Squandering the people’s trust

THE APPOINTMENT OF RETIRED SUPREME Court Justice Jose A. R. Melo to the chairmanship of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) two years ago restored credibility to the poll body.

Objections overruled. Despite objections concerning his age (76 at the time) and his closeness to the Macapagal family, his appointment was nonetheless welcomed by our good-news-starved people. They cheered his pledge to automate our election and to render objective decisions.

I myself endorsed him and supported his automation program. At the same time, I wrote, “As a friend, I will always remind him that beyond the appointing authority, there is media to scrutinize him, history to evaluate him, a grateful nation to cheer (or jeer) him and an all-knowing God to judge him.”

I now remind him that in my humble view, Comelec—during the last few months—has regretfully been squandering the people’s trust. Many recent events have shaken my confidence in the success of its automation program. Its recent decisions are no better. They are grossly erroneous and impressed with grave abuse of discretion.

Spotty preparations. Last week, Chairman Melo candidly admitted unnerving delays in the “physical” preparations, “such as the delivery of the ballot boxes, the condition of the ballots, the final list of candidates for the printing of the ballots and the substitution of candidates on election day itself.” Most critically, the orientation and training of the teachers have also been put on hold.

On Jan. 6, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that of the 600 sample ballots inserted in the PCOS machines being tested at the Smartmatic warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna, only 30 were properly read. He attributed this failure to “high shading threshold” that was “easily corrected.” Nonetheless, that is unacceptable.

Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento has kindly sent me a sample of the automated ballot. It is quite huge: 24 inches long and 8.5 inches wide. But it has space for only 10 candidates for president, 10 for VP, 40 for senators and 199 for party list, or a total of 259 slots. However, 99 have filed certificates of candidacy for president, 20 for VP, 158 for senator and 306 for party list, a total of 583. Thus, about 324 (583 minus 259) would be eased out. Certainly, these 324 will flood the poll body with interminable complaints.

On the reverse side of the ballot are printed the candidates for local offices: congressmen, governors, mayors, vice mayors, councilors etc. There are 1,630 towns in the country. Each of them has a distinctive set of local candidates. Hence, there would be at least 1,630 types of ballots to be printed and 1,630 different kinds of voting machines to be delivered prior to Election Day. An untested logistical nightmare!

My earlier proposal to post by December on the ehope2010.ph website the facsimile of the actual ballot in each of these 1,630 towns to enable candidates to check them has not been done. Why? Because Comelec has not finished cleaning up the candidates? list!

In the last six months, I wrote extensively on these and other hitches. I have humbly suggested solutions to many of them. And I have been assured that automation would be in place by this month. The May 10 election is only four months away. Yet, disconcerting problems still abound, with no timely solutions in sight.

Nonetheless, Comelec claims that automation is still on track. It assumes that there would be no more missteps and that all systems would henceforth work flawlessly, something difficult to accept given the past hitches.

Inexplicable decisions. Comelec’s recent inexplicable decisions have eroded public confidence even more. The Inquirer editorial last Dec. 20 was stinging. It accused Comelec of outright partisanship, saying, “Unfortunately, the trend of its recent decisions is rapidly dissipating the perception that the Melo Comelec is different from the unlamented Abalos Comelec that it replaced.”

The Inquirer’s assessment is not without basis. For instance, Comelec’s decision unseating Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela is a monstrosity. Romulo Macalintal, the beknighted lawyer of President Macapagal-Arroyo, bragged that if the Supreme Court affirms this decision, he would give up his law practice. Indeed, the decision is so hobbled and so fatuous that Macalintal is in no danger of losing his boast.

I have said this before, but I will say it again. Why did Comelec invent wobbly religious and gender grounds to oust Ang Ladlad, which espouses gay rights, from the party-list election? Having reaffirmed this dubious verdict, the entire Commission now risks an embarrassing reversal by the Supreme Court (as it did in the deadline for voter registration). Of the many reasons to deny accreditation, why did Comelec choose the flimsiest?

Also, I do not understand why the Comelec disqualified Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim from the senatorial race, yet accepted Col. Ariel Querubin. I may not vote for Lim but I protest the violation of his right to equal protection and to run for public office. Both he and Querubin are detained and accused of breaking their military oaths. Both are supported by known political parties. Why were they differently treated?

Comelec has come up short in both its automation work and quasi-judicial decisions. To catch up, it must work seven times more. I do not doubt the noble intentions of Chairman Melo and Commissioner Sarmiento. Unfortunately, the time for automation is running out. It is time to prepare for manual elections.

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