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Legally unsound Comelec plans

The Commission on Elections has been coming out with rules, approved or pending approval, to govern both the elections and the candidates.   Many of them are legally unsound and should be seriously reconsidered by the Comelec.    

Under the old rules, party-list groups participating in the elections must declare the names of their nominees-candidates.   If the nominee is a public official, he is deemed resigned from government service the moment his nomination is officially submitted. Also, the party-list group cannot change the names of the nominees once the elections begin. The old rule is in accord with the principle of transparency.

Months earlier, the Comelec announced that party-list groups no longer need to declare the names of their candidates.   This will create several problems.

Where the names of the party-list nominees are kept a secret, traditional or discredited politicians will use the party-list system to install themselves.   All they need to do is to finance as many party-list groups as they can afford, and hope that one of them wins a seat in the House. Because of the secrecy, unsavory personalities can suddenly show up in Congress, claiming they were elected under the party-list system.

This secrecy encouraged by the Comelec also paves the way for corruption. A party-list group may be tempted to sell its seat to anybody willing to buy it.   Where big money is involved, the temptation will be very difficult to resist.   Under the old rule, this scenario cannot happen.      

Such secrecy also allows a party-list nominee who is an incumbent public official an advantage.   By keeping his nomination a secret, an incumbent public official can conveniently remain in government service if his party-list group fails to win a seat.   Under the old rule, this anomaly cannot take place.         

The Comelec plan to allow voting in shopping malls violates the Omnibus Election Code, which prohibits holding the polls in a private building when there are schools, public or private, available.   In the 2013 elections, there were sufficient public schools and private schools which hosted the election precincts in Metropolitan Manila.   Why can’t the voting be done there in May 2016? 

Voters who cannot afford to travel to these shopping malls will get disenfranchised.   Those from depressed areas who are intimidated by the presence in the mall of so many affluent people, all dressed in their party clothes, may shy away from the precincts.   

Shopping mall security guards will surely bear firearms to secure the mall, but the law does not allow armed private individuals near voting precincts.   Moreover, the presence of security cameras may render the secrecy of the ballot a teasing illusion.

Restaurants and similar establishments within the mall are a ready source of meals which, in turn, may be used by unscrupulous politicians to influence election inspectors and watchers.   Ascertaining which meals are illegally sourced will be virtually impossible.      

The Comelec also wants candidates to formally renounce any foreign allegiance.   Under the Constitution, a natural-born citizen is one who, among other requirements, does not need to perform any act to perfect his acquisition of Philippine citizenship.   The renunciation demanded by the Comelec may be construed as an act by a candidate to perfect his acquisition of Philippine citizenship, which may lead to the disqualification of the candidate concerned if he runs for an office requiring natural-born Filipino citizenship.   

Surprisingly, the Comelec plans to require candidates to post a bond of One Million Pesos to discourage nuisance candidates from joining the polls.   The law, however, does not require candidates to post a cash bond for that purpose. By imposing that requirement, the Comelec, in effect, will be amending the law.   Only Congress, and not the Comelec, has that power.   The measure also mistakenly assumes that nuisance candidates cannot afford to post a bond. 

Rizalito David, the voter who filed a case in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) questioning the citizenship of an incumbent senator, also filed a case in the Comelec accusing the senator of committing an election offense for falsely claiming to be a natural-born citizen of the country.

Last week, the Comelec said it plans to archive the election offense case until the SET shall have resolved the citizenship issue concerning the senator.   The Comelec claims it wants to avoid a conflict of jurisdiction.

The pendency of the SET case is not a valid reason for the Comelec to lay off the election offense case, even in the meantime.   Rulings of the SET are not conclusive on the Comelec.   Besides, any ruling of the Comelec on the citizenship aspect of the election offense case may be challenged before the Supreme Court.

Instead of pursuing the foregoing unsound plans, the Comelec should attend to more important concerns.   For instance, the Comelec must disqualify the Moro Islamic Liberation Front from participating as a political party in the coming elections.   Under the Constitution, revolutionary groups like the MILF are not allowed to participate in any electoral exercise.   According to its leader who, up to today, refuses to reveal his real name to the government, the MILF is a revolutionary organization.

It is certain that political dynasties will push their weight around in the 2016 elections.   If the Comelec really wants to prevent political dynasties from mocking the polls, it should come out with its own definition of what a political dynasty is, and forthwith disqualify those who fall under the definition.   Section 2, Article IX-C of the Constitution, which vests in the Comelec the power to decide, except those involving the right to vote, all questions affecting elections, seems broad enough to warrant this unprecedented move.   The unjustified refusal of Congress to define what constitutes a political dynasty is an additional reason why the Comelec should do so.

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