The decision by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to designate the Nacionalista Party (NP) as the minority party in tomorrow’s midterm elections, with the administration party PDP-Laban as the majority party, is a travesty.
It is an unconscionable violation of the most basic tenets of fair play, good faith and transparency, especially in a contest perceived to be the most polarizing, and the most crucial for the country, in years.
The Comelec released its en banc decision on Thursday, and that very day provided incontestable proof of how absurd the ruling is. That evening, when regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) held its final rally in Davao City, senatorial candidates Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos and Pia Cayetano stood alongside HNP chair Sara Duterte as they wrapped up the three-month campaign period.
What’s wrong with this picture? Villar, Marcos and Cayetano are running under the NP, which, along with PDP-Laban, is part of the HNP alliance endorsed by President Duterte and led by his daughter. So let that sink in: The Comelec has named Mr. Duterte’s allies as both the majority and minority.
What aggravates this outrageous decision is its release four days before the elections, as if to ensure there will be little time left to file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
In determining the majority and minority parties, the Comelec said it based its decision on two factors: the number of party members in office and the number of candidates running in the elections. Two commissioners out of seven, Luie Tito Guia and Rowena Amelia Guanzon, dissented from their colleagues’ consensus.
Guia cited Section 274 of the Omnibus Election Code, which states: “…the dominant opposition party shall be that political party, group or organization or coalition of major national or regional political parties opposed to the majority party which has the capability to wage a bona fide nationwide campaign…”
The dominant minority party “should logically come from the minority,” Guia pointed out, adding: “With the current polarized political climate, it is not hard to divine which group belongs to the majority or minority.”
The other five commissioners apparently didn’t have their wits about them to make that elementary judgment, and so, less than a week before the elections, the country is saddled with a situation that essentially makes a mockery of the democratic system.
Because they are the designated majority and minority parties, PDP-Laban and NP are now entitled to the following: the fifth and sixth copies of election returns, respectively, from the vote-counting machines; electronically-transmitted precinct results; the seventh and eighth copies of the certificates of canvass, respectively; and official watchers in every polling place and canvassing center.
This leaves the real opposition — those who do not fall under the wide umbrella of the Duterte-led coalition — out in the cold, without any access to crucial documents or seats in the canvassing table to assure the public of the accuracy of the election results and the general transparency of the process.
Without the bedrock of transparency and fairness in the system, how can the nation trust the outcome of the midterm elections?
The Comelec is mandated to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections. But if it sabotages its mandate with dubious, baffling moves that give the electorate reason to doubt its integrity and trustworthiness, who can the public turn to for assurance that their votes will be counted correctly, and their will respected, in the most honest, self-evident way possible?
Last week, the Comelec also turned down the request by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections to access key election data, prompting the watchdog to withdraw from the polls — only the second time in over 30 years that the longstanding citizens’ arm will not be there to provide independent public oversight on the conduct of the polls.
And now, two administration parties are set to monopolize election returns and official places in the canvassing centers. What in heaven’s name is the Comelec thinking?
As netizen-lawyer Jaye de la Cruz Bekema warned in a Facebook post: “Where you stand in the political spectrum should not matter. If you do not find this incredibly offensive and alarming, I have no words for you.”
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