COMMENT: Can Comelec be trusted?

Asterisked List

In the lists published in its pamphlets and on its website, the Comelec has marked with asterisks the names of senatorial and local candidates and party-lists having pending cases (MindaNews, May 7). This is the first time it has done it.

Oddly – or just coincidentally? –, the names and party-lists marked, as mentioned in the report, are those from the opposition.  This is a blow below the belt – a not too subtle way of campaigning against those marked, telling the voters not to vote for them because they have pending cases before the Comelec. 

Two weeks before Election Day, the Comelec has not resolved these cases. In fairness to the candidates and party-lists concerned and the voters, the Comelec should have already resolved the cases.  Failing to, it should not pass on to the voters the task of disqualifying the senatorial and local candidates and party-lists by not voting for them.

The Comelec has admitted its inefficiency, malice and deviousness.

Dilangalen Case

The Dilangalen case in Cotabato City is another example of the Comelec’s inefficiency, malice and deviousness.  Only last April 24 did it find former Rep. Didagen Dilangalen guilty of ballot box snatching in the May 2004 election – recommending him to be charged in court for violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

Dilangalen, an Estrada oppositionist, is running for representative of the lone district of Shariff Kabungsuan which he had represented for nine years until 2004 when it was still the first district of Maguindanao.  Even if he wins, Dilangalen said, he could not be proclaimed should a case be filed in court. 

Here’s another not too subtle way of telling voters not to vote for Dilangalen. Was the decision withheld, then, issued late in the campaign period to harass Dilangalen?  There’s ground to suspect. 

Dilangalen is a strong candidate.  The administration candidate Bai Sandra Sinsuat-Sema, wife of Cotabato City Mayor Muslimen Sema will be helped by the Comelec’s harassing of Dilangalen.

Robredo Case

The Comelec’s first division, in declaring Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo as not a Filipino citizen, has revealed the partisan tendency of the Abalos Comelec.  Even if the Comelec en banc reverses the decision, which is being adversely and intensely criticized, the manifestation is too clear to cover up.

From all commentaries, Robredo – on his second three-term as mayor of Naga – is one of the best if not the best city mayor in the country. A city mayor since 1988, he has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.

His most grievous fault was to stand up against the Villafuertes who, as their ally once, considered Robredo a Filipino citizen but, as their foe, not a Filipino anymore because of his Chinese ancestry.  The people of Naga City stood up with Robredo.

The present case is just the last of a series in the last 15 years – filed by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, whose nephew is running against Robredo. Villafuerte is president of Kampi, President Arroyo’s party.

To Robredo’s great misfortune, the chair and one member of the three-man first division are Villafuerte’s close buddies — division chair Romeo Brawner was Villafuerte’s classmate and member Nicodemo Ferrer, his former law partner.

On June 20, 2001, the Comelec en banc under Chair Alfredo Benipayo declared Robredo a Filipino citizen.  The Brawner division reversed this en banc ruling – affirmed by the Supreme Court — with evidence and arguments most unlikely not to stand in the Supreme Court.

What does the Robredo case show of the Abalos Comelec? The commissioners and the chair cannot disappoint friends.  Can they disappoint President Arroyo and personalities close to her and her administration?

This can change the doubt of million Thomases regarding the Garci tape scandal and confirm the belief that President Arroyo appointed Abalos to make the Comelec do her wishes.

List Disclosure

In the Robredo case, the Comelec revealed one fault – insisting on its interpretation of law despite a landmark decision to the contrary for partisan interest.  Because of this, it suffered another slap from the Supreme Court for refusing to disclose the list of party-list nominees.

Since the 1998 election, the first inclusion of party-lists in national elections, until 2004, the list of nominees had been disclosed together with the party-lists.  In this election, the Abalos Comelec withheld the list arguing that disclosure was unnecessary for the voters vote for the party-list not for the nominees. And the law, R.A. 7941, is silent about it.

Last May 3, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the Comelec to disclose the list. For withholding the list, it had violated the constitutional guarantees to the people’s right of information and the need for government to be transparent.  Besides, knowledge about the person to represent the party-list is fundamental to wise voting.

The list confirmed the allegation of Akbayan, one of the petitioners for disclosure, that it contained nominees fronting for Malacañang or not qualified under the law – supporting another allegation that pro-administration party-lists have been accredited in violation of the intent of the party-list system.

One example Akbayan revealed: Biyayang Pinoy, the party-list of tricycle drivers, has for its first nominee Dr. Benajamin Abalos, brother of the Comelec chair. The law requires that the nominee must be a member of the sector the party-list represents. 

There was, surely, a compelling reason to withhold the list — that the party-list system was being exploited by the Arroyo administration.  But there is no guarantee that the exploitation has been stopped.

Question

Former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, citing three Supreme Court decisions, said:  “Significantly, in all these cases, the Court overturned the poll body.  And yet, despite these embarrassing reversals, the Comelec still insisted on its own gravely abusive interpretations of the Constitution (Sec. 5 of Article VI) and the Party-List Law (Republic Act 7941).”

What does this mean?  The Abalos Comelec has questionable integrity.  It can violate the law and the Constitution it is sworn to protect and uphold and ignore its own precedent decisions and those of the Supreme Court to promote partisan interests.

Can we trust such double-dealing Comelec to protect the sanctity of suffrage and of the ballot on May 14 and in crucial days following? In Pilipino: “Mapagkakatiwalaan ba ang isang bantay-salakay? 

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it )

 

 

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