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3 May 2010 No Comment

November 3, 2010




Elections, indeed, are not a picnic. But while the apology of Commissioner Rene Sarmiento on behalf of the entire COMELEC is welcome, it is not entirely acceptable. The COMELEC, being the sole agency tasked by the Constitution to administer all electoral exercises, knows that holding elections is not without problems. That is precisely why the COMELEC should take full responsibility for its preparations, or lack thereof, for the recently concluded elections.


As late as September, the COMELEC assured the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms that the proposed postponement of the local elections is not necessary because it is ready for the barangay and SK elections. The public immediately realized just how ready the COMELEC was on election day, when complaints about late deliveries of election paraphernalia, incomplete or missing voters’ lists, missing book of voters, and ballot boxes which the people had to secure for themselves against private armies surfaced. Officials of the COMELEC, PNP, National Printing Office, Malacanang, and Congress now blame each other for the nationwide fiasco that was supposed to be a fundamental electoral exercise.


But caught in the middle of this mud-slinging are the voters and election administrators, particularly teachers who served as election tellers and canvassers. On October 25 and during the extended days for voting and counting, teachers suffered the consequences of official bungling: Notwithstanding the COMELEC’s failure to give them their transportation allowance, teachers had to trek to precincts located in islands or in villages isolated by floods (reports of such are consistent even in Luzon, such as in the cases of Batangas teachers and those assigned in the flooded areas in Isabela and Tarlac). Some even stayed up late the previous night waiting for election paraphernalia to come, which vigils stretched to as late as 6 p.m. the following day. They were then expected to be on full alert during the voting hours, despite missing books of voters (which made identification of fictitious voters difficult) and heavier workload due to the clustering of precincts. Elections were postponed in some areas in Mindanao where teachers did not show up in their assigned precincts—never mind the Omnibus Election Code saying that election service by teachers is mandatory, because the law and the government agency implementing it will only give them illusory compensation and security against the very real perils of election duty. Some teachers in Northern Mindanao who did go to their assigned areas had to count ballots a few feet away from classrooms which are soon bombed or razed by fire.


Commissioner Rene Sarmiento stressed that the local elections is 96% successful, based on the number of barangays which have already declared winners. He gives the elections a rating of 7.5 to 8, “not 9 or 10, considering the delays.” But a sunny assessment flies in the face of the hardships caused to teachers. The delays are not the only marks of the COMELEC’s most recent failure; its most cruel error is that it, by swearing to its full readiness for the elections, allowed our teachers to go to war without sufficient arms, and for insufficient compensation and assurance of their security. If the COMELEC wants to apologize, it should, among others, cleanse its bureaucracy to eliminate the delays, release teachers’ honoraria and allowances on time and in full, steadfastly prosecute violators of election laws particularly those who endangered the security of teachers, and actively campaign for sufficient and just compensation of those who risk their lives to secure the ballot.


Adding insult to injury is the abandonment by the head of the COMELEC—Chairman Melo took off on a vacation abroad the day after the elections. The COMELEC may be a collegial body, but the teachers who had been victims of violence and political harassment, who are now still unpaid of their honoraria (a breach of the COMELEC-DepEd memorandum of agreement signed on October 19) consider Melo’s absconding as the height of insensitivity, incompetence, and betrayal of public trust. He cannot fulfill his constitutional duties—to “at all times be accountable to the people and serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency” (Article XI, Section 1)—particularly to teachers, while he is in Hawaii.


COMELEC ordered a fact-finding panel to look into, within 15 days, the delays and the liability of any personnel, and pleads for all to stop pointing fingers and “be sober.” However, the public, and teachers in particular, are not content with this investigation; since it would be the COMELEC investigating itself, no one can expect a full and honest inquiry. ACT Teachers Party-List is one with our teachers, who are primary stakeholders in elections, in calling for vigilance as to the COMELEC and the national government. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the latter are not without power to call to account all those responsible for COMELEC’s blunders.


Teachers are pushed to the frontlines as guardians of the ballot. It is terribly unjust for COMELEC if it continues to be unresponsive to their reasonable demands regarding their compensation and security, moreso if its officials repeatedly turn a blind eye to its duties. If they stop at lame apologies and lip service to the situation of teachers, they should step down, or be impeached.#




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