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Why the Comelec needs Gus Lagman

The Electoral Integrity Project, as well as its 2014 Report which I talked about last week in this column, puts paid to any and all claims by the Commission on Elections and its erstwhile chair, Sixto Brillantes, that it has done a good job in improving our election system. With our country in the bottom third of all elections held between June 2012 and December 2014, and also in the bottom third of all countries surveyed, it is safe to say that all that vaunted money spent for computerized elections was a monumental waste.

The Philippines’ lowest scores among the 11 categories in the electoral cycle were in campaign finance (36), voter registration (41) and the voting process (53). We received a score of 68 for vote count, a 61 for vote results, and a 64 for electoral authorities. A score of 100 is the theoretical best, but the highest scores achieved by any country for any election were, respectively, 79 for campaign finance, 95 for voter registration, 88 for voting process, 99 for vote count, 96 for vote results, and 98 for electoral authorities. So we’ve got a long way to go.

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I submit that making sure our election system accurately reflects the voters’ choices is the first priority of our country. Ranking higher than the Mamasapano controversy and higher than the Binay investigation (important only because the justice system in this country sucks and will not give us timely information on presidential wannabes).

I also submit that having three of our four constitutional commissions (the Comelec, Civil Service Commission and Commission on Audit) headless these past six weeks—especially since the administration was fully aware that these positions would be vacant and could have done a proper search—is a more egregious lapse than those for which the President is now being attacked.

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The Philippine National Police’s board of inquiry report (PNP website) unambiguously states that the President bypassed the OIC-PNP and dealt directly with the since sacked Getulio Napeñas and with the suspended Alan Purisima in planning Oplan Exodus. Thus, he violated the chain-of-command principle. To soften the blow on the President, the BOI says Purisima misinformed the President about the presence of military and artillery support, and that the President had asked Napeñas to coordinate with the military, and Napeñas did not.

Are the President’s sins of omission or commission in Mamasapano more important than his sin of omission vis-à-vis the vacancies in the constitutional commissions? Which has potentially more impact on the Philippine polity and economy?

Last week’s column had three suggestions with respect to our elections. I’d like to concentrate on the first one: Reappoint Gus Lagman to the Comelec. He was appointed on April 27, 2011, and served for less than a year before he was unceremoniously booted out, reportedly because of the objections of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Apparently, then Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes didn’t like him either (Gus was too ethical, I think).

What was so frustrating at the time was that Gus did not have the chance to face his accusers in the Commission on Appointments: His ad-interim appointment was just not renewed.

May I remind the President of what his spokesman said when Gus was appointed: “We need his IT expertise to help ensure smooth automated elections” and to “keep away from the errors committed in the May 2010 computerized election.” Well, when Gus was sacrificed on the altar of political accommodation, no IT expert was ever appointed to replace him, and it seems clear that the errors committed in the May 2010 elections were repeated, if not magnified, in the 2013 elections. The 2014 Electoral Integrity Report bears witness to that.

Are we going through the same thing for the 2016 elections? Or will we correct our mistakes? We’ve been ceaselessly talking about good governance and the right leaders, about voter education and training. Are we willing to sacrifice all this because we don’t have the right people at the Comelec?

Why Gus? Why not some other IT expert? Let me quote lawyer Isabelle Ereñeta, who wanted Gus’ interim appointment renewed three years ago: “Gus Lagman has been working towards ensuring the integrity and credibility of our electoral process for nearly 30 years. He has been embattled in Comelec since Day 1. He was the only commissioner with IT expertise yet his recommendations on the

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Automated Election System were constantly disregarded. His ouster is our loss. We need people like Gus in government.” How much more straightforward can you get?

In a last-ditch effort to keep him in the Comelec, I wrote in this column on April 21, 2012:

“Why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment to the Comelec serve in the interest of safeguarding the country’s electoral system? Let me count the ways.

“First of all, Gus is arguably the most experienced among the present Comelec members in working for clean, honest and fair elections. He was active with the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections practically from its inception at the end of 1983 and was in charge of Namfrel’s Operation Quick Count (OQC), a parallel unofficial count based on official precinct results. He remained a Namfrel volunteer in charge of OQC for at least nine separate electoral exercises.

“Second, Gus was at the forefront of the move to automate elections, together with the local IT community, of which he was an acknowledged leader. He studied the systems, their advantages and disadvantages, the safeguards necessary, and the financial resources that were required. So if anyone knows the ins and outs of automation, Gus is it.”

Please, Mr. President.

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TAGS: Comelec, Elections, Electoral Integrity Project, Gus Lagman, Mamasapano, Sixto Brillantes
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