THE conduct of clean, honest and fair elections is supposed to be the concern of everyone, regardless of creed and political color.
Yet, some people seem not to relish the idea of election fraud being exposed and its perpetrators being taken to task.
Members of the political opposition and critics of the President appear to be defensive on the issue of allegations of irregularities during the May 2016 elections. Instead of demanding an explanation from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic, they instead train their guns on demolishing lawyer Glenn Chong’s character and credibility. Senators Franklin Drilon and Kiko Pangilinan lost no time in behaving like defense lawyers for Comelec and Smartmatic. Drilon is joined by anti-Duterte and opposition bloggers Silent No More and Jover Laurio of Pinoy Ako Blog in focusing on Chong’s alleged connections to the Marcoses. Former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. is joined by Laurio in painting Chong as a crook.
And the very guardians of democracy, the media, failed to do their job of giving space to the serious allegations of election irregularities. The excuses given by media defenders fail to convince, and instead further paint them as one who simply take allegations of election fraud as less newsworthy compared to that of Kris Aquino getting sick or Noynoy Aquino and Alan Peter Cayetano squabbling over receding hairlines. Some people raise the issue of lack of budget as reason, thereby making it even more woefully saddening that our media can have more budget to cover the antics of politicians and movie personalities but not Senate hearings on acts that undermine the very foundation of our democracy.
Another excuse given by media is that they thought that the hearing would only be about Senate President Tito Sotto giving a privilege speech. But anyone who is familiar with legislative procedures would know that privilege speeches are given in plenary sessions, and not in committee hearings. Furthermore, the fact that the hearing was clearly announced in the Senate calendar as about Sotto’s privilege speech, and not about him giving another privilege speech, would further point to either incompetence or simple “palusot.” The fact that cameras from various TV networks were conspicuous in the venue of the hearing, and that the Senate is a regular beat for all media entities and hence assigned reporters were already there, would point to a disturbing reality. The hearing was in fact covered, but media, without exception, chose not to air it in their 6 p.m. news, and in the online and print versions of their news.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) enshrines the conduct of clean, honest and fair elections as a fundamental human right. Article 21, No. 1 of UDHR states that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” This is further emphasized in No. 3 of the same article which states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedure.”
Elections are fundamental in a democracy, and hence they are something that should be held even more sacred than religion. After all, while the right to a religion is guaranteed, constitutional democracies also ensure that one can also be protected for not subscribing to one. A person can choose not to have a religion without violating the rights of another, but certainly no person can undermine an election without denying another person his or her right to a clean, honest and fair one.
The political opposition is so consumed by its fixation on the alleged human rights violations committed by the government in line with the President’s war on drugs. However, critics of the President are woefully silent on the issue of electoral fraud, with some of them even actively acting as apologists and defenders of Comelec and Smartmatic. They seem to have a fetish of protecting the human rights of drug criminals, but have no appreciation of the fact that election fraud undermines another fundamental right enshrined in the UDHR.
The conduct of clean, fair and honest elections is indispensable for the state to ensure its ability to serve its part of the social contract, as it bestows legitimacy. It is the basis for governmental authority. Unlike the individualistic human rights that is borne by its advocates, a fair, clean and honest election in a constitutional democracy is not just an individual right but is also a collectively embodied right. It is not just about the right of an individual to a vote and to participate freely, but also the right of the sovereign collective citizenry to have a government that truly represents them to bring them the quality of life that they deserve. Hence, in President Duterte’s language, the conduct of elections is an issue not only of human right, but also of human life.
Equally puzzling, therefore, is the lukewarm attention given by the Duterte administration to the issue of election fraud. The ease by which Andy Bautista was allowed to leave the country is now matched by the absence of any serious effort to locate him, ask him to come back and have him talk. Given the opportunity to change the complexion of the Comelec by appointing a Comelec chairman who can embody change, the President appeared to have simply gone for the status quo and business as usual.
It’s about time that the President step up and exercise his moral suasion and lead the charge in cleaning our electoral system. After all, drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism are not the only ills that threaten our democracy. Electoral fraud violates not only our individual rights, but also the right of the state to be served only by those who truly represent the people.
The President trains his guns on drug criminals who harm individuals who chose to succumb to drugs, and their families and victims. He should realize that those who undermine elections and commit fraud harm not just individuals but the entire fabric of our democracy. It is not just Bongbong Marcos that they have victimized, but all of us.
And more importantly, fighting for clean, fair and honest elections does not have victims, which is truly a celebration of human life.