Beyond the counting
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - May 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Cases of electoral fraud and election-related violence and threats of violence continue to pour in during the run-up to the national and local elections yesterday. Philippine National Police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde said they have received reports of massive vote buying.

My sources told me vote buying has become more rampant in the automated election system especially in the rural areas because candidates can no longer cheat in the automated counting and in the canvassing. Attempts at “negative voting” or denial of the right to vote in the form of threats of violence were also reported especially in the mountain barangays of Cebu City.

In an article in The Philippine STAR yesterday entitled “The fault in our system: How to fix elections in the Philippines,” Patricia Lourdes Viray wrote that the Philippines still has a long way to go in terms of protecting the integrity of the citizen’s right to vote.

Just because election irregularities and concessions are rampant, and to some extent culturally accepted in many areas, do not necessarily mean we won’t be able to reform the electoral process.

But we are not only talking of changes to ensure that the vote counting machines accurately report the choice of the electorate. As Viray wrote, attaining a credible election system goes beyond the election process itself.

In fact, to a fault we have given far more attention to the conduct of elections than to the strengthening of key bureaucratic institutions that have been tainted by decades of politicization. It is, thus, not surprising that the Comelec credibility is likely to remain vulnerable to the ebb and flow of the political tide.

Professor Cleo Calimbahin of the Department of Political Science at the De La Salle University-Manila, in her paper “An Institution Reformed and Deformed: The Comelec from Aquino to Arroyo,” wrote that the Comelec has not had a prolonged period of autonomy or nurturing its own capacity.

Calimbahin said that if Comelec is to achieve deeper reforms, it must be insulated from politics and influence from the administration. “Incumbents have kept the Comelec weak over the years by nurturing clientelism instead of professionalism in the organization,” wrote Calimbahin.

Political elites, she said, are not inclined to support an empowered election commission because it would undercut their electoral advantages. But at the core of Comelec’s authority and essence in the democratic process is its ability to enforce election rules independently and without bias. As the late former Comelec Commissioner Haydee Yorac once said, “You need a lot of respect, even fear of Comelec.”

So it’s like a chicken-and-egg situation. Political reforms are needed to reform the Comelec while reforms in our electoral system are needed to ensure political reforms. Calimbahin recommended a multi-pronged approach.

Insulate the Comelec leadership through the Commission on Appointments doing its job of carefully screening appointments made by the executive. But wait, isn’t the CA composed of legislators, a majority of whom are allied with the president?

For mid-level Comelec officials who turn into entrepreneurial bureaucrats, Calimbahin suggests stricter enforcement of disciplinary measures by the Comelec and the Civil Service Commission. More training in specialized election administration and management will also help. This, however, requires “a deeply ingrained organizational culture of impartiality and independence” – something that cannot be done overnight but over a long period of time.

Are we still going toward that direction? Well, for starters, we can look at our educational system.

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