Beyond the interminable questions about the trustworthiness of the vote-counting machines that will be used when the nation goes to the polls next month, the underlying question for the 2013 mid-term elections is this: Do we have full confidence that the Commission on Elections will do a credible job at keeping the electoral exercise clean, peaceful and honest?
Despite the best efforts of some honest men and women who no doubt work at the commission, the sad answer to this fundamental question is “no.”
The problem starts from the top.
The Comelec chairman appointed by the Aquino administration has demonstrated time and again that he will not – indeed, has no desire whatsoever to – stand up to the President that appointed him, notwithstanding the Comelec’s mandate as an independent commission.
We saw this when Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes refused to take the President to task for distributing health insurance cards during his party’s campaign sorties, which in the eyes of many clearly represented the misuse of government resources for political purposes. The chairman even defended the practice, saying that essential public services must continue even during the campaign period.
The chairman remained silent when the Palace almost appointed a former lawmaker who had been ousted from his position for election fraud to the Comelec, and even defended the nominee, who in the wake of a public outcry declined the appointment.
The credibility gap also stems from the President’s appointment of a political ally, the former governor of Isabela province, as a poll commissioner. With no pretense of neutrality or good taste, the President virtually acquitted the former governor of the crime that was alleged against her in an ongoing corruption case. In a reciprocal show of bad taste, the commissioner argued that the corruption case against her should now be dropped because as a constitutional officer, she could only be ousted by impeachment.
All these actions point to an attempt by the Aquino administration to stuff the Comelec board with men and women who will ultimately do its bidding – act against its political enemies while going easy on its allies. These are hardly actions that would inspire confidence in a supposedly neutral poll arbiter.
Outside of these legitimate questions, there is also a widespread perception that the commission simply does not have the political will nor the resources to act on the thousands of complaints that will come its way as politicians begin campaigning for 16,243 vacant elective positions.
In barangay after barangay, these politicians have made a mockery of the Comelec’s designated poster areas, and the poll body’s promises to monitor these violations are meaningless without swift and uncompromising action against all the guilty parties, not just the ones who do not belong to the administration party.
In the face of these overwhelming odds, the Comelec’s recent announcement that it has opened 10 new Twitter accounts that the public can use to report violations over the Internet is not only woefully inadequate, it is absurdly pathetic.