Monday July 23, 2018

Wenceslao: Helpless?

IT was more of the same during the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections last Monday. Nothing was different as far as the act of clamping down on violation of election rules is concerned. Interestingly, both the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) admitted to a certain degree their helplessness in implementing election rules.

When candidates violate election laws, Comelec can’t act unless somebody files a complaint and signs an affidavit. That’s what Cebu Election Supervisor Marco Lionel Castillano said when asked about complaints of vote-buying, illegal distribution of campaign materials and violations of the liquor ban on Election Day.

Meanwhile, PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde, when asked about the failure of policemen assigned at the entrances of schools used as voting areas to arrest those who distributed campaign materials, pointed to three reasons: cops do not know campaigning is banned, illegal campaigners use children and cops can’t do the job alone.

Albayalde was responding to complaints that despite Comelec warnings that distribution of campaign materials on Election Day is not allowed, voting areas were littered with such materials Monday. (At the Abellana National School in Cebu City, campaign tarpaulins were hung from trees and at the entrances.)

Illegal distribution of campaign materials can be considered a lesser violation, however, compared with vote buying. Yet vote buying was rampant-as usual-despite netizens posting proofs of this online. In Barangay Tinago in Cebu City, people lining up outside a building was not proof enough of money being distributed but at least somebody should have checked that photo showing it online.

Which brings us back to Castillano’s statement.

I won’t pin all of the blame on the Comelec for letting reports of vote buying pass from one ear to another. In a way, Castillano explained enough the inaction. Part of the blame should also be heaped on the complainants for not going beyond mere posting of proof in social media.

This might be a sad reality but violations of election laws can only be clamped down effectively with a vigilant populace. It’s actually the same with the implementation of other laws or the practice of our rights. We need to help in going after violations and violators of our laws and assert our rights. If we don’t, then anarchy and impunity will prevail.

That is why I continue to salute militants and civil society for exercising this vigilance. The truth is we wouldn’t have recovered our rights and expanded the democratic space without them making the noise and roaming our streets. In a way, those who are maligning street parliamentarians are themselves the ones who should be condemned for their inaction and, to a certain degree, cowardice.

Perhaps in the next elections, concerned citizens may have to go beyond complaining about violations of election rules and instead organize themselves into a force that would aggressively and actively go after poll violators especially on or a few days before Election Day.

The Comelec and the PNP claim they need our assistance. Let us oblige them and find out if even if we do that they still would remain helpless.