POSTSCRIPT / March 25, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why punish the youth for Comelec ineptitude?

WHY should the youth and other disenfranchised voters suffer for the management failure of the Commission on Elections?

Elections and such concomitant activities as registration are as predictable as night and day in this country. Since the 1998 elections, the Comelec has had more than two years to prepare for the May 14 polls.

But instead of assuring the electorate of its readiness, the Comelec is saying that it does not have the time nor the capability to make sure that all Filipinos who are of voting age would be able to register and cast their ballots in May.

Just like that?

* * *

THE millions who stand to be disenfranchised should not take this gross negligence lying down. It is not just negligence and ineptitude. It is a violation of their human rights and their constitutionally guaranteed right of suffrage.

They should start documenting their being denied the right to vote so the proper charges against Comelec officials could be filed.

Comelec chairman Alfredo Benipayo seems to know the gravity of his agency’s failing to perform this basic task of registering voters. If ordered by the Supreme Court to set a special registration, he said, he would resign.

* * *

THE predictability of elections is similar to the regularity of school enrollment. Based on empirical data gathered over the years, we know in advance how many students will enroll each year.

We should be able to predict how many teachers, classrooms, et cetera, are needed every school year. Yet, like the Comelec frantically improvising at the last minute, the education department is regularly caught unprepared every enrollment time.

When will we ever see the end of such incompetence? Hopefully, with Sen. Raul Roco at the helm, the education department will not be like a Comelec confessing at the last minute its inability to do its job.

* * *

THE proliferation of Party List candidacies is another symptom of something seriously wrong with the Comelec.

It’s unbelievable how the poll body just accepted certificates of candidacy apparently without any serious attempt to weed out patently nuisance candidacies.

The Party List system was adopted to allow marginalized and under-represented sectors a fighting chance to send their own representatives to Congress. But the way the Comelec is carrying out the law is a departure from its spirit.

* * *

SCAN the campaign posters of Party List candidacies and you will realize the lunacy of this side show of the May 14 elections.

The runaway variety of Party List names is organized confusion, or worse, an assault on the sanctity of the electoral process.

Unlike such groups as Abanse Pinay (which is clearly a women’s sector party), we have these odd names staring at us from posters littering public places:

MAD — Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga raw, said to be the political vehicle of actor Richard Gomez. Who authorized him to appropriate this anti-drugs campaign? Is he saying that citizens who hate illegal drugs are marginalized and unrepresented?

Drug Watch — Probably a cousin of MAD, and possibly suffering from the same drug-induced political hallucinations.

LDP — Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino. This is a major political party. It is far from marginalized. Why is it allowed to try sneaking in a member of Congress disguised as a Party List representative?

Jeep ni Erap — Same thing with this far-from-marginalized political machinery identified with multibillionaire Erap Estrada. Why is it allowed to join the Party List derby?

Pinatubo — Reportedly carrying the candidacy of singer Kuh Ledesma. We know her propensity to erupt at times, but what has she to do with Mt. Pinatubo? Who gave her the idea that the volcano needs representation in Congress?

Kabayan — While broadcaster Noli de Castro is on his way to the Senate, somebody using his “Kabayan” tag is trying to snatch a seat in the House of Representatives via the Party List route. Is Kabayan that marginalized?

AKO — Sino ba siya?  Nobody knows, but this egocentric adventurer is using the Tagalog “Ako” (Me) as his Party List passport to Congress. May he/she hopes that there would be enough self-centered voters who would write AKO on the ballot come May.

Akbayan — The key word appears to be “Bayan,” in whose name many crimes have been committed. But there is no clue as to who or what this group is, and if it is at all marginalized.

Bayan Muna — We know this group, by the way, as nationalist and progressive. Satur Ocampo is reportedly its nominee. Satur, we dare say at the risk of being accused of being partial, deserves a seat in Congress.

Aasahan — Probably on the theory that indeed hope springs eternal among the impoverished masa, this candidate plays with the word “asa”(Hope) and has adopted the Party List name Aasahan, meaning to hope or wait for something. Maybe a miracle.

Agap — Sounds like it’s of the same genre as Aasahan, but who is or are behind it? What do they stand for? And, back to the basic question, is this group marginalized?

Sulong — We don’t know if this means “sige pa” or “advance.” The group’s small poster does not help any. Whatever, is this unidentified group marginalized?

Binhi and Aklat… — More of the same. While these short tagalog catchwords may be easy to identify with and remember, they do not present any face, nor suggest any platform explaining why we should write them on the ballot. Does Binhi represent farmers, botanists, fertilizer companies, or what? Is Aklat an association of librarians, of book lovers, or is it a cover for bookstore owners who feel their business has grown marginalized?

AWATU and ATUCP — There’s no clue in their posters, but they sound like labor groups. Labor is generally underpaid and always has to fight for a better deal, but why are labor groups pushing separate and contending candidacies and not banding together under one Labor party to ensure an overwhelming number?

Consumers — That’s all of us, actually, and somebody apparently wants to go to Congress representing us. Consumers are actually amply represented already, but assuming we need a unique voice in Congress, who presumes to be it? And what does he/she intend to do if elected?

CREBA — This seems to be a group of realtors. Business is down all right, but are they that marginalized? Same question is raised regarding Party List candidacies of big businessmen such as those from the chamber of industry.

* * *

WE don’t know if somebody with strings to the Veterans Bank is again running and, of course, running off with millions representing the bank’s supposed contributions to his campaign kitty. Did veterans authorize anybody to represent them at the polls?

At the rate some sectors with sizeable numbers are putting up candidates, we would not be surprised if Party List bets had been registered to represent such groups as Muslims, the Iglesia ni Cristo, the media, Battered Wives, Henpecked Husbands, SSS-GSIS pensioners, Batang City Jail, the Walking Press, et cetera ad nauseam.

A sure winner would be a Party List nominee of El Shaddai, whose members have breached the million mark. We cannot even invoke separation of church and state against them, because El Shaddai is not a religion. (But somebody is reportedly using the El Shaddai name as a Party List candidate. Does Mike Velarde know about this?)

Another impostor is running as “Batas,” the monicker attached to lawyer Mel Mauricio of dzBB. Would anybody know if somebody has also appropriated the alias “Pañero” which is identified with Sen. Rene Cayetano?

* * *

SURVEYING this bumper crop of ridiculous Party List candidacies, one cannot help asking what the Comelec has been doing aside from cutting deals with contractors and bidders.

As we do not have elections every year, the Comelec — if properly managed — should be able to look ahead, plan and solve problems before they crop up.

The ineptitude of Comelec is legendary, but still we cannot allow a wide swath of voters being deprived in one fell swoop of their right to vote mainly on the basis of a management failure.

* * *

COMELEC officials have argued that opening the gate to millions of new voters at this “late” stage would be courting disaster. They scare us with dire predictions of registry padding, flying voters, lack of ballot boxes, widespread confusion, et cetera.

But, Sirs, even without a special registration we already have these chronic problems with us. These problems are not brought upon us by special registration, but mainly by the inept planning and supervision of the process.

Officials also warn of a possible failure of elections if another registration brings in new and possibly spurious voters.

On the other hand, the shutting out of millions of voters would also put in serious question the validity and integrity of the May elections since a big mass of voters would have been denied their right to be heard.

* * *

WE repeat: The readiness, capability or willingness of the Comelec to hold a special registration is irrelevant to the LEGAL issue before the Supreme Court. The basic question revolves only around the legality of the registration of voters 120 days before the May 14 election.

The high court has to answer only this legal poser. There is no need for it to look into the managerial competence or readiness of the Comelec, because this is immaterial to the LEGAL issue.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 25, 2001)

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