier?

At the local level, another challenge for the Comelec is to effectively act on Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s complaint that the police in the city is being used by his opponents to harass his political allies, particularly in the mountain barangays and through “selective” checkpoints in the urban area.

It might be easy to dismiss the mayor’s allegations as politically motivated. But it is not the duty of independent institutions like the Comelec (and the media, if resources permit) to just merely hear all sides and then describe it as a “he said, she said” situation with no genuine effort to probe further. It is their duty to pursue the truth, whoever stands to benefit or lose by it.

The mayor’s allegations relating to the police have been very specific and filled with details, prompting no less than former PNP chief now Senator Panfilo Lacson to say that Cebu City “is a case of the PNP dipping their fingers into partisan politics.” In other words, the allegations are verifiable; its details can be confirmed or debunked by a simple and honest investigation.

Yet these allegations have been receiving merely broad and immediate denials, if not vague responses, from the Philippine National Police leadership. Do you know what they normally say in court about specific allegations met with broad denials? Deemed admitted. None of that applies, of course, because we are not in court.

But the public deserves more than just PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde saying “the PNP leadership has no problem about this matter, and that maybe it's the mayor who has a problem.” Or the city and regional police leadership saying “You have evidence? File a case,” or “You could be doing it to yourselves to concoct a story of harassment.” These statements do not help at all.

The Comelec, on the other hand, has yet to show it is effectively addressing this historically strange election tension gripping Cebu City. On Monday, let’s see how Cebu City voters will be taking all these into account in deciding the city’s future through the ballot.

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