[Blueboard] Discussing Politics 7: Trust, Comelec and ARMM

asalvador at ateneo.edu asalvador at ateneo.edu
Mon Oct 3 11:04:32 PHT 2005

Pls post- thanks.

Edna Estifania A. Co, part-time lecturer of public policy and management
of the Department of Political Science, SOSS revisits electoral
administration in the Philippines. She calls for a re-engineering of the
COMELEC as a mechanism for re-structuring political representation.
According to her, elections constitute a vital political currency of the
government and if competently administered can be as important as
building social capital and trust of the populace.

This article which appeared in Business World came out in time with the
last August 8th 2005 ARMM elections.

Edna Co is the lead convenor and proponent of the Friedrich Ebert
Stiftung- funded project on Democracy Audit of Philippine elections and
political parties. A website of this entire project can be found in www.

                 Restoring trust on people's institutions:
                           the COMELEC and the ARMM

                            Edna Estifania A. Co
                             Associate Professor
                National College of Public Administration and Governance
                    University of the Philippines, Diliman

PART 1  Re-engineering the COMELEC: focus on its roles

Recently, a lawyer friend, who is connected with the Center for Bangsamoro
Law and Policy Concerns, sent me a copy of the manifesto put out by the
Caucus on Muslim Mindanao affairs before the Aug. 8 elections in the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  The manifesto is a
challenge to Muslim leaders and their commitment to good governance in
the ARMM. The challenge directs candidates and leaders to three main
agenda, namely, 1) Effective Exercise of Power, 2) Efficient
Administration, and 3) Delivery of Services. Certainly, it recognizes
that there is widespread poverty, deep wounds of conflict, cynicism
toward governance in Mindanao all leading to general apathy and
bitterness among the Bangsamoro population.

However, some optimism can be gleaned from the manifesto in that the young
Bangsamoro leaders and professionals like my friend, still see the hope
that ARMM leaders might heed the call for good governance and thus, he
summons the Bangsamoro to lay their claim on the ARMM and the elections
-- both as right and duty, as citizens and as followers of Islam.

The manifesto may have been put out before the ARMM elections but upon
scrutiny, it might as well have been put out at any time, election time
or not. Elections are an event to challenge leaders to frame a good
program of governance, and for election administrators to ensure the
credibility of the exercise since elections provide the citizen the
opportunity to case his or her one vote. One vote that, along with other
votes, ultimately make for a vital democratic mechanism. The August 8
election should have provided the opportunity for the Bangsamoro
population to reckon with how well the leaders have lived up to their
people's expectations.

August 8 was also be a day of reckoning of sorts for the Commission on
Elections (COMELEC). Did the Comelec come out of its stained image, after
the tape controversy and political scandal, and deliver a credible
election? A Comelec official declared it to have been "abnormal because
it was generally peaceful." Side by side with the Moro leader's challenge
to his leaders and the Bangsamoro people, the ARMM election stood as a
test and challenge to the electoral management body. Yet, as is "normal",
a newspaper editorial noted that the elections included the usual vote
buying, presence of flying voters, ballot snatching, etc.

The Comelec is supposed to be independent from government. But in
practice, it has not been successful in freeing itself from the political
maneuverings and design of the traditional elites. One can hardly blame
the two rebel groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for boycotting the elections. Both
are convinced that elections have been a mockery of democracy, with the
national government experimenting on ARMM autonomy which has effectively
been turned to a lame duck. Young Moro leaders claim local ARMM officials
exhibit more loyalty to Manila than to their constituents in the Moro

It might be worthwhile to examine our system of political representation
linked to our system of selecting leaders through elections. It is time
to re-think our electoral management body. For one, we can consider an
electoral body whose functions are less aggregated as opposed to what we
have at present: a COMELEC serving as a junk yard of all sorts of
functions.  This includes administration, education,  counting,
proclamation, adjudication. During election time, the Comelec is a
powerful body that commands the military forces and a cabal of operators
in the regions; in reality however it does not exercise autonomy from
political influences. Thus, altering the Comelec to give way to a
re-invented electoral management body would make eminent sense. We could
consider any number of worthwhile changes.

For example, consider a permanent and professionally staffed body that is
responsible for the registry, education, and administration of elections.
That body should be lean but competent.  Consider professionals, such as
statisticians who know the numbers to properly update the figures on
voters from time to time.

Another would be a convergence of functions by the Comelec and other
agencies of government that count and regularly update statistics on
registered citizens and voters, such as the National Statistics Office
and the local government civil registries. It is worth considering a
supervisory authority jointly composed of partially party-based
individuals, professional civil servants, credible individuals and
representatives whose function among other things, is to supervise
contestable issues that bug the elections. That body like the Comelec,
should be led by someone who has credible leadership, managerial
competency and above all, a vision for fair political representation.

In adjudication, consider, as court or tribunal, that decisions and
resolutions must be time-bound and clearly based upon self-executory laws
rather than on laws that that can be interpreted in as many ways as the
number of lawyers in the land.

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