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Editorial

Election blues

/ 05:08 AM May 15, 2019

How, in this fragile democracy, could it happen that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was unable to transmit voting results on its transparency server for seven hours on the night of Election Day?

The question continues to rankle despite the official belated explanation, thus exacerbating the occurrence of snafus that modern societies on the planet would deem unthinkable and unacceptable in any electoral exercise.

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It was bad enough that, earlier on, the Comelec appeared at a loss to command the situation, or, if it did, ruled questionably on critical matters, such as patent premature campaigning, or the run of spouses to represent two adjacent districts in the House of Representatives, or the scandalous designation of the Nacionalista Party, which is allied with the ruling PDP-Laban, as the minority party.

In the May 13 midterm elections, despite the passage of three years after the 2016 presidential election, and with billions of pesos at its disposal to act on problems or avert looming ones, the Comelec was again confronted with the goblins of Philippine elections: assassinations (although the number is said to have been considerably lessened) and other acts of violence by armed men, as well as vote-buying — what should have been, like measles or malaria, plagues of the past.

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On top of the seven-hour period when the Comelec’s transparency server transmitted nothing to watchdog organizations and the media — inevitably throwing suspicion at the rout of the opposition slate — glitches have been added to Philippine elections’ guns, goons and gold.

As many as 961 out of 85,000 vote-counting machines (VMCs) and 1,165 secure digital (SD) cards “experienced issues,” lamented Commissioner Rowena Guanzon.

These kinks in what should by now be a smooth voting process provoked National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections secretary general Eric Alvia to wonder aloud on TV: How many votes were compromised with the transmission of voting data hampered by defective VCMs and SD cards?

And, as though to indicate how far we’ve sunk as a nation, vote-buying reached new highs on the run-up to the midterm polls and on Election Day itself.

The widespread commission of the election offense, as reflected in the 441 reported apprehensions made by police in Metro Manila and other regions nationwide, was remarkable, highlighted by such anecdotal data as a rural bank running out of bank notes; staple wires and brown envelopes in short supply; and the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program serving as distribution base.

It’s a disgrace, mirroring the extent to which candidates for public office would go to gain votes and the apparently infinite ways they can get their money back and more. It mirrors as well the level of need of the destitute — and in fact even those whose existence is hardly hand-to-mouth. That it’s rooted in the culture is too facile an observation; that it seems much worse than before, as has been claimed, shows a disheartening spike in the malady of corruption.

Incredibly, vote-buying was encouraged by no less than President Duterte as he spoke at the campaign rally of the administration’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago on Friday night, in the process assailing the Comelec for its “unrealistic” regulations against politicians doling anything of value, in cash or in kind, during a campaign.

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In the event they were accosted by authorities, he was quoted as saying, Hugpong supporters should “just tell them you took the money, not for the vote, but because you want your fare to get home.” In subsequent remarks, the President said vote-buying had become the norm, that it was “integral” to elections in this country.

Under the Omnibus Election Code that the Comelec and law enforcement agencies are mandated to enforce, the punishment for vote-buying is imprisonment of one to five years. Any political party found guilty of vote-buying should pay a fine of not less than P10,000.

The amounts used to buy votes reportedly ranged from P200 to P2,000. Some P2 million has been recovered in antivote-buying operations, according to Philippine National Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde.

In Malacañang, Mr. Duterte’s mouthpiece Salvador Panelo conceded that vote-buying was “definitely” against the law, but added that if one were only being given pamasahe, “that’s OK.”

It’s of a piece with the declaration of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who served as campaign manager of the victorious administration slate, that honesty is not an issue in the elections.

See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019

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TAGS: 2019 elections, Comelec, Inquirer editorial, Rodrigo Duterte, transparency, vote buying
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