Disenfranchised voters can sue Comelec for damages, says poll watchdog

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2022 05:08 AM

MANILA – A poll watchdog on Wednesday said disenfranchised voters can file charges against the Commission on Elections for damages by using an “overlooked” law.

On election day Monday, there were multiple reports of defective VCMs, alleged ballot-snatching in some provinces, and allegations of voters being asked to leave their ballots at the precinct. 

Legal Network for Truthful Elections executive director Ona Caritos said “there is an overlooked provision in the Civil Code" in Article 32, which provides that "any public officer or employee who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates, impair any of the following rights, including the right of suffrage of another person shall be liable to the latter for damages.” 

In the panel discussion led by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science, Kontra Daya Convenor Malou Turalde-Jarabe said the Comelec and its partners should not downplay these reports.

"Each vote is important … Also Smartmatic and F2 Logistics. They were given a huge contract, they were given enough time to prepare. And they promised to us that they are well prepared but the results otherwise,” she said.

“It is difficult to be confident with the results of the elections because we were able to gather numerous complaints on the ground.”

Kontra Daya collected over 4,000 reports of fraud and election-related violence, of which 1,370 “have been verified”.

Out of the verified reports, 42% of these incidents involve machine incidents.

“We should hold them accountable for whatever inconveniences, glitches or malfunctions that occurred during election day, especially among the senior citizens, the PWDs,” National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections Systems group head Lito Averia said.

Rohana Hettiarachchi, secretary-general of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), added: “The trust, because whatever the system, whatever the election, whatever the country – the main, main issue is the trust.” 

Despite these issues, there were good points observed during the 2022 election, one of which was the vibrant voter turnout.

“It was impressive to see the very widespread levels of participation across the country, and I would particularly note that these elections were conducted against the background of the pandemic and the challenges that it brought,” Peter Wardle, team leader of the International Election Expert Mission to the Philippines, the Carter Center said.

Caritos added: “What is striking in the conduct of the elections last Monday is the will of the people to actually fight and be vigilant about their votes … This is the first time that the voters are really adamant, they’re forcing their way, they’ll wait for the machines to be repaired, or they’ll wait that they will be the one to insert the ballot in the VCM and wait for the resibo.”

LENTE believes that this year’s election is “credible”, but expressed “reservation” since they still have to conduct the random manual audit.

The Comelec was also able to pull off an election despite the challenges, they said.

“It is right to acknowledge that the Comelec made a good effort, I think, to balance the response to this as best they could. It is almost impossible to perfectly observe all the health requirements at the same time, and perfectly observe every aspect of the electoral requirements,” Wardle said.

He added the poll body also established mechanisms to enable people to trust the process.

“In general, we found that our analysis in the election process, there were no significant gaps in the process, and in particular ... We are impressed by the fact that in the Philippines, there are a number of mechanisms which are running on either alongside or as a channel the automated voting to help build trust in the process,” he said.

Activists and youth groups had called to take to the streets, after Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. held a sizable lead in the presidential elections, based on the partial and unofficial results of the poll body's canvassing.

As of 9:47 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, Marcos had 31,048,319 votes. His closest rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, had 14,798,295, based on the Comelec's partial and unofficial results of canvassed votes.

Despite Marcos' considerable lead, Robredo, the face of the opposition, has not bowed out of the presidential race, as of writing, but read a statement early Tuesday calling for calm.

Her camp said it is seeking the help of experts in looking at the allegations of poll irregularities. 

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