POSTSCRIPT / April 29, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec sitting on bid to disqualify 3-termer?

FOLDER HIDDEN: Voters of Mabalacat, the Pampanga town at the end of the North Luzon Expressway, are agitated by reports that the disqualification petition filed against their mayor had been hidden by a top official of the Commission on Elections.

The disqualification of Mayor Marino “Boking” Morales is being sought because he was elected and had served as mayor for three consecutive, uninterrupted three terms (in 1995, 1998 and 2001) — the limit fixed by the Constitution and the Local Government Code.

Morales is seeking a fourth term. He must have utilized dazzling arguments, for how could the Comelec have given him the go-signal to run again in the May 10 elections?

Comelec insiders said that a member of the poll body’s 2nd Division hearing the petition is hiding the case folder. The commissioner holding it is reportedly a relative of the husband of a high Malacanang official who is a kumadre of Morales.

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MAJORITY RULING: The 2nd Division is headed by Commissioner Mehol K. Sadain who is also in charge of registration and validation, with commissioners Florentino A. Tuason Jr. and Manuel A. Barcelona as members.

Mabalacat voters expressed fear that, as in the protracted electoral protest involving Morales after his second election in 1998, the decision on the present case would be delayed to enable the reelectionist three-termer to run again this May.

Such dilatory maneuvers, possible only with the connivance of corrupt judges and Comelec lackeys, make a mockery of the people’s will as well as the letter and spirit of the Constitution and related election laws.

The Comelec can redeem its name by coming out with the decision now, whichever way it goes. After all, two of the three commissioners reportedly have signed the ruling penned by commissioner Barcelona, making it a majority ruling whatever position Morales’ padrino takes.

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HOT COMELEC LIST: The Comelec is again the butt of criticisms because of some discrepancies in the certified voters list that it finally brought into the world after so much labor.

The official registry of voters — which will be used in the May 10 voting — had been found to have double entries of the same names, missing old voters, statistically improbable increases in the number of voters in some places.

Most of those errors are expected. Like the poll surveys that have also been the object of derision of those who did not fare well in them, the voters’ lists should be allowed a certain margin of error.

But if the errors are of such quantity and quality that make them look obviously calculated, the Comelec was either in cahoots with parties planning to cheat or was a victim of its own incompetence.

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DEAD VOTERS: Regarding the names of people long dead or names that appear on the lists of two different precincts, such anomalous entries are not necessarily sinister.

Before, during or after a person’s death, he does not walk to the nearest Comelec office to report that he is about to die, or is dying, or has died. The name of the dearly departed will stay on the Comelec lists until its inclusion is questioned.

Since the dead usually cannot vote, the only problem here is if some imaginative operator decides to use the deceased’s name to cast a proxy ballot. That is where citizens’ vigilance can help. The Comelec by itself cannot thwart such a dastardly act.

As for double registration, sometimes this arises from sheer negligence and does no harm.

Ever on the move to greener pastures, some persons — without any intent to cheat at the polls — may register in their new place of residence while neglecting to disclose or cancel their old registration. Unfortunately, Comelec officers are not mind readers.

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IMAGE COUNTS: Do we blame the Comelec for these concealed thousand and one facts?

This is where good faith, or a good reputation, could help the Comelec weather criticisms of this sort. If the agency has a good image it will not find too difficult pleading for patience and assistance.

But, sorry to say it, the Comelec has stained its good name by the behavior of some of its officers and by its suspicious handling of certain issues. Some of these involve biddings for juicy contracts and the disposition of electoral cases.

Computerization and validation was supposed to have corrected most of these duplications and disallowed entries in the voters’ registries, but we all know what happened to the supposed computerization costing more than a billion pesos.

Some lucky people ended up computing millions, not votes, on their way to the bank.

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INEFFICIENCY: The chronic failure of the Comelec to beat its own deadlines for the various stages of the process leading up to the May 10 elections sometimes makes us conclude that one fatal flaw in the management of the poll body is lethargy.

If there is one term for this flaw, it may be inefficiency — efficiency being the production of maximum results with the minimum use of time and resources with the least confusion.

Things that have to be done by the Comelec in sequence in a linear work flow are not done on time, delaying other activities scheduled downstream. And nobody seems to care. Then at the last minute, they cram, scream, and improvise.

Maybe we may not care that much if the disastrous inefficiency is confined to the Comelec. The problem is that its failure drags the entire country with it.

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GROWING PARANOID: See how the war in Iraq and other pockets of terrorism has affected the American psyche. It seems the US, which has not fully recovered from the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, has grown paranoid.

The Associated Press has reported from Washington of a 15-year-old high school student who had been subjected to unusual interrogation by Secret Service agents for his anti-war drawings.

The work that drew the most scrutiny was of a man in Middle Eastern costume holding a rifle. He was also holding a stick with an oversized head of President George W. Bush on it.

The head was enlarged, according to the student, because it was intended to be an effigy. The caption called for an end to the war in Iraq. Another pencil-and-ink drawing showed Bush as a devil launching a missile, with a caption that said “End the war — on terrorism.”

His art teacher turned the drawings over to school officials, who notified police, who called the Secret Service. Although the student had not been arrested, the school disciplined him. But officials would not say what the punishment was.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2004)

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