Uriel Quilinguing .
ONCE again, the Commission on Elections is out to prove it can perform its task, that of conducting a credible, honest, accurate, meaningful and peaceful (Champ) election. With it is the subtle admission it cannot deliver unless it has the backing of law enforcement agencies and citizens’ electoral arms which have networks of non-partisan civil society organizations at local and even at the national levels. This is so because in the past, Comelec’s integrity was tainted by cases of electoral fraud.
Those who have a clear grasp of history know why the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) was formed in 1983 and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRB) in 1991—years that were preceded by elections marred with reports of ballot snatching and massive cheating.
But times have changed; the agency has long employed state-of the-art automated vote-counting machines from the tedious and tamper-prone manual counting and tabulation, and its personnel must have embraced the ethical standards that are expected from public servants. No wonder results from Social Weather Stations surveys show an uptrend in comparative satisfaction ratings in national elections in May 2007 and 2010.
In 2010, 75 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the Comelec’s performance while poll workers got an impressive 90-percent rating, an improvement from the 51-percent and 78-percent satisfaction ratings, respectively, in 2007. Incidentally, the automated VCM was introduced in 2010.
Unfortunately, SWS did not conduct satisfaction surveys for the general elections in 2013 and 2016, the findings of which could have been vital in determining whether Comelec can, by itself, deliver Champ elections in 2019 as well as in succeeding electoral exercises.
In other countries, trust ratings for their election agencies do not need “watchdogs” in the likes of Namfrel and PPCRV and the backing of volunteers from civil society groups. Besides, in our case, every major political party is entitled to field a precinct watcher, particularly during the canvassing of votes.
Before the 45-day campaign period for local candidates, Comelec conducted candidates’ briefings on the provisions of the Fair Elections Act (Republic Act No. 9006) and Comelec Resolution No. 10488. Both regulate political propaganda, the kind and size of materials, where these can be displayed and when these must be removed.
If attendance is taken an as indicator, 43 of the 62 candidates for the 20 elective seats in the Cagayan de Oro have high regard for the Comelec; they still think they have something to learn from the briefing and are willing to affix their signatures on a covenant for a Champ election. For the 11 who ignored Comelec’s invitation, they must have their own reasons why they think there was no need for them to be there. It was even worse for Misamis Oriental since only 14, mostly neophyte candidates, attended the Comelec briefing.
Perhaps, they think they know already the election laws having been perennial candidates and have long been elective officials. Since they do not violate laws, they need not sign a covenant with other candidates. And why should they attend the briefing and sign the covenant when these do not assure them of victory?
If the past, they were able to get away after putting their campaign materials anywhere and so, why should they limit themselves to common poster areas this time? Aside from that, they are confident they can comply with the Bureau of Internal Revenue-required books of accounts, record-keeping procedure, issuance of official receipts to donors and funders, and timely submission of their statement of campaign expenses.
The candidates’ briefing was organized by Lihuk, which stands for Lambigit Igsoon para sa Hiniusang Pag-uswag sa atong Katilingban that was formed before the 2016 presidential elections. With Lihuk 2019 Movement are volunteers from Namfrel Cagayan de Oro chapter, PPCRV, Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan, Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, amateur radio communications groups Clean 10 and Alert 10, Task Force Oro, and Oro Higala. They are among those actively involved in volunteer work for Champ elections.
These groups undeniably buoyed the satisfaction ratings of Comelec in the pre-2016 elections. If indeed Comelec has been performing well, then it should be left on its own without the citizens’ arm and CSO volunteers.
(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a former editor-in-chief of this paper and a past president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club.)