By the five, I mean the commissioners who shamefully threw into the wastebasket the rules on the filing of candidates’ Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE), which they themselves drafted and adopted just nine months ago, in October 2015:
“The 08 June 2016 deadline shall be final and non-extendible. Submission beyond this period shall not be accepted.” (Comelec Resolution No. 9991)
Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, a former Liberal Party mayor of Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, and whose appointment to the Comelec Manuel Roxas 2nd intensely lobbied for, as alleged by the opposition in 2015, was the most aggressive – and the most ridiculous – in defending the decision she and the four others have taken.
She downplayed their decision in an interview with a TV reporter by claiming that the commission had also allowed the late SOCE submissions “before, during the 2010 and 2013 elections.”
This commissioner didn’t even do her homework, or either deliberately ignored the very clear provision of Comelec Resolution No. 9991:
COMELEC Resolutions Nos. 9849 and 9873, Minute Resolutions Nos. 13-0775 and 13-0823, are hereby repealed, insofar as they allowed the belated submission, amendment and/or correction of campaign finance disclosure statements and reports and the imposition of late penalties for the 2013 National and Local Elections.
These Resolutions 9849 and 9873 were the body’s decisions Guanzon was referring to, which extended the deadlines for the filing of the SOCEs but which were missed by several candidates in the 2013 elections or for which they provided inadequate submissions. The newer resolution in 2015, however, prescribes that such extensions will no longer be allowed.
What kind of an election body is this, charged with the task of ensuring the procedures for electing our leaders, yet which breaks the rules it itself established less than a year ago?
The commissioners also disrespected their own rules by not even bothering to repeal their Resolution No. 9991, which categorically stated there could be no extension of the deadline.
This Comelec’s farce in enforcing electoral laws is quite obvious in that it excused the Liberal Party’s failure to submit its SOCE on time even if, as former Supreme Court Justice Artemio Panganiban pointed out in his newspaper column, “no cogent reason was given by the LP why it was not able to file [it] within the prescribed period, given that others were able to do so.”
No cogent reasons
Panganiban explained: “What are the cogent reasons to justify equitably such extension? ‘Cogent’ would be reasons that differentiate the LP’s situation from other parties and that make it impossible for the LP to file its SOCE on time, like (a) a fortuitous event befell it (say, a fire gutted the office containing the records needed to complete its SOCE), or (b) the party treasurer, who is legally required to prepare the filing, suddenly fell seriously ill and no other officer was capable of replacing him or her, or (c) its “duly-authorized representative” bringing the completed SOCE met an accident and was thus, unable to file on time.”
(I had started to mumble an it’s-a-miracle when I read the title and first paragraphs of the column of the former chief justice, who has always used his column to present the legal arguments in defense of Aquino and his gang’s actions. It turned out he’s not changed: He argued only for the Comelec to impose the monetary penalties on the LP, and that its candidates such as Leni Robredo, whom he specifically mentioned, weren’t accountable for their party’s actions.)
But stupid of us, why should we even demand the LP to give “cogent” reasons for its failure to file its SOCE when it was not just the titular party chairman President Benigno Aquino who appointed the Comelec commissioners, but its leaders were known to be good buddies with them, reportedly as in the cases of Senator Franklin Drilon and Chairman Andres Bautista, Roxas with Guanzon, and Aquino himself with Sheriff Abas?
Why, after all, would such a mediocre Comelec bureaucrat as Abas, even if he were the nephew of MILF spokesman Mohagher Iqbal, be appointed as commissioner, if not by Aquino’s calculation that the LP could rely on such a lackey for a swing-vote in a body of seven?
To justify the Comelec’s junking of its own resolutions, Guanzon invokes, as has been her habit, noble principles. “The people voted for them; respect the will of the people. That is the primordial principle in the elections,” she wrote in her Twitter account. “Rules cannot prevail over the sovereign will of the people. The Supreme Court has ruled that many times.”
That, of course, is an argument for the abolition of the Comelec since it is nothing but a body which discharges the Constitution’s provision for a representative form of government, for elections through the ballot, by implementing a huge body of rules and procedures.
I hope she can provide details on how the Supreme Court decided that “rules cannot prevail over the sovereign will of the people.” In 2014, the Court upheld the Comelec’s kicking out of Laguna governor ER Ejercito for spending for TV campaign ads an amount more than the allowed P3 per registered voter.
But going by Guanzon’s argument, shouldn’t the sovereign will of Laguna voters be respected, instead of the rule on how much candidates can spend?
Guanzon – who, as expected really, has become the Comelec’s de facto spokesman for this issue – raised the threat of a political Armageddon, claiming that if the body implemented its own resolution, about five senators, 115 congressmen and 40 governors wouldn’t be able to take their seats.
That kind of argument, of course, means that if all these candidates all grossly violated the Omnibus Election Code by, for instance spending more than is allowed by law, they cannot be deprived of their seats because that would be too disruptive.
Even if we assume Guanzon’s arguments to be correct, she must resign just the same, together with the four others who voted with their eyes closed to the Liberal Party’s failure to follow the rules, if they have any decency and patriotism left.
By ignoring the rules they themselves made, they have weakened the integrity and institutional strength of the Comelec. If the body ignores its own rules, what moral ground will it have when it issues other rules for future elections? And why should candidates follow them?
Another reason they should resign is for sheer incompetence, if not stupidity. They craft a rule – which they later claim should not have been made, anyway. They have made Comelec’s rules a farce, these farcical five.
The Comelec spokesman also arrogantly claimed: The law never intended for the results to be so absurd. You have to understand it will have a big impact if the deadline is not extended.”
But it was the commissioners who made the rule the spokesman claimed would lead to absurd results. So shouldn’t the commissioners who issued such a rule, and refused to implement them, be fired?
I made a mistake in putting Comelec Chairman Bautista among the Comelec’s heroes in my previous column, as I was misinformed that he voted not to extend to June 30 the deadline for the SOCEs’ filing. Commissioner Robert Lim, who was in charge of implementing the SOCE rules, recommended that the LP’s request for an extension of the deadline be rejected.
Bautista, however, was only media smart. Yes, he voted for Comelec not to give another deadline. But to consider the SOCEs filed after the deadline as “late filings,” with the tardy parties and candidates punished merely with monetary penalties, was even a more farcical decision: candidates could file their SOCEs three years from now, and it would just be considered “late-filings.”
Other than Bautista and Guanzon, these farcical five include Arthur Lim, Al Parreño, and Sheriff Abas.
Only two commissioners were faithful to their sworn duties: Christian Robert Lim and Luie Tito F. Guia. For some reason, that kind of reminded me of Yahweh’s condition for sparing Sodom, that the city wouldn’t be destroyed and its thousands of people killed if Abraham found 50 righteous people.
I hope two righteous people in the Comelec are enough in this modern age.