IF today's elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) labor under serious doubts and suspicions, the Commission on Elections, the constitutionally ordained guardian of the ballot, is mostly to blame for it. When the taped conversations between Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano were made public, providing clues of the rigging that attended the May 2004 elections with the help of Comelec field personnel, public opinion has been split into only two extreme calls, the mass resignation of its commissioners and the poll body's total abolition.
"The Comelec's Fall from Grace," featured in the i Report special issue, details the story of an institution that has allowed itself to be destroyed by unending scandals involving corruption, incompetence, and partisanship.
The reform era ushered by Edsa 1 that put men and women of integrity the likes of Hilario Davide Jr., Haydee Yorac and Christian Monsod at the helm of the Comelec is now a thing of the past. The supposedly impartial elections body today "reeks of the politics of accommodation, one that has allowed politicians to stack it with officials and staff that they have endorsed."
No less than the Office of the President — from the time of Fidel Ramos to Arroyo — has contributed to the weakening of the Comelec by politicizing the appointments of commissioners.
Reinforcing this culture of patronage and corruption is the commissioner-in-charge (CIC) system being implemented in place of the old bureacracy of regional directors and an executive director erstwhile given to collegiality. Under the CIC system, directors have become mere pawns taking orders from the commissioner. Eve the international election monitoring mission that observed the May 2004 elections found the CIC system "seriously flawed and largely dysfunctional" as officials and staff have become beholden to the commissioners.
Such a system has allowed Garcillano to thrive and become the most powerful commissioner, in fact, the de facto chairman of the Comelec in the last elections.
Read on at pcij.org.