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The Manila Times : Comelec's bizarre handling of Marcos disqualification cases

News & Interviews
23 December 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions.

– Susan Sontag

First word

THE grief of Filipinos in every election cycle is not only the mediocre quality of the candidates who seek high office. Equally, it baffles us that the country can sire such a bewildering number of nondescript political parties that put forward the candidates that voters must choose from.

Even more distressing is the overarching presence of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which by constitutional mandate is empowered to enforce and administer laws and regulations relating to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, referendum and recall, and decide all questions affecting elections.

The huge importance of this power is explained by the eminent political scientist and author, Samuel P. Huntington: 'Elections, open, free and fair are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non (Latin, without which not).'

Comelec, it appears, fancies itself as a sine qua non of Philippine democracy.

Additionally, the Charter provides in Article IX, Sec. 4, that the elections commission shall promulgate its rules of procedure to expedite the disposition of election cases.

Expedite means to process with speed and efficiency. This is a commitment that Comelec is duty bound to honor.

I raise these points about Comelec and its duties because we are today witness to a blatant evasion of duty by the commission with respect to the coming 2022 national elections.

I refer to the Comelec's bizarre handling of numerous disqualification cases against former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in regard to his candidacy for president in the 2022 elections.

In a repeat of its deplorable handling of the automation of our election system and the controversial Smartmatic contract for the electronic tabulation, the commission today appears to be delaying and stretching the Marcos DQ cases in order to keep the issue alive as long as possible, to the satisfaction of losing aspirants.

The Comelec has incredibly been indifferent to the indignation of the public that it is harassing the acknowledged frontrunner and favorite (according to pre-election surveys) in the 2022 presidential election.

I quote the philosopher Susan Sontag in the epigraph above because the Comelec is doing nothing to destroy the questions that have been stirred up to throw the election campaign into confusion, and influence the choices of voters in the balloting.

Typical is its decision to call for a pre-conference on the DQ case on January 7. Following that there will presumably be more conferences before a decision will finally be handed down.

Preliminary conference

In an official announcement, the Comelec said it would conduct preliminary conferences next year on three other petitions filed against Marcos Jr.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said in a Facebook post that the preliminary conferences on the petitions filed by the group of Bonifacio Ilagan, Akbayan Citizens' Action Party and Abubakar Mangelen would be held on January 7.

Ilagan and the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party seek to disqualify Marcos from running in the 2022 elections, saying he was convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. They said Marcos violated the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC).

For his part, Mangelen wanted the Comelec to declare null and void the certificate of nomination and acceptance (CONA) of Marcos, noting the presidential candidate is allegedly not an official member of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP).

He wanted Marcos disqualified in the presidential race.

All three petitions were raffled off to the Comelec's First Division led by Guanzon, who is set to retire in February, along with Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas and Commissioner Antonio Kho Jr.

Guanzon said the summonses for the petitions have been sent to the email addresses of the election officers, who were directed to print and personally serve the summonses to Marcos as well as submit affidavits of service.

'The summonses directed Marcos to file a verified answer to each petition within five days from receipt, in accordance with the rules,' Guanzon said in her post on social media.

Marcos is facing at least eight petitions to cancel his certificate of candidacy (CoC) and to disqualify him from running for violating the NIRC.

The first petition, filed by the group of Fr. Christian Buenafe, is being handled by the Comelec Second Division.

Separate petitions seeking to cancel Marcos' CoC and declare him a nuisance candidate were filed by the group of Tiburcio Marcos and Danilo Lihaylihay, respectively. Both were junked by the poll body's Second Division.

The petitions filed by Mangelen, Ilagan and the Akbayan Citizens' Action Party are now with the First Division.

There is still one more petition, this one filed by the 'Pudno Nga Ilokano,' which Comelec will stretch to the limits of everyone's patience.

Keeping the cases alive

The logic of Comelec's approach to the issue is to keep the cases alive as long as possible. It has no wish to destroy the question.

In Article IX, Section 10, the Constitution provides: 'Bona fide candidates for any public office shall be free from any form of harassment and discrimination.'

It is pertinent to ask the Comelec therefore, is Bongbong Marcos a bona fide candidate? Does the opinion of over 50 percent of respondents in a voter preference poll not confer legitimacy on his candidacy for president?

How much longer does Comelec plan to drag and inflate this issue before it will vote to resolve it?