Sat. May 28th, 2022

Part One:  Are We Really Democracy?

The recent cantankerous behavior of Commissioner Rowena Guanzon before retiring from the Commission on Elections, is just the tip of the iceberg that our government needs a system change.

Lawyer Manuelito Luna described the melee quite accurately: “Leaking her vote, disclosing the identity of the ponente, disparaging a fellow commissioner, discussing a confidential matter (pending case) in public, not only violate the sub judice rule, but also constitute a serious breach of the Internal Rules and the Comelec Rules of Procedure, putting the institution in bad light or public ridicule.”

In light of the fact that the Comelec, and therefore our electoral system, is already a failed institution, Luna’s balm was treating the disturbance merely as an isolated case and suggesting sanctions “as a Constitutional body, may investigate and punish such acts even if the member involved is an impeachable officer.”

First and foremost, the Comelec is one of the three constitutional commissions of the Philippines. Its principal role is to enforce all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections in the Philippines.

But since its creation by a 1940 amendment to the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines, it has registered a long history of contested elections, with no substantial reform in the horizon.

It was disengaged from being an Executive Bureau under the Department of Interior precisely to project its independence from the three branches of government, namely the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

However, the President of the Philippines, appoints all its seven members. The legislature has a wider vote involving house and senatorial protests. Its judicial decisions are subject to the review of the Supreme Court.

This interdependence should have enhanced its independence but in practice, it has given greater gravitas in favor of political leveraging emphasis on procedural legalisms rather than the rule of law, and worse extraneous manipulation in the counting of the ballots.

Contested Elections

Doubts about the integrity of our elections birthed as early as when the Americans fixed the election of Manuel Roxas Sr., as an accommodation to the last wishes of the late Manuel L. Quezon, who because he died earlier at Saranak Lake in New York, did not finish his term as President of the Commonwealth.

It was bruited about that no less than Douglas Mac Arthur oversaw shaving the votes of Acting President Sergio Osmena Sr., that was so easy to do because the total voting population then were only 2,218,847 with 52% going in favor of Roxas who led by a razor-thin 110, 482 votes.

I will not belabor my readers with too much history here so let me fast forward to the first and only time the Comelec count did not matter was when former President Ferdinand Marcos did not benefit from an election the Comelec says he won.

It is bruited that the people voted on their feet instead at the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, and following the American kidnapping of Marcos and his family and exiling them to Hawaii, “installed” the losing candidate Corazon Aquino by way of a revolutionary government.

This is yet another fancy way of yellow revisionists celebrating the “restoration of our democracy”.

Truth of the matter was if ever there was such a restoration, the first lady president, who before such elevation honed her talents in the kitchen, achieved it through dictatorial means. The dictator, Mrs. Aquino, had to proclaim a revolutionary government to legitimize herself as president.

The first presidential elections called, post-Marcos, was also no help for the credibility of the Comelec in particular and Philippine elections in general.

Fidel V. Ramos won by the lowest plurality of 24% in our history achieving only 5,342,521 votes (in a population of 68.8 million or 7.7% representation), over Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s 4,468,173 or 3.86% lead or a measly 873,348 votes.

In contrast, his successor Joseph Ejercito Estrada won in 1998, with the highest post Marcos plurality of 40%. That he would be removed not by the vote of the people but only because the Supreme Court considered his leaving Malacanang Palace to go to his residence in Greenhills, San Juan, as “constructive resignation”.

The usurper to the presidency that the Supreme Court installed was his vice president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

However, in seeking her full six-year tenure as president after serving the remainder of Estrada’s term, she also made it to 40% plurality @12,905,808 votes, but Fernando Poe Jr ran closely at 37% @11,782,232, technically a 3% margin or only a lead of 1,123,576.

Later in her administration, Mrs. Arroyo was exposed talking to a key Comelec official in what was the “Hello Garci” scandal. She was asking for field reports from a member of a Constitutional body not under the Office of the President, affecting heavily-contested areas in Mindanao, that were heavily-contested areas where a lot of vote-padding occurred in her favor. 

President Arroyo tried damage control and attempted to reconcile with the nation with her historical “I am Sorry…” apology, never did the country forgive her by according her the worst net approval rating among post-Marcos presidents.

Today, it is generally believed that Fernando Poe Jr. won that election by as much as 3.5 million votes, but Garci’s dagdag-bawas “cured” the problem for Arroyo.

That notwithstanding, the people somewhat manifest the soundness of Philippine democracy, from the standpoint of “majority rule” and “electing the rulers” as measured by demographic surveys instead of “certified election returns”.

Net approval rating is achieved by deducting the disapproval rating from the approval rating and getting the average figure. Starting with nearly over 20% after assuming office from Estrada on January 2001, the highest Arroyo got was a momentary perk 30% during the 2044 elections but this continues to deteriorate to a negative 53% immediately before the end of her term.

This only shows that the people never really considered her as legitimately elected. That was also the first time the word “Comelected” started circulating in the non-traditional media

A glimmer of hope for the Comelec, however, rose on the horizon as Arroyo eventually signed in to law Republic Act 8436 (9369 as amended), otherwise known as the Automated Election Law of 2007.

Sen. Richard Gordon, author of Republic Act 9369 or the amended Automated Elections System Law, had enumerated at least 16 safeguards required under the law that would ensure the integrity of the polls in May 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the issue of poll automation has undergone a series of hearings, discussions and intense debate by Congress to ensure that the election automation law has safeguards to prevent hacking of the computer system and the precinct optical counting scan which the Comelec opts to use for the May 2010 polls.

But the senators were however duped bigtime, with the conspirators taking advantage of the prevailing ignorance of legislators, regulators and the judiciary on information technology or basically how computer works.

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