The latest controversy now hounding the Philippine election commission is on the decision of the President not to reappoint IT manager and non-lawyer Gus Lagman to the Comelec. I am personally saddened by the decision because COMELEC lost an opportunity to have someone at the “en banc” level who really understands the value of technology in election. It is rare to find a legitimate IT manager who also have decades of election work with him. He would have brought a managerial and IT perspective in looking at how Philippine election process can be improved, which perspective has been sorely lacking in the Commission. Even as a lawyer, I think there is simply too much emphasis on legal talents for the poll body, forgetting that election is basically a systems and operations matter.
Now looking at the brighter side of things. Last Friday, COMELEC, through the office of Commissioner Bot Lim, organized (with the support of the Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines or ASPAP) a public consultation on its draft rules on Campaign Finance and Disclosure. As far as I can remember (but I may be wrong) that was the first time in recent years that COMELEC undertook this kind of activity. Praises and congratulations on this initiative are definitely in order.
In the consultation, representatives of candidates and few political parties, as well as from civil society organizations, offered some valuable recommendations on how the rules can be improved. Representatives from Congress, BIR and COA were also present and gave important insights. COMELEC enthusiastically received the inputs. The most interesting and liveliest portion of the consultation involved the discussion on considering excess donations as taxable incomes of candidates. Although the exchanges were passionate, they were civil and and helpful to a better understanding of the basic concepts of Campaign Finance.
Beyond the results and the outputs of the consultation, it was also a manifestation (hopefully) of an inclusive and engaging COMELEC. The fact that it was held in the first place is already a welcome development. It is a sign that this Commission is open and ready to consult all stakeholders, hopefully to include even its critics. It is a recognition by the COMELEC that it cannot do things alone and that a consultative attitude will not only produce better policies, but will also imbibe among election stakeholders a sense of ownership of the election process.
Comm. Lim told me yesterday that there will be more of this….I just hope and pray that this policy will be sustained.