There is something fundamentally wrong about Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner Rowena Guanzon’s defense of the decision of the COMELEC en banc to bend election rules to accomodate the Liberal Party’s late submission of its Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE).
According to COMELEC rules, all candidates and their nominating parties had until the 8th of June to submit their SOCEs. This deadline, according to the same rules, is non-extendable. The Liberal Party failed to comply, instead, submitting its SOCE on the 14th of June, six days past this deadline. The COMELEC, in an en banc ruling decided to accept it in direct violation of its own rules.
Taking to social media to air her views on the matter, Guanzon cites the notion of the “sovereign people’s will” as the doctrine at stake in this on-going debacle…
In a series of tweets on Friday, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon defended the en banc’s decision to extend the deadline of SOCE submission.
Guanzon is one of four commissioners who voted in favor of the extension, along with Arthur Lim, Sheriff Abbas, and Al Parreño.
“The people voted for them; respect the will of the people. That is the primordial principle in the elections,” she wrote.
She said the law does not prohibit extension, adding that the poll body had already extended the deadline in 2013 and 2010.
“Procedural rules cannot prevail over the sovereign will of the people. The Supreme Court has ruled that many times,” said Guanzon.
The trouble with Guanzon’s argument is that it muddles together two separate issues — (1) this “will of the people” she cites and (2) the role of the COMELEC in governing the expression of that will.
In the circumstances surrounding the SOCE debacle, nobody is disputing the supremacy of this “people’s will”. Indeed, the COMELEC is recognised as the sole authority in the noble duty of honestly and transparently channeling this “will” via the electoral systems and processes that it implements and governs.
The effecting of these systems of channeling and governance necessarily requires consistently-applied rules. In that regard, the COMELEC did that part of their job competently as well, making all these rules readily-accessible for scrutiny by the public via its excellent website.
Suffice to say then: the COMELEC had, erstwhile competently, laid the foundation for an orderly elections to transpire and, arguably, a transparent means for the people’s will to be expressed via an institutionalised process.
Guanzon, therefore, issues an astoundingly flawed argument when she now excuses the COMELEC’s summary changing of its own rules. In a Facebook post, noted columnist Inday Espina Varona debunks that argument quite succinctly…
Candidates and parties are obligated to act in a way that protects the voters’ choice — starting with following rules and laws, as they are sworn to do.
It is NOT the Comelec’s job to bend backwards for the candidates in the name of voters. That is as sorry an excuse as I’ve ever heard.
The COMELEC, in short, is acting unfairly. To an easy target such as Filipino voters, it had applied its rules to the letter so much so that it took a Supreme Court order for the COMELEC to desist from its threat to deactivate registered voters who failed to comply with a rule requiring them to submit to a biometrics data collection procedure. Using that as a precedent, the COMELEC should have acted in a similarly consistent manner by applying its established rules to resolve the SOCE debacle and defer to the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling on the matter.
Indeed, the whole idea that the “sovereign will of the people” is an end and a doctrine in and of itself is but a tired and long-discredited relic of 1980s “people power” political rhetoric. The idea that people can simply band together in big numbers and shout down institutions and established authority has been perverted far beyond all recognition. It has evolved from being a source of pride for Filipinos to being an abject embarrassment. Guanzon’s public statements demonstrate that these forms of sloppy thinking continue to prevail in the Philippines’ political discourse which is in dire need of an overhaul.
As evident in the way Filipinos — including prominent and supposedly educated ones like Guanzon — apply this flawed thinking to their politics, the prevalence of such wrong notions in the national debate could have ramifications that could hobble the Philippines’ march towards modernisation and maturity over the long-term.
[Photo courtesy Interaksyon.com.]
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