Updated:May 21, 2022, 11:05 A.M.
Millions lost faith in elections
It is no idle talk to say that millions of Filipinos have lost faith in the integrity of elections and, by extension, in their trust of COMELEC, the constitutional body charged with the primordial responsibility of protecting the sanctity of the ballot.
One only needs to refer to the innumerable negative reactions on social media concerning the highly suspicious “7-hour glitch” during the vote-counting related to the 2019 general election and the much-talked about “statistical improbabilities” of reported electoral data related to the recently concluded 2022 national elections to confirm pervasive public distrust in the poll body as a fact.
Heightening the distrust is the fact that COMELEC is viewed as impervious to criticism and is largely unaccountable.
The existence of widespread latent anger over the seemingly fraudulent results of the 2022 presidential elections, while not visibly palpable at the moment, is undeniable. It would be a grave mistake to take the matter for granted as the simmering outrage could turn into violent protests if more solid evidence of fraud emerges in the coming days, weeks or months.
Maintaining public confidence in the integrity of elections is vital to the health and longevity of a democracy. It requires a genuine commitment to processes that promote the highest degree of transparency and accountability, starting with the qualifications of appointees down to the adoption of mechanisms that produce accurate and auditable election results.
In this year’s national elections, there were roughly 67 million registered voters, spread across 80 provinces and 316 congressional districts. All elective positions, from municipal and city mayors and councillors up to the vice president and president, were up for grabs.
Compounding the complexity of Philippine elections is the existence of more than 40 national political parties and umpteen other political parties that comprise the so-called party lists.
Effectively administering the entire electoral process from beginning to end for this size and scope of an election is more likely well outside the capabilities of a seven-person centralized national Commission.
The fact that the COMELEC also has judicial and regulatory functions as part of its mandate makes the body’s job all that much more difficult to execute. For instance, six months after the filing of disqualification petitions against Marcos Jr. the COMELEC still has not promulgated its decisions.
Break up Commission
It behooves lawmakers to seriously consider devolving COMELEC’s election administration functions to mini-electoral commissions or boards in each province to improve visibility and transparency.
The mini commissions would work under the guidance of, and rules promulgated by, COMELEC but have the primary responsibility for managing the conduct of elections in their respective jurisdictions.
The provincial electoral commissions could be organized as non-governmental organizations with memberships drawn from a cross-section of the community or, alternatively, as provincially-created bodies but organized in such a way that the local community can hold the appointing official or officials politically accountable for their choices of appointees.
Ideally, all mini commissions should be headed by a non-politically aligned elder, and have representation from up to four major political parties having the most number of sitting members in the House of Representatives to ensure compliance with all applicable election laws and regulations.
In my view, restoring the public’s trust in the integrity of elections all boils down to bringing the administration of elections closer to the communities and to the people in those communities having the ability to hold accountable the appointing official(s) for any mis-appointments or election irregularities when they run for re-election. At the national level, this ability to hold the appointing official (the President) accountable is not available because he is not permitted to run for re-election under the Constitution.
As they do in the US with respect to Electoral College votes, the provincial electoral commissions would certify, under oath, the election results that are subsequently submitted to a joint session of Congress, which will tally the official election results from each province and declare the official winners for the positions of President and Vice President. I believe this practice would add to the sanctity of the ballot and enhance the legitimacy of a concluded national election.
This proposed devolution of a part of COMELEC’s functions is not perfect and can still be refined with a view to providing the highest level of transparency and reliability that the body politic can trust.
Oswald Magno is a political observer / commentator and freelance journalist who writes about Philippine politics. He graduated with a BA degree in Political Science and Economics and an LL.B. degree from the University of the Philippines (Diliman campus). He lives in Toronto, Ontario.