“We have to ensure that the results reflect the people’s will.”
The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is the target of netizens’ unrelenting criticisms these days. COMELEC is blamed over reports that campaign collaterals favoring Vice-President Leni Robredo’s group put in private properties are either being taken down (in the case of tarpaulins) or painted over (in the case of murals) by elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The incident in Santiago City, Isabela drew the ire of people especially since most campaign collaterals of candidate Leni Robredo are produced by volunteers using their own resources.
In a statement, COMELEC Spokesperson James Jimenez said that those who have problems with what the poll body is doing should file a complaint. He added that they are just making sure that the laws are followed. Jimenez was referring to the Fair Elections Act and COMELEC Resolution No. 10730 regulating the posting of campaign paraphernalia. Allowed paper, cloth, and cardboard campaign paraphernalia are those not exceeding two by three (2 x 3) feet.
Interestingly, recently-retired COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, in a tweet, shared her picture of her huge billboard in support of the party list P3PWD#54 mounted on a private building. Guanzon said, “My billboard is on private property, not paid for by P3PWD#54, not covered by Fair Elections Act and size 2×3 rule of @COMELEC Diocese of Bacolod vs COMELEC (2015) .jabjimenez”
Guanzon was referring to the 2015 Supreme Court decision favoring the Diocese of Bacolod over the COMELEC in relation to tarpaulin sizes.
The case involved two six by ten (6 x 10) tarps mounted in a private compound of the San Sebastian Cathedral of Bacolod. The SC decision said that COMELEC has “no legal basis to regulate expressions made by private citizens.”
The Justices added that, “Petitioners are not candidates… COMELEC does not have the authority to regulate the enjoyment of the preferred right to freedom of expression exercised by a non-candidate in this case… Large tarpaulins… are fundamentally part of expression protected under Article III, Section 4 of the Constitution.”
There is no Court higher than the Supreme Court. Clearly, therefore, the COMELEC should not as much as touch campaign materials mounted on private properties. The poll body’s spokesperson is just that, spokesperson. He is just the messenger. Because of the controversy surrounding “Oplan Baklas,” the ones who should be answerable are those who made the decision to take down campaign materials in private properties. The Acting COMELEC Chairperson should make clear where COMELEC stands on this issue.
I have written before that because of recent retirements, instead of seven, there are only four COMELEC officials managing the campaign period and everything about the May elections. All of them were appointed to the position by outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte. Can they really do it? More importantly, can they be impartial especially since Duterte’s daughter is running as Vice President? How are our votes going to be protected? How can we be sure of the elections’ integrity and that the electorate’s decision will be respected and will reign supreme?
Citizens must guard the votes.
As of December 14, 2021, there are over 67.5 million registered voters. This, by far is the biggest in the history of elections in the country. Despite the pandemic, Filipinos went out and registered so they can vote. This is a huge statement that the people want change for the better, and that they intend to be part of that change. There are 65.7 domestic voters and around 1.8 million overseas voters. 56% of voters can be considered young as they belong to the ages between 18 and 41, while more than 12 million are senior citizen voters.
There are more female registered voters (33.6 million) than males (32 million). The top five regions with the highest concentration of voters are: Region IV-A almost 9.2 million, NCR more than 7.3 million, Region III nearly 7.3 million, Region VII more than 5.2 million, and Region VI, more than 5 million.
Should Duterte not appoint new commissioners, the conduct of the elections potentially involving 67.5 voters, is in the hand of FOUR officials hand-picked by Duterte. With the controversies involving the COMELEC, i.e. the delay in the promulgation of the decision on petitions seeking Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s disqualification, and now “Oplan Baklas,” it is getting difficult to believe that the May elections will go as smoothly as we hope to.
The Filipino people must then protect the vote. There are organizations that we hope can help. The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) is the more popular one. It has chapters in many places of the country and people can sign up as NAMFREL volunteers. NAMFREL has been the citizens’ arm in previous elections in the pursuit of honest and clean elections.
There is also the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), a non-partisan, non-profit organization with the mission and mandate to have clean, honest, accurate, meaningful, and peaceful elections. The PPCRV is also accepting volunteers. Like NAMFREL, the PPCRV has also been involved in protecting the sanctity of the ballot.
The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) has a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for a genuine 2022 National and Local Elections, “to reaffirm the commitment to upholding the rule of law and strengthening the nation’s democratic institutions. To pursue a Safe, Accountable, Transparent, and Inclusive elections that inspire national confidence,” says LENTE’s Facebook page.
We have been repeatedly stressing that the coming elections are very crucial for the country and people. We must do all we can to make sure that the results truly reflect the people’s will. We, citizens, must guard that vote.
@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook