MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER) - After a landslide win in what Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zuibiri has described as a "historical" election, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was proclaimed the country's 17th president last Wednesday (May 25), alongside his running mate, vice-president Sara Duterte.
With an overwhelming 31.6 million votes for Marcos Jr. and 32.2 million votes for Duterte, it was "the first time that the Philippines has elected a majority president and vice-president'' under the 1987 Constitution, Zubiri said. He noted as well that the May 9 elections had the highest voter turnout in Philippine history, with 55.5 million or 82.4 per cent of total registered voters showing up to cast their votes.
The canvassing of votes by both chambers was also the quickest so far, with the results of the count finalised after only two days, said Zubiri, who thanked the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan tandem, the closest rivals to Marcos Jr. and Duterte, for no longer contesting the results.
But while the majority vote and the quick uncontested count indicated Marcos Jr.'s strong mandate as the country's next chief executive, not all credit for that should go to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which, this late, still has to hammer out the kinks that continue to cast doubts on the results of the elections.
The proclamation may have rendered the Comelec's action on pending issues moot, but it bears reminding the poll body of the unfinished business that it must still address, if only to bring closure to them and settle questions that might otherwise haunt and bedevil future electoral exercises.
Among these unresolved matters is the malfunction of thousands of vote-counting machines (VCM) that disenfranchised thousands of voters and forced them to leave after waiting for hours for the VCMs to finally accept their ballots. The Comelec, which acknowledged that 1,800 incidents of VCM malfunctions were reported, said "the issues have already been resolved."
That may be so, but how is the poll body dealing with Smartmatic's accountability over the defective VCMs? And how will it clear the cloud of doubt arising from voters' complaints that, after waiting in line for hours, they were forced to leave their ballots to poll watchers who, they were assured, would batch feed these to the VCMs once the machines start functioning again? With no receipt with which voters can double-check their votes, speculations on vote-tampering will continue to linger.
Then, there's that news report about election paraphernalia from Tondo, including ballot boxes, being discarded in a vacant lot in Cavite. While a Comelec official explained that the ballots found were used only for training purposes, the courier and custodian of these election materials, F2 Logistics, still has to explain how these sensitive items ended up quite a long way from Tondo. Comelec's choice of the courier company owned by a major campaign donor of President Duterte had raised questions from the start. How will Comelec now deal with F2's apparent negligence? Is there a liability clause in the P536 million (S$14.05 million) contract between the two parties?
The incident also underscores the need for the poll body to be above suspicion in its choice of partners, weeding out companies that have even the slightest political affiliation with current officials. The need for a background check of potential partners cannot be overemphasised as well, as shown in the case of the cancelled final presidential debates because of the partner's financial setbacks. While the Comelec has suspended several personnel and officials over what appears to be an anomalous deal, the public has yet to know the results of its probe and how things will change, moving forward.
Finally, there are the vote-buying and vote-selling reports amid news of a mobile phone buying spree in several provinces immediately after the elections. The Comelec itself said it has so far received 1,173 vote-buying complaints through its official Facebook page and email address, as well as through its partners, but said it could not run after the felons for the lack of witnesses willing to testify.
Does this mean the poll body is actually toothless in enforcing its rules? Shouldn't it confer with other law enforcement agencies on how to adapt its guidelines to existing realities to make them more enforceable?
The Comelec must establish a stronger working relationship as well with local officials and the police in areas that have consistently been on its critical watch list for violent incidents during elections. After all these years, what have been done to tamp down deadly political feuds amid a flourishing gun culture in these warlord-led areas? Is the gun ban enough?
Another area of concern that could lead to unnecessary bloodshed is the perennial Red-tagging of some candidates and their supporters, mainly by administration candidates and officials. Is the poll body looking into this at all?
With the barangay elections scheduled this December and the next mid-term elections three years away, it is never too early for the Comelec to take the necessary steps to fulfil its constitutional mandate to ensure fair, honest, and credible elections. There's much work to be done if elections are to truly reflect the people's will.
- The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.