Comelec’s excuse: ‘ministerial’ role | Inquirer Opinion

Comelec’s excuse: ‘ministerial’ role

/ 05:03 AM June 15, 2024

The case of Bamban Mayor Alice Guo—whose Filipino citizenship has been questioned and her ties to Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) involved in criminal activities exposed in the ongoing Senate investigation—is the latest example of why voters need to pay serious attention to the background of candidates they’re voting into office.

The neophyte mayor won her post in 2022 despite being relatively unknown, as attested to by President Marcos himself who said that no one among the politicians in the province knew of her.

Aside from her citizenship, Guo’s wealth seemed disproportionate to the humble beginnings she had described in the Senate hearing: that she was raised and homeschooled on a hog farm in a small barangay in the sleepy town of Bamban, Tarlac, which seems to confirm her links to Pogos operating right behind the municipal hall.

At the Senate hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed that the 38-year-old Guo owned 16 vehicles, including a luxury sports car, as well as a helicopter worth P60 million. In her 2023 statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth, the mayor declared P367 million, with assets including nine properties in Tarlac and Bulacan. Moreover, she admitted to owning half of Baofu Land Development Inc. which leased its 7.9-hectare property to an illegal Pogo company that was raided in March by authorities for alleged human trafficking and among those suspected of being used for the surveillance and hacking of government websites.


Glaring omission

Authorities are now scrambling to uncover who Guo really is and how, if the allegations are true, she was able to game the system—from her birth documents to tracing the billions used to put up the massive Pogo complex connected to her. The Ombudsman has recently suspended her and several Bamban town officials for six months based on a complaint filed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government over their alleged involvement in Pogos.

That level of scrutiny should have been done when Guo was still a candidate, which might have prevented her and her dubious associates from making a mockery of our laws.

But the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has so far distanced itself from this glaring omission, with its chair George Garcia conveniently describing the poll body’s job as merely “ministerial.” That is, it only receives a candidate’s certificate of candidacy (COC) where they declare, among others, that they are Filipino citizens.

“The Comelec presumes that all the information the candidates put in their COCs are correct until a disqualification or cancellation of candidacy case is filed by a registered voter,” Garcia said, adding that the Comelec “has no right to reject a COC.”


‘Threat to democracy’

By Garcia’s definition, the Comelec is nothing but a repository of documents—real or fake—and woe unto voters if they elect the unqualified and the unfit. As it is, doing regular government transactions—where multiple identification cards are required—would be much harder than running for office were the Comelec as useless as Garcia would have us believe. Clearly, the poll body must rise above this unacceptable “ministerial” role instead of allowing dubious, moneyed, and well-connected characters to run circles around it.

Given that candidates predictably inflate their qualifications, shouldn’t the Comelec perform even a modicum of vetting and verification to help voters distinguish fact from fluff? At the very least, the Comelec—with the help of proper government agencies—should determine if they are Filipinos as mandated by the Constitution.


That should be easier to achieve than Garcia’s stated next goal: To ban the use of deceptive artificial intelligence technology and manipulated images or videos in campaign materials for next year’s midterm elections, as AI and deep fakes pose a “threat to our democracy.”

Powerful force

No one can argue against this proposal, as it has been shown in many parts of the world how social media and advances in technology, particularly the rapidly evolving AI, could be used to spread disinformation and influence the results of democratic elections.

The only issue with Garcia’s proposed ban is how to impose it, and whether the Comelec has the wherewithal to succeed against the powerful force unleashed by advanced technology in all aspects of humanity. Wouldn’t it be more productive for the Comelec to use its time and limited resources in mounting effective voter education campaigns that would help the public become more discerning and critical of things being foisted on them—including the tricks of technology, and fundamental information on a candidate’s credentials? There are so many public and private organizations that the poll body can enlist in this endeavor.

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And while doing that, the Comelec must strengthen its role as the ultimate guardian and gatekeeper of the people’s vote, so it can prevent another Alice Guo from spinning a fantasy that could easily hoodwink voters and officials alike.


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