UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL
Following a decisive victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Zimmerman Duterte in the 2022 national election, all eyes, emotions, and criticism were directed to the poll body, the Commission on Elections, for claims of electoral fraud and ineptitude handling the election process. The 2022 national elections was seen by the Filipino people as a referendum for a way out from the roughest road of struggles brought by the COVID19 pandemic and the downturn effects in the economy. At the height of a great polarization in the Philippine political climate, a high-hoped referendum of this magnitude has contentious consequences to everyone.
The public accuses the poll body of irregularities that made the election results suspicious. Evident systemic irregularities in the polls have been pointed out and traced in the ability of the COMELEC to resolve cases and petitions filed before their authority. This has fueled public opinion rather strongly against the feat of Marcos Jr. in the slow resolution of petitions for disqualification against his candidacy. In February, then COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon cried out in public accusing Commissioner Aimee Ferolino of delaying the promulgation of the decision in order to exclude her vote which Ferolino refuted citing that a 15-day period to draft a resolution is not applicable to the consolidated cases against Marcos. Although initial decisions were rendered by the poll body’s divisions, their en banc just released their decision with the then pending cases on May 10, 2022, a day after the national polls were held. This internal struggle within the poll body adds to the doubt that the public cast on its integrity to deliver honest election results.
The Commission on Elections was also put in hot water after the supposedly final presidential and vice-presidential debates were pushed back and scaled down into panel interviews. COMELEC’s event partner, Impact Hub Manila, was unable to fully pay Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila in the amount of P14 million because of the alleged bouncing checks that was issued by the former.
Come election day, about 2,000 vote counting machines (VCM) malfunctioned in the entire country. COMELEC described the voter turnout as overwhelming on its early hours but with the defective vote counting machines and its parts, worsened the polling situation causing long-lines and waiting time of voters. Malfunctioning SD cards in Matandang Balara, Quezon City put some voters on hold until two in the afternoon as contingency machines were still to come from Sta. Rosa, Laguna. On the other hand, voters from Novaliches, Quezon City were advised to convert to manual voting due to corrupted SD cards. The voting started at six in the morning and supposed to end at seven in the evening, but several clustered precincts waited for SD card and VCM replacements until the next day. Voters have camped out outside the polling places to ensure that they will be the one to input their ballots in the machines, but some have opted to consent the board of election inspectors to do it for them. COMELEC pointed out that they will not be using the same machines in 2025 midterm elections.
Aside from the defective vote counting machines, voters were also keen on pointing out the receptacle for VCM-generated receipts that was made of cardboard boxes. In the past elections, receptacles for the receipts were the old ballot boxes made of steel. Voters pointed out that the poll body was either saving its P26.7 billion budget or was less prepared to protect the secrecy and sacredness of peoples’ votes.
But the most horrifying news of all in the elections is the declaration of failure of elections in fourteen barangays in Lanao del Sur and leaving seven people dead in Maguindanao amounting to election related violence. In Butig, from the province of Lanao del Sur, armed men snatched vote counting machines and ballots. A special election is set to be made in the province but with the Philippine National Police being the board of election of inspectors. In Maguindanao, aside from the seven dead individuals, twenty people were left wounded after a series of strafing and bombings. The poll body should have had prepared enough for the security of the elections in these places and should have well-coordinated with the government agencies to prevent such atrocities from happening.
Moreover, later this year, Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) are set to happen. However, some lawmakers have pointed out that for its postponement again to save the new administration from spending money out from the government’s coffers in the middle of high inflation. The December 5 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections has a P8.4 billion budget allocated by the previous administration. Supposedly, the elections was set to happen in 2020 but it was postponed due to the COVID19 pandemic and the budget realignments to cover for the governments expenses addressing the health crisis. This is not the first time this local election was postponed. Since 2013, either one or both the Barangay and SK Elections have a history of being postponed.
The Commission on Elections asked the Congress to address this one immediately. The benefit of the doubt must be given to the commission on this issue since it is the sole prerogative powers of the congress to set and re-set the dates of the election. Bills were filed separately in both the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively for the postponement of the 2022 BSKE but most senators have taken note that local officials have been overstaying.
Two election watchdogs, National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL and Legal Network for Truthful Elections or LENTE, has expressed their opposition in this postponement anew. They have pointed out that the COMELEC has already spent the budget preparing for the election and that it is high time to let people assess their leaders who have been in position since the last 2018 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections. As of this writing, 1.3 new voters have registered for the December elections.
The fundamental questions right now are: why does congress keep on postponing barangay-level elections, when does elections become optional in a democratic country and why does the fiscal affairs have the power to dictate the renewal of the will of the people to choose their leaders?
The country may be on the path to unity, thanks or no-thanks to the message put forward by the newly sworn in administration, but irregularities on the elections itself makes people doubt the legitimacy of the results and makes them ask the question of what unity means – forward or backward?
Published: November 13, 2022