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The Comelec Filipinos deserve

It is not fashionable to say nice words in defense of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) a week after elections in this country. But the bottom line is, after another bruising election season, the Philippines has successfully translated votes into political mandates, thanks to the Comelec. There is high public acceptance of the validity of the results.

There are the expected protests and complaints about how the elections were conducted, with the Comelec receiving most of the brickbats. The Comelec will have to acquit itself of these charges, many of them accusing the Comelec of ineptitude, and some going as far as accusing it of rigging the elections.

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But this is par for the course. The Comelec receives a liberal dose of bile after each election.

Apparently, many Filipinos think they deserve better performance from the Comelec. I agree. But getting better performance requires bigger and better inputs from the various players in the electoral process—Congress, Supreme Court, the President, and the electorate. Without these inputs, the Comelec’s performance will not significantly improve in the May 2022 elections, and the angst that is demonstrated now will be déjà vu once again.

We need to begin with an appreciation of elections as a gargantuan project. Elections are the single biggest project any government agency is called upon to implement, mobilizing 62 million voters in 12 hours across an archipelago, 2,000 islands of which are occupied by people.

For someone who has witnessed how manual elections were the bane of democracy before automated polls, I can appreciate the dramatic improvements that have taken place in the conduct of more inclusive, honest and peaceful elections in the Philippines. So here we are, 24 years after Republic Act No. 8046 authorized the Comelec to pilot the automated election system (AES) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1995. An effective AES has reduced blood, sweat and tears that have occasioned Philippine elections before automation.

The Comelec showed steadfast commitment to automation, despite the numerous criticisms and doubts on its capacity to implement an AES. It was not a straight and smooth road doing this. In 2001, Congress failed to appropriate the necessary budget for the implementation of an AES. In 2004, despite the appropriation of funds for automation, the Comelec was not able to carry out an AES because of a Supreme Court ruling that declared as null and void the contract between the Comelec and Mega Pacific, which won the bid to supply the machines.

If we want the Comelec to improve its performance, there needs to be a serious attempt to assess its organizational effectiveness and development, and respond to these needs. We have three years to do it. Otherwise, we will again be making the same angry noises about the Comelec’s performance in May 2022.

Help is needed from several quarters. The Supreme Court has dabbled in the interpretation of RA 7941 or the Party List Law in a way that has obfuscated rather than clarified the intent of the Constitution. Congress has not provided the Comelec with adequate funds and policy support. The President has to appoint appropriate quality commissioners. It can be argued that systems expertise is as important as law in appointing commissioners.

The Comelec needs enhancement in its information and communications technology capacity as an organization and capabilities for the staff. It needs to improve its field offices, many of which depend on LGU hospitality for their offices and supplies. It needs to reinvent itself organizationally in alignment with new challenges. Before we forget, it needs a building of its own.

One of the greatest weaknesses of the Comelec is its defensiveness in dealing with the public and the media. It has always been unable to deal with an angry public. There are ways of improving the organization’s public relations capacity and savvy. This might have to await the overall confidence that goes with increased organizational capacity.

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Meantime, maybe we can ask the angry public to use its energy to drive organizational development initiatives for the Comelec. Then they will be less angry in May 2022.

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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, On The Move, Segundo Eclar Romero
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