Groups call on Comelec to 'end greed'

MANILA, Philippines – A newly-formed coalition urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to "end its greed" and heed the call of Pope Francis to shun corruption in government.

The End Comelec Greed (ECG) Coalition led a 10-day campout starting Tuesday, January 20, outside Comelec's office in Intramuros to criticize, among others, the performance of the poll body and the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in past automated elections.

Composed of civil society groups and an election watchdog, the ECG brought up past issues with the PCOS machines, and slammed the recent P300-million deal between the Comelec and supplier Smartmatic for the diagnostics on the existing 82,000 PCOS units.

"We believe that the 2010 and 2013 elections were fraudulent," said Jerry Ocampo of Tanggulang Demokrasya and the National Transformation Council.

Ocampo added that they have evidence to back up their claims of "electronic fraud on a massive scale," but the Comelec and Supreme Court supposedly did not hear them.

"Now that the 2016 elections is coming, we fear that massive cheating would happen again. That's why we started this," he said.

Ocampo said that their only wish for Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr before he retires on February 2, is to address the shortcomings of the PCOS machines in safeguarding the people's votes.

However, doubting that Brillantes would do it, Ocampo called for the removal of all Comelec officials in the name of "system change."

"Pope Francis promotes the rejection of corruption, and the need to serve the poor. We would never achieve it in the current system of government unless we have system change," Ocampo said.

The Pope was in the Philippines from January 15 to 19 for a pastoral and state visit. At Malacañang Palace on the second day of his visit, the Pope delivered a speech about rejecting corruption in the presence of top Philippine leaders, including President Benigno Aquino III and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Poll overspending cases

The Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3E) was also part of the coalition, advocating another election issue: the Comelec's delay in resolving campaign overspending cases in the 2010 and 2013 polls.

C3E referred to the database of Comelec's own Campaign and Finance Unit (CFU) which allegedly implicates approximately 80% of all elective officials for going over campaign spending limits.

"Why has Comelec been delaying the resolution of its own cases versus election campaign overspenders? So far, Comelec has enforced that particular law against only one governor in Laguna [Emilio Ramon "ER" Ejercito]. Why did Comelec enforce the law selectively? Why not enforce the law equally to all offenders?" the C3E asked in a statement.

This issue is "very close to the heart of the poor," claimed C3E co-convenor Melchor Magdamo. "It looks harmless, but if you look at it, especially the gravity of it, that there are many cases that are very close to decision – it only needs a little review and a signature of Chairman Brillantes to proceed."

"If that is our government na puro violators, nakakatakot iyon (that's full of violators, it's scary)," said Magdamo. "If you apply the ruling of Comelec versus ER Ejercito [to every violator], they'll all be removed from office; that's what it means."

In response, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that he could not verify the 80% figure mentioned by the groups, saying that "it's just an estimate from them."

Jimenez also said that not all cases filed before the Comelec are literally overspending cases. "Some have potential to become an overspending case, while some just had deficiencies on the [statement of election contribution and expenses] form the candidates submitted," he explained.

In addition, he noted the "case build-up" needed to strengthen the cases to prevent their dismissal in court.

He also recalled that the Comelec has started preliminary investigations of election offense cases against more than 100 candidates for exceeding the campaign expenditure limit set by law.

Nevertheless, Jimenez said to the groups: "If they feel that this is what they need to do, then it's fine. For us, we're doing our jobs, and in due time, we're going to file cases against everyone." –

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.