election protest

In poll protests, freeze incumbents’ pay

In poll protests, freeze incumbents’ pay
By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer

AFTER procrastinating for years, the Commission on Elections is in a hurry to resolve election protest cases, now that new elections are just two months away. And candidates, both losers and winners, are complaining about the Comelec’s tardiness. In almost all the cases already decided, the results are next to useless. The cheaters, although eventually declared the losers, have already occupied the position, and collected the salaries and allowances, including the pork barrel in the case of congressmen, that rightfully belong to those declared the winners, for almost the whole term. The winners would be left with only a few weeks or days of the term. The losers have already spent the funds that belong to them. The winners are left with an empty treasury. Theirs are an empty victory. It teaches our people that crime actually pays. And encourages our politicians to cheat. Anyway, if they are caught cheating, it would take the Comelec almost the whole term before it can resolve the case. Even if the cheaters were declared the losers, they have already usurped the position for the whole term.

I think we should alter the process of resolving election protests to make it fair to everybody, especially the voters.

In case of a poll protest against a proclaimed candidate, there should be a quick preliminary investigation and if it shows that there is a prima facie case against the accused, all the emoluments of the position should be frozen, to be given to the candidate who is eventually declared the winner.

That is only fair to the winner, isn’t it? And it would discourage cheating because, if caught, the cheater wouldn’t get anything for his troubles.

Below, I will relate two poll protest cases resolved recently by the Comelec. One is the proclaimed winner, the other the declared loser. Both are protesting.

The first is Roberto Pagdanganan of Bulacan. He has been declared the winner in the Bulacan gubernatorial race of 2007. The Comelec has proclaimed him; he has taken his oath of office, twice, but until now he cannot occupy the governor’s seat because the incumbent governor, Joselito Mendoza, is using all sorts of dilatory tactics. Meanwhile, time is running out. By the time the case is resolved with finality, perhaps only hours would be left of the term.

Mendoza was proclaimed the winner shortly after the 2007 elections. Pagdanganan filed an election protest. Almost three years later, the Comelec finds, after a recount, that Pagdanganan had won by more than 4,000 votes. The Comelec proclaimed Pagdanganan the duly elected governor of Bulacan. But he still cannot occupy the gubernatorial seat because Mendoza has appealed to the Supreme Court, and the latter is notorious for taking its own sweet time in resolving cases.

With barely two months left of the three-year term, the clock ticks away and the rightful governor of the province waits outside the governor’s office while a usurper sits on the governor’s chair inside.

Even if the high court rules in Pagdanganan’s favor, the likelihood is that Mendoza will file a motion for reconsideration and at least another 15 days of legal skirmishes will follow while time runs out.

With only days or hours before the term ends by the time Pagdanganan is finally seated in the governor’s chair, what would he get in return for his three years of pain and patience? A piece of paper that says he is the duly elected governor of Bulacan and nothing else.

Pagdanganan’s case is not an isolated one. Cases of long drawn-out election protests are common in this country. They drag on and on and on. In many cases, election protests are overtaken by the election buzzer announcing that the game—the contested term—is over.

This is not to mention the fact that only moneyed people can afford to pursue an election protest. Poll protests cost a sackful of money. Poor candidates often just have to accept the blow even if in all honesty they won the votes but lost the count.

If the emoluments of the contested position are frozen—as I propose—and given eventually to the real winner, cheated and poor candidates will not be discouraged from pursuing election protests. At the same time, politicians will be discouraged from cheating because if they are found out, they would get nothing for their efforts.

* * *

The other case I want to talk about is the opposite of Pagdanganan’s case. He has been declared the loser in the 2007 gubernatorial contest in Camarines Norte and the Comelec has ordered him to vacate the gubernatorial seat. He is Gov. Jesus Typoco of Camarines Norte who has been ordered to vacate the governor’s seat and hand it over to his rival, Edgardo Tallado.

Typoco had been proclaimed the winner shortly after the 2007 elections. Tallado filed an election protest. After a recount, the Comelec had Tallado with 79,969 votes while Typoco has 79,904 votes, a hairline win of 65 votes by Tallado. Typoco went to the Supreme Court with a petition for certiorari, claiming that the Comelec did not consider the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation that poll results counted in favor of Tallado were spurious.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Edgardo Nachura, the tribunal said it is not a trier of facts and that it is the Comelec that is the expert in election cases and therefore it, the Supreme Court, will have to rely on the findings of the Comelec in the Tallado vs Typoco election case.

On the NBI’s report that some election results were spurious, the Supreme Court said “the Comelec, not the NBI, is the agency that has the competence to determine the genuineness of election documents.”

As I see it, in case of doubt, look again. In the case of two government agencies disagreeing on the genuineness of poll documents, a second look is in order to make sure there is no miscarriage of justice.