Comelec faces backlash for suggesting voters check candidate qualifications

May 17, 2024 - 1:41 PM
1919
This undated photo shows the Commission on Elections office at the Palacio del Gobernador in Intramuros, Manila. (pdgcc.gov.ph)
The role of the Commission on Elections was questioned by Filipinos after it urged voters to do a deep dive on electoral candidates amid speculations about Tarlac’s Bamban Mayor Alice Guo’s identity.

Comelec Chair George Garcia on Thursday said that Filipinos should take their votes seriously, adding that the process should start with a thorough check of each candidate’s qualifications.

The reminder comes amid questions on Guo’s background after Senate hearings revealed her failure to answer basic queries like her previous home address, her educational background and the name of her former teacher, among others.

Her citizenship also came to suspicion, with opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioning if she was a Chinese citizen after learning that Guo’s father is a Chinese national.

RELATED: Chinese language newspaper celebrating Alice Guo’s mayoral victory earns buzzPinoys call for Comelec’s attention amid Senate hearing revelations about Alice Guo

The Bamban mayor’s frequent “hindi ko po maalala” answers in the hearings have inspired some online users to create meme content.

ALSO READ: POGO probe with Bamban Mayor Alice Guo gives birth to ‘your honor, hindi ko na po maalala’ memes

The hearings are connected to Guo’s alleged link to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) in her town, which she has since denied.

The Office of the Solicitor General said it has started investigating the Bamban mayor.

“Yes, I created a special team of solicitors last week to look into the matter and determine if there is good reason to believe that the subject is unlawfully holding or exercising a public office,” Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said on May 16.

Meanwhile, Garcia reminded voters to check the electoral candidate’s qualifications, such as their age, citizenship, whether they have lived in that area for at least one year, voter registration and literacy.

The reminder comes as candidates file their Certificate of Candidacy (COC) this October for those running in the May 2025 midterm elections.

“Kung may mga interesadong kwestyunin ‘yung eligibility o qualification nung mga kandidatong iyon, maganda pong mai-file. May period po ‘yun, 25 days after the filing of the candidacy,” Garcia said.

“Pwede po naming tingnan kung talagang citizen. Kasama po ‘yun sa kapangyarihan ng Comelec, basta may mag-file ng disqualification,” he added.

The Comelec chair also said that late discoveries of violations can likewise be settled.

“Kung tapos na ang mga period, meron po tayong tinatawag na quo warranto petition. Pagka po gusto niyong kwestyunin ‘yung eligibility nung mismong nakaupo, appointed man o elected, pwede pa rin po kayong mag-file ng quo warranto. Kaya lang, ang Solicitor General na po ang magpa-file ng petisyon,” Garcia said.

His comments about voters doing a candidacy qualification check did not amuse some Filipinos who claimed it was the polling body’s job to “vet” aspirants.

“Ano ang point ng Commission on Elections kung hindi niyo ma-validate ang credibility at nationality ng mga kandidato niyo? Ang buong punto ng Comelec ay ipatupad at pamahalaan ang lahat ng batas at regulasyon na may kinalaman sa eleksyon, ‘di ba? Incompetent,” an online user wrote.

“Mukhang dapat trabaho n’yo ’yan, kasi kayo ang may kakayanan mag validate ng background ng kandidato. Kung hindi, de parang drop box lang kayo,” another user commented in response to Garcia’s remarks.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! In the first place ,the vetting [of] the candidates should have been done by the COMELEC. Intelligent voters will discern from the Candidates Platform presented and their grasp of the issues involved and the solutions they will implement in the first 100 days,” another user wrote.

“Voters? ‘Di ba sila ang may means to do that? Saan [gagamitin] ang billions nila, sa fake voting machine?” commented another Pinoy with emojis.

Comelec previously suggested a quo warranto case may be filed against Guo, adding that no one had filed a disqualification case when she attempted to run as a mayor in the 2022 elections.

Garcia said the polling body only has a “ministerial duty” to accept COCs, wherein they will just check if the questions stated in the form have been accomplished and sworn in.

“Pagkatapos po noon, ‘yun po ay sapat na sa amin. Hindi po kami magpapa-require ng dagdag na ebidensya, o kahit anong dokumento. Ipe-presume po namin ‘yun na valid ang kanyang deklarasyon at tama ang kanyang deklarasyon,” he said before.

“‘Yan po kailangan merong magpa-file ng petisyon to cancel the candidacy or disqualify the candidate,” the Comelec chair added.

The Comelec’s jurisdiction over a candidate will only run from the filing of his/her COC up to the proclamation. After which, a court will now handle any petition or case against any proclaimed candidate.

“Halimbawa po, ‘yung isang mayor ay nanalo. May issue pala sa kanya tungkol sa citizenship, hindi naman nakita ng kahit sino. ‘Yan po ay pupwede namang ma-kwestyon pagkatapos ng proklamasyon, kahit siya ay nanunungkulan na, sa pamamagitan ng Petition for Quo Warranto,” Garcia said.

Comelec’s role 

Based on its website, the Comelec was primarily established to have exclusive charge of the enforcement and administration of all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall for the purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible holding of political exercises.

Its specific functions include the following:

  • Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections, returns, and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial and city officials, and appellate jurisdiction over all contests involving elective municipal officials decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction, or involving elective barangay officials decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction.
  • Decide, except those involving the right to vote, all questions affecting elections, including determination of the number and location of polling places, appointment of election officials and inspectors, and registration of voters.
  • Deputize, with the concurrence of the President, law enforcement agencies and instrumentalities of the Government, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for the exclusive purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections.
  • Register political parties, organizations, or coalitions and accredit citizens’ arms of the Commission on Elections.
  • File petitions in court for inclusion or exclusion of voters, investigate, and where appropriate, prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses, and malpractices.
  • Recommend to Congress effective measures to minimize election spending, including limitation of places where propaganda materials shall be posted, and to prevent and penalize all forms of election frauds, offenses, malpractices, and nuisance candidates.
  • Recommend to the President the removal of any officer or employee it has deputized, or the imposition of any other disciplinary action, for violation or disregard of, or disobedience to its directive, order or decision.
  • Submit to the President and Congress a comprehensive report on the conduct of each election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum, or recall.
  • Perform such other functions as may be provided by law.

Its mission is “to manage the conduct of credible electoral exercises to always reflect the genuine will of the Filipino people in an efficient and effective manner.”

Meanwhile, its vision is to enhance the Filipino voting experience “through inclusive, equitable, and modernized electoral processes.”