Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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‘Woulda shoulda coulda’

That expression forms the gist of the comments following Miguel Zubiri’s resignation from the Senate on Wednesday afternoon:  he should have done this, he could have said that, it would have been so much better if… etc., etc.  Even Zubiri, at this point, is probably engaging in this kind of wishful thinking. But it is a useless exercise, because from where I sit, no matter what he said or did, the woulda shoulda coulda game would always be played, with the same actors, although not necessarily in the same roles.

Of course it could have been a better speech—less self-aggrandizing, certainly less illogical. But even if it were the best speech, fault would be found somehow.

Suppose Zubiri had said something like:  “My alma mater taught me about honor and excellence. There is now a very large cloud of doubt surrounding the legitimacy of my election victory as a senator. And no matter what the evidence will show, that doubt will remain.  Therefore I have no choice—my honor demands it—but to resign my seat. I leave, however, with this vow: I will run again for the Senate, and make sure that next time my victory will no longer be tainted by doubt and suspicions. Then and only then will I be able to serve the people …. etc., etc.”  Or words to that effect.

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You think that the acclaim for such a highly principled stand would be universal? Not on your life. There will be quarters who will say something like, “But why only now?”

Another example:  Zubiri is being criticized for trumpeting his accomplishments (cheap political stunt, kuno).  But had he remained quiet about them, guess what the criticism would be? Right. He had no accomplishments that he could report to the Filipino people.

One can continue in the same manner for every part of his speech. But then, one would be forgetting the forest for the trees, the forest including such issues as: a) that no other legislator in Philippine history had ever voluntarily resigned his position;  b) that the reason for this kapit-tuko mentality on the part of all his erstwhile colleagues is that experience has shown that protests take so long to resolve that the protestee gets to stay for most of the contested term, and in the case of the Senate (or for that matter, the vice presidency and the presidency), the protestant decides to run again in the next election, which is considered, if memory serves, an automatic withdrawal of the protest—all the foregoing leading to the inexorable conclusion that c) the electoral system itself, in particular the handling of election protests, actually encourages cheating.

Let’s think about that for a while. We already know that the candidate on whose behalf (whether by he himself, or his family, or his party) the cheating is conducted does not get penalized in any way. If the protest against his crooked victory is successful, the very worst that happens to him is that he gets unseated at most three months before the next election. No specific charges of cheating are ever brought against the unseated candidate (too difficult—he can always claim he knew nothing about it).

Not only that, those in the electoral system who had to have been involved  in whatever “irregularities”  that were committed, get away scot free, too—or at least, are not punished enough for there to be a significant deterrent effect on future irregularities. I refer here to the election officials. Although one can start with the Board of Election Inspectors (mostly teachers, who operate at the precinct level), the biggest culprits, because they engage in wholesale rather than in retail cheating, are the members of the Board of Canvassers, whether at the municipal, city, or provincial level (and in the case of Metro Manila, the Board of Canvassers for its legislative districts).

Any wholesale cheating will have to involve  these boards—the Comelec representative as chair, the city/provincial prosecutor as vice chair (in the case of municipalities, the vice chair is the municipal treasurer), and the district school supervisor (or superintendent, as the case may be) as member. Let me repeat for emphasis: cheating on a wholesale scale has to involve the relevant officials of the Comelec, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.

Yet, given the many cases where cheating took place, e.g., where the municipal certificates of canvass did not tally with the election returns or where the provincial certificates of canvass did not tally with the municipal certificates (and these, for obvious reasons can be pinpointed exactly), in how many instances did the members of the Boards of Canvassers get punished (dismissal from the service at the very least)?  I don’t know the answer to this myself, but if Bedol’s impunity is any indication, I am willing to bet that this number is insignificant.

There is hope, though, with automated elections. Because while the machines can be tampered with, the picture images of the ballots cast cannot be changed, as one Pampanga  protestant found out. He had apparently tampered with the ballots, so that the recount committees would have to nullify the votes for his winning opponent. But the picture images of the actual ballots showed him up.

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Finally, the snail’s pace at which the electoral tribunals of both the House and the Senate work has to be improved. Get off your butts, please.

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TAGS: election fraud, featured columns, Miguel zubiri, opinion, Senate
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