Comelec’s role in May polls under scrutiny

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – Some sectors have cast doubts on the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) ability to deliver clean and honest elections on May 9.

This, after one of the poll body’s commissioners threatened to imprison anyone who casts aspersions on the Comelec, which was quickly downplayed by another commissioner.

Commissioner Rey Bulay had warned that anyone criticizing the poll body could be arrested. He pointed to media organizations which could be charged with libel for using allegedly misleading headlines.

He, however, said he had not threatened anyone, but only gave a “warning.”

The Movement Against Disinformation said that Bulay’s threat or warning was cause for grave concern.

Commissioner George Garcia, however, said the public need not worry as their freedom of expression would not be curtailed, even if they voiced their opinions putting the Comelec in a bad light.

Speaking in the vernacular shortly after Bulay’s warning was made public, Garcia said, “I guarantee you it’s okay. Don’t worry. You can criticize us. You can oppose what we do. You can air your sentiments to the Comelec.”

There are other issues hounding the poll body.

Worst of all are the persistent reports that overseas voters had been receiving pre-shaded ballots in favor of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and one report from New Zealand seemingly showing a ballot that did not have the name of Leni Robredo.

While the Comelec dismissed the New Zealand report is fake news, the Philippine embassy in Welington still took the report seriously, and came out with an advisory asking anyone who received the questionable ballot “to return the entire ballot package to the Embassy so that we can verify the claim.”

Photos of the alleged questionable ballot had appeared on social media in the wake of other reports from such places as the US, the Middle East and Singapore, among others, that pre-shaded ballots had been distributed to unsuspecting voters.

The Comelec had other problems that came to light last week, when a debate sponsored by the poll body was cancelled at the last minute over bounced checks paid to the venue.

Vice presidential bet Walden Bello said in the vernacular that the debate mess was either a “massive failure” or a “sinister plot.”

A little known private company called Impact Hub had been contracted by the poll body for PHP14 million (US$280,000) to organize the last debate, when previous debates had been handled and organized by well-known media organizations for free.

Commissioner Bulay said he agreed with the observation that the deal was questionable, while Impact Hub issued a statement saying there were “misunderstandings” over the checks they paid to Sofitel Manila as venue of the debate, which bounced.

Suspicions had also been raised on the fairness of the Comelec whose commissioners are all appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte and who all come from Mindanao.

Critics had warned of a possible repeat of the “seven-hour glitch” that happened in the 2019 midterm elections. Some opposition Senate bets were in the winning circle of 12, but were pushed out of the winners’ group after the Comelec stopped reporting election results for seven hours, supposedly due to a computer glitch.