The Philippine Star : Raising the bars of election integrity

By Marichu A. Villanueva | The Philippine Star

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) began last Friday its public information campaign for the holding of the May 9, 2022 national and local elections. Unlike previous elections, these forthcoming elections will definitely be the most challenging one for Comelec. The Comelec will be holding our electoral exercises under a completely new environment due to the continuing public health threats posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the same Smartmatic automated election machines and technology will be used again.

The COVID-19 outbreak started in March last year, or a few months after we had our country’s mid-term elections in May 2019. Starting last Friday, commissioners of Comelec updated the public on their preparations to adjust the upcoming 2022 polls to conform with the minimum standard health protocols to fight COVID-19 transmissions. The Comelec will henceforth hold online press conference every Friday. It will be livestreamed on the official social media page of Comelec

Presumably, the Comelec will have to adapt their election rules and regulations with the COVID-19 health protocols set forth by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) as approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.

By Feb. 2 next year, when the term of office of senior Comelec commissioner Ma. Rowena Guanzon ends, the seven-man poll body will have a vacant seat. Guanzon was appointed by former president Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. Like her, the incumbent Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas, was first appointed by PNoy in April 2015 as commissioner. But in 2017, President Duterte named him chairman of the poll body. The rest of the Comelec commissioners, namely, Antonio Kho Jr., Marlon Cascuejo, Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino-Ampoloquio, and Michael Peloton are all appointees of President Duterte, mostly from Mindanao.

Effectively, the weekly online presser of the Comelec can serve at the same time as their means of conducting voters’ education program. This is especially needed for new registered Filipino electorates who have come of voting age at 18 years old. At this stage, the Comelec will still set dates for the filing of the certificates of candidacy (COC). Tentatively though, the start of the filing of the COCs is in October this year.

Speaking of candidates, Makati City Mayor Abigail “Abby” Binay virtually confirmed her re-election bid during our virtual news forum Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. Mayor Abby revealed she formed her own local political party in preparation for the May 2022 polls.

Called “Makatizens United,” Mayor Abby said they are still waiting for Comelec’s approval of their pending application to accredit the newly formed local political party. She and her husband, incumbent Makati City second district congressman Luis Campos, are gunning for their third and last term in next year’s election.

Since becoming Mayor in 2016, she has endearingly called her constituents “Makatizens” – short for Makati citizens. As of latest census, she noted, the city has a population of around 600,000, with two-thirds or 400,000 of them registered voters. The City of Makati is comprised of people residing in the country’s prime business district surrounded by low-income communities at the edges of the posh villages of its rich and famous residents.

Despite forming a local party, she clarified that she’s not leaving the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). She first ran and won the mayoral race in the May 2016 national and local elections along with elder sister, Nancy Binay, who won in the Senate race under the UNA banner.

The UNA is a political coalition that ex-VP Jejomar Binay established before he ran as vice presidential running mate of then comebacking president Joseph “Erap” Estrada in the May 2010 elections. While Binay won, Erap lost to PNoy.

Mayor Binay proudly credits her father as having “been there, done that” national figure – from being a human rights lawyer to a long and colorful political career that started in 1987. She recalled that her father first ran and won as Mayor of Makati City until he was elected VP in 2010. He lost during the May 2016 presidential race against former Davao City Mayor Duterte. “Perhaps, he (ex-VP Binay) wants to try this time to be a lawmaker,” she quipped.

Asked if she had any idea who would possibly challenge her re-election bid in 2022, the bubbly 45-year old Mayor retorted: “I really don’t care.” It wasn’t a brag, though, but more of an expression of what might yet be another unexpected turn of events.

With Makati City setting a five-peat record of “unqualified” clean slate from the Commission on Audit (COA) under her watch, Mayor Abby feels proud to have raised the bar so high that it won’t be reached by any political muck-raking against her.

Mayor Binay is happy that her 78 years old father remains active and thankfully healthy while semi-retired. He may even opt to vie for a Senate seat as UNA candidate, she added. “Of course, I fully support him, so long as he won’t run for Mayor (of Makati) again,” Mayor Abby quipped, bursting into a naughty laugh.

While eyeing a possible Senate run, ex-VP Binay has not given up yet his congressional election protest. With just one year left out of the three-year congressional term, the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) have yet to rule on his pending protest. Like the other election protestants, ex-VP Binay insisted they were cheated by human interventions into our country’s automated election system.

Other than the anti-COVID-19 pandemic, our Comelec officials will have to update Filipino voters on new or additional safeguards in the persistent issues on the integrity of Smartmatic automated voting and counting machines. It is in the national interest of Filipino voters that Comelec should strive to raise the Integrity bars of the next elections.

This should ensure President Duterte would be succeeded by someone whose mandate would not be under clouds of doubts.