AUTHOR’S NOTE: After I submitted this column, news broke out that the Comelec, by a vote of four to three, agreed to accept the Liberal Party’s late filing of its Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE). Those who voted against it were Chairman Andres Bautista and commissioners Christian Lim and Louie Tito Guia. The four who supported the Liberal Party were commissioners Arthur Lim, Al Parreno, Sherif Abas and Rowena Guanzon, whom I very erroneously described in the column as a “feisty, principled woman.” I guess her feistiness was all for show. The column’s title has been changed to: “Lackeys and heroes,” from the original, “The Comelec: Aquino’s lackeys or democracy’s heroes?”
Just when they were heaving a sigh of relief that they largely passed the test of integrity and neutrality despite all the claims of anomalies in the recent elections, Comelec members found themselves nearing a defining moment in history in which they could either be condemned as lackeys of an outgoing President and his losing Liberal Party, or praised as democracy’s heroes.
The Liberal Party failed to file its Statement of Contributions and Expenses (SOCE) by deadline on June 8 as required by the Omnibus Election Code, and specifically by the Comelec’s Resolution No. 9991. It was a case of hubris, reflective of the kind of incompetence the Party’s leading members Aquino 3rd and Manuel Roxas 2nd had demonstrated in their six years in office. Hubris because it thought it would win and that there would be a queue of businessmen claiming to be the donors of its huge campaign kitty that was, in reality, funded out of illegally sourced taxpayers’ money. But the Party largely lost, and the businessmen who had been expected to make such claims had vanished.
This failure to file the SOCE by June 8 was an unbelievable colossal error: The penalty would be the disqualification of all their winning candidates, from alleged vice president Leni Robredo, to senators like topnotcher Franklin Drilon, to governors and mayors, and even councilors.
Because it is a huge Party that could easily afford armies of accountants, the only explanation was that its leaders realized that its expenditures could not be explained by contributions, unless it admitted that these included government funds siphoned off for the Party’s campaign.
Indeed, when it tried to file its SOCE six days later on June 14, it claimed that the Party spent only P241 million – for a campaign that involved the highest post of the land to the lowest. That’s utterly incredible.
LP vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo – who relied on the Party’s finances since she was so poor she purportedly regularly uses the public bus to commute – reported contributions of P423 million, the biggest among her peers.
That the Party made a devastating error is crystal clear from the Comelec’s Resolution No. 9991 approved by its present members on October 2, 2015, pertinent provisions of which are:
“The 08 June 2016 deadline shall be final and non-extendible. Submissions beyond this period shall not be accepted.
Previous COMELEC Resolutions … are hereby repealed, insofar as they allowed the belated submission, amendment or correction of campaign finance disclosure statements and reports. “
And the disastrous consequence of not filing on June 8, 2016:
“Persons elected to any public office shall not enter upon the duties of their office until they have filed their SOCE with the relevant Schedules and supporting documents, in accordance with the formal requirements set by these Rules.
The same prohibition shall apply if the party which nominated the winning candidate had failed to file its Statement of Contributions and Expenditures as required herein within thirty (30) days from the conduct of election.”
While that particular paragraph has the clause “until they have filed their SOCE,” the deadline means they will never be able to file it, as the Comelec resolution states very clearly that, “submissions shall not be accepted beyond this period (before or on June 8, 2016).” If the filing is not accepted after June 8, how can it be deemed filed, even if belated?
There is no ambiguity in the Comelec resolutions, and I guess the commissioners didn’t bother to mull the disastrous consequences of not meeting the deadline, as they thought it would be impossible for political organizations that engaged in such a huge undertaking as national elections to miss the deadline. But the Yellow Party is the Yellow Party, as bungling as it is arrogant that it could bend the rules.
The Comelec commissioner in charge of the Campaign Finance Office, Christian Robert Lim, in fact, has officially reported to the body in a memorandum June 15 that the Liberal Party, by not filing its SOCE by deadline, has in effect not filed it.
“To grant the request for extension would not only be unfair to other candidates and parties who complied within the prescribed period but also would be a reversal of the commission’s own resolution on the matter,” Lim noted.
He even pointed out: “It is worthy to note that even presidential candidate and incumbent Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was able to comply… despite being on medical leave and her confinement in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Makati Medical Center a few days before the deadline. ”
The Rule of Law – and civilization itself, really – rests on the principle that a law must be implemented no matter what, or else delete it from the book. This is expressed dramatically in such poetic, often-quoted Latin adages as “Sed lex, dura lex (“The law may be harsh, but it is the law” ), Fiat justitia ruat caelum (“Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”)
There is no way for the Comelec to explain away the Liberal Party’s failure to file its SOCE, and to refuse to impose the penalty of barring its candidates from assuming office.
If the Comelec decides not to implement its own rules, the very foundations of our democratic system are subverted. “Democracy” really is merely an abstraction; it becomes real only through laws and regulations, and through the actions and decisions of a constitutional body – the Comelec in our case – whose sacrosanct duty is to implement those laws and rules. Its betrayal of its own rules will mean a degradation of our democratic system.
All of the seven members of the Comelec were appointees of President Aquino, whose terms will end from 2018 to as late as 2022. I would like to believe, though, that they are men (and a feisty, principled woman) of integrity that they would not sell their souls nor sacrifice their reputations just because of the Liberal Party’s hubris and incompetence. I don’t they think they would want their names to be condemned by history as the lackeys of the worst President the country ever had.
They’d be democracy’s heroes by simply following the regulations they themselves made, and our electoral process would be on its way toward really becoming a system for the people to choose their leaders.