Monday, April 20, 2015

Fixing what’s broke in the Comelec

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been “headless” for almost three months now and President Benigno Aquino 3rd seems to be having a hard time getting a replacement for Sixto Brillantes Jr.
Brillantes retired on February 2 after serving the unexpired term of Jose Melo, who left the poll body after only three of his seven-year term. Brillantes was Comelec chairman for four years, from January 2011 to February 2015.
Melo succeeded Benjamin Abalos Sr., who resigned in 2007 after getting embroiled in the NBN-ZTE corruption scandal. Abalos stayed in the Comelec for five years, from June 2002 to October 2007.
Abalos replaced Alfredo Benipayo who failed to secure the confirmation of his appointment from the Commission on Appointments. Benipayo served the Comelec from February 2001 to June 2002.
Before Benipayo, there was Harriet Demetriou, who was Comelec chairperson from January 1999 to February 2001, serving for only two years. Demetriou took over from Bernardo Pardo, who served from February 1995 to October 1998, or after three and half years.
Christian Monsod was Comelec chairman from June 1991 to February 1995, or only less than four years. Before Monsod was Hilario Davide Jr. who served the Comelec for barely two years, from February 1988 to January 1990.
What is the problem in the Comelec chairmanship that nobody could not complete the seven-year term provided in the Constitution?
The Comelec has a very critical task under the Constitution to enforce and administer all laws and regulations concerning the conduct of regular and special elections.
It is constitutionally independent from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government to ensure the conduct of free, fair, and honest elections. Aside from election administration, Comelec also performs judicial, regulatory, and administrative functions.
The 2016 synchronized national and local elections is drawing near yet the Comelec still has an acting chairman in Commissioner Christian Lim, who was handpicked by Brillantes before he left the poll body.
Apart from not having a permanent chairman, the Comelec also has two other vacancies in the seven-man body following the retirement, also in February, of Commissioners Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph.
President Aquino has reportedly interviewed a “qualified” candidate for chairmanship but had to set him aside from the list because he was “hesitant.” The qualified candidate was not named but Palace reporters were quick to speculate that he was Adolf Azcuna, former associate justice of the Supreme Court and supposedly endorsed by the President’s sisters for the position.
Three other names have been floated for the position: Leila de Lima, justice secretary and former top shot election lawyer; Winston Ginez, chairman of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB); and lawyer Rowena Guanzon, former mayor of Cadiz City in Negros Occidental.
According to a Comelec insider the 76-year-old Azcuna was the most favored of the names mentioned as replacement for Brillantes because of his integrity that he has been able to keep in the course of many years in government.
If Azcuna has indeed been taken out of the list, Commissioner Luie T. Guia can also qualify for chairmanship. His integrity, dedication and independence are the kind that we need in public service.
However, the focus has been on the chairmanship but no name has been mentioned about the two other vacant positions. Is it possible that whoever will not be picked as chairman will be appointed commissioners? Aren’t there other better choices apart from those mentioned in news reports?
Somebody mentioned recently the name of Edilwasif Baddiri, currently a commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), as a potential candidate for the post vacated by Commissioner Yusoph. Baddiri graduated with honors from the Ateneo Law School and was a Fulbright scholar at Kennedy School of Government in Harvard.
Whoever the next Comelec chair will be will certainly have big headaches because of the mess that Brillantes had created such as the “midnight deal” involving a P268-million negotiated contract with Smartmatic for the repair of 82,000 PCOS counting and voting machines to be used for the elections next year.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide soon on the case seeking nullity of the deal. It has been opposed because of problems with the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines supplied by Smartmatic for the 2010 and 2013 elections.
While the negotiated contract, which was signed three days before Brillantes and the two commissioners retired in February despite strong objections, is in question, the Comelec has a spokesperson who always raised the prospect of going back to the manual system of voting if the Smartmatic deal is scrapped.
And in a news story based on an interview of Jimenez that I came across recently, he candidly admitted that public bidding is something that the Comelec wanted to avoid.
Public bidding of any contract, regardless of the amount involved, is a requirement by law. Saying that it is a process that the Comelec wants to avoid is blatantly irresponsible, but not necessarily untrue.
The country’s election system is in such a mess because the election body itself is a mess.
The next Comelec chair surely has a big problem awaiting him/ her.

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