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A watch dog, not a lap dog

(Article published in the Mar 3, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

In a little over two months, we will be having our May 10 national and local elections.  Thus the Supreme Court recently observed:  “The Comelec, as it were, is laboring under a very tight timeline.  It would accordingly need the help of all advocates of orderly and honest elections, all men and women of goodwill, to assist Comelec personnel in addressing the fears expressed about the integrity of the system. After all, peaceful, fair, honest, and credible elections is everyone’s concern.”  -  (H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. et al v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 188456, February 10, 2010).

 Apparently, the COMELEC believes otherwise.  For reasons difficult to understand, COMELEC, acting en banc, refused, by Resolution issued last January 25, the offered help of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA) seeking jointly accreditation as Citizen’s Arm.  NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA sought reconsideration on the 23rd of February. 

 And as of the time of this writing, all the feedback that NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA have been getting from its efforts to follow-up is the advise that the COMELEC has not acted on the matter yet and the advice to keep calling for its status from time to time.  Obviously, the COMELEC wants to hang on to its earlier decision to deny accreditation as long as it could.


Speaking per curiam, assuming the position of Court (curia) handing out the death sentence, the COMELEC at the start of its ruling made what seems to me its perfunctory compliments” “We laud the efforts of the petitioner organization.  We assume that NAMFREL, has all the best intentions in volunteering to be the citizen’s arm of this Commission.”

 Right there, the COMELEC does not seem on its toes.  Two organizations were seeking accreditation, not just one “petitioner organization” The Catholic bishops’s organization, too, was seeking accreditation, jointly with NAMFREL.  I do not think COMELEC simply overlooked the distinction; I suspect, and I could be wrong, it wanted to attack the bishops too, but was not forthright enough to come right out with it.

 Hence, it trained its guns on the people of Namfrel. Jose Concepcion, erroneously labeled Founding Chairman but correctly acknowledged as active member, was noted at one time to have been “known to criticize and disfavor Joseph Estrada.”  Caring for the feelings of the convicted (though later pardoned) felon, the COMELEC speculated, “it would be to his objection when COMELEC would accredit a citizen’s arm to assist in the elections closely associated with a personality who broadcasted his distrust towards the candidate.”  The deposed president himself, however, never came forward to oppose the accreditation of NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA.

 NAMFREL’s National Chairma, Jose L. Cuisia, the COMELEC continues, “was also reported to have rubbed elbows with the late Corazon Aquino in a march/protest rally in Ayala Ave., Makati against the GMA administration.  Jose Cuisia has been openly criticizing the administration.  Would this not be seen as undue bias against the administration bet?”

 Unfortunately for COMELEC, Mr. Gilbert Teodoro, the ostensible administration bet, believed otherwise.  He was reported to have said, “To my mind leaving out Namfrel—which has gained expertise through the decades it worked since 1983 to ensure that elections are transparent and credible—will only work to the disadvantage of the Comelec and the credibility of the elections in general,”

 Teodoro further said, ““The more eyes watching, the more credible the election results will become.” That, obviously, was far from the mind of COMELEC.

 The real objection, I suspect, for denying NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA accreditation, can be found in the Separate Concurring Opinion rendered by Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.  “Unfortunately for petitioners,” the good commissioner wrote, “pursuant to the mandates of the Constitution and other election laws, this Commission has already accredited on October 26, 2009 the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) to be the Commission’s citizen’s arm this coming May 10, 2010 National and Local Elections, after convincing this Commission of its capacity to promote the public interest and to assist the Commission in the performance of its functions and activities.”

 The greater misfortune is actually that the good Commissioner may have forgotten (here permit me to stress that I do not assert any deliberate intent and definitely assume no malice aforethought) that Section 2(5) of subarticle  C on the Commission on Elections, of Article IX of the Constitution he himself helped to write does not speak of appointing only one citizens’ arm.

 That portion of the fundamental law gives the COMELEC the power to “accredit citizens’ arms of the Commission on Elections.” (Bold, mine.)  Hence, the prior accreditation of PPCRV is not a bar to the appointment of an additional citizens’ arm.  “After all,” as the Supreme Court quoted above said, “peaceful, fair, honest, and credible elections is everyone’s concern.”

 Maybe the COMELEC had forgotten that in Loong v. COMELEC, 305 SCRA 832, the Supreme Court noted that NAMFREL was among those invited by the authorities to discuss “the manner of transporting the ballots and the counting machines to the PICC in Manila” from Jolo, Sulu.

 Maybe the COMELEC had forgotten that in Sebastian v. COMELEC, 327 SCRA 406, decided in 2000, the Supreme Court relied on, among other pieces of evidence, the fact that “NAMFREL volunteers…in the area attested that the election activities…were generally peaceful.”

 Maybe the COMELEC had forgotten that Brillantes, Jr. v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 163193, promulgated by the Supreme Court on 15 June 2004, NAMFREL was recognized as the citizens’ arm and its members “have sufficient, direct and personal interest in the manner which the respondent COMELEC would conduct the elections, including the counting and canvassing of votes cast therein.”

 But then, maybe, just maybe, COMELEC had not forgotten, and, for that very reason, underwent such contortions and convolutions, in order to make sure that NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA do not get a ringside seat in this coming elections.  After all, NAMFREL-CBCP-NASSA make no attempt to hide their intent to be a real watch dog: A citizens’ arm, first, and “of the Commission” only thereafter.