BUDYONG: Before Emaus, Calvary First

MARIKINA CITY (MindaNews/26 August) – Indescribable hoopla greeted Koko Pimentel’s proclamation as a winning senator last August 11 by the Senate Electoral Tribunal.

As his father, I certainly share in the euphoria that enveloped his supporters when they learned of his triumph at the Electoral Tribunal. And up to this moment as these lines are written the jubilation seems to persist.

The truth, however, is that a tinge of sadness lingers in the mind.

Not out of any personal resentment against anyone. Or any desire to exact a pound of flesh from any person.

The sighs of regret arise from what I see is our collective societal failure to prevent the subversion of the people’s sovereign will not only in the elections of 2004 but also in 2007.

And to think that, at this point, we are talking only about recent elections!

Many past polls had also been severely tainted by corruption. But we have yet to see anyone held responsible for the election anomalies – old or new.

Incidentally, the applicable laws are there. There is no need to raise the penalties for election offenses to deter violations of the election laws.

What is needed is a determined effort to enforce existing laws, penalize the culprits and exorcise the demons masquerading as officials of the Commission on Elections from that sensitive government agency.

I guess the new faces at the level of the commissioners of the COMELEC mean well.

Chairman Sixto Brillantes is presumed to have good intentions. So do the rest of the Commissioners.

Unfortunately, like a vicious virus, the cancer of corruption appears to have so metastasized – affecting the vital organs of the Commission – that there is no other way to forestall the election body’s ultimate demise other than subjecting it to radical surgery.

The invasive procedure should lead to the cutting off from the rolls of election officials of the likes of regional directors Rey Sumalipao of the ARMM; Renato Magbutay of Region X; Francisco Pobe of the Caraga Region; Reynault Macarambon of the Barangay Affairs Division at the main COMELEC office; and Director Josllyn Demesa, who is also now assigned at the main COMELEC office in Intramuros, Manila.

It goes without saying that they should be accorded their rights under the law. But it should not mean that they could not be isolated from their offices while charges are pursued against them.

For one thing, there is the administrative remedy of suspending them from office while the investigation is being conducted. And then when adequate trial evidence shows their liability, conviction after due hearing should follow as a matter of course.

Sumalipao, Magbutay, Pobe and Macarambon have all been implicated in the infamous ‘Hello Garci’ scandal. And Demesa was reported to have acted in violation of the election laws by discharging her duties as an election officer in the recent elections where her daughter was a Party-List candidate.

The individuals named above are but a few officials of the COMELEC that should be sanctioned according to law.

One of the biggest obstacles, however, to a successful cleansing operation to rid the ranks of the COMELEC of its internal viral bearers of corruption is the COMELEC, itself.

The COMELEC is duty-bound in law to excise corrupt officials from its ranks.

But from my personal experience in hounding those who cheated in the senatorial elections of 1995 with the lead pipe of the law in hand, I can say with some authority that the COMELEC’s tendency is to protect its erring personnel.

Is there anything, then, that can be done to advance the national interest for clean and honest elections in the face of that perceptually impregnable barrier posed by the COMELEC, itself, against honest to goodness attempts to cleanse its ranks?

Yes, there is. And that is to get the Department of Justice to do the investigation and the prosecution of the election thieves inhabiting the darkened corridors of power of the COMELEC.

More can be done if the concerned citizens who had been propositioned to give bribe money to COMELEC officials by individuals acting as agents, friends, fixers or lawyers or even by estafadors would come out in the open and testify on the matter.

It is easy for people to whisper and gossip among themselves that something is wrong with the way the government does things.

It is apparently hard for them to stand up and say so openly so that something concrete can be done about it.

The travelers on the Road to Emaus found the going rough not only because it was unpaved but more so because as the Good Book intimated, they first had to go through the Road to Calvary.

In more prosaic terms, if our people want clean elections, we have to fight for them.

If we want honest elections, we have to watch over the process.

If we want orderly elections, we have to clean up the COMELEC, itself.

Hard work, indeed. But it is a truism even in a democracy, there are no free lunches.

And so I limped with Koko in his search for truth and justice the four years of his Calvary from 2007. It should immediately be said that the heavy toll on our shoulders would have been unbearable without the Lord’s supporting arm.

Happily, from the looks of it, truth has prevailed over untruth, justice over injustice, and, freedom over fear.

Still, much remains to be done.

Have the people learned any lesson from the struggle waged by Koko against electoral fraud?

To use the law with tough persistence and invoke the grace of God with humble insistence?

Only time will tell – not in the distant future but in the here and now as election time is barely two years away in 2013. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel is often described as the “Father of the Local Government Code.” As mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, he defied the Marcos dictatorship, was named the first Local Governments Secretary in the post-Marcos era. He was later elected senator and for several years served as Senate President.)