THE PEOPLE’S initiative versus the pork barrel might fail if the current Commission on Elections will count the votes during a referendum for the approval of a law that would ban the fund.

This was the warning of Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, one of the speakers during the Luneta rally yesterday, August 25, that launched the national campaign to gather six million signatures to outlaw the use of lump-sum appropriations for lawmakers and the President.

“Matagal ng panahon na hindi marunong magbilang ang COMELEC (The COMELEC does not know how to count for a long time),” Cruz said.

The prelate, also a critic of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and one of the Church leaders supporting the people’s initiative, pointed out that “even if the six million signatures are gathered then there would be a referendum then the counting of votes, tapos na ang kwento (it’s all over),” he added.

The COMELEC is a constitutional body under the 1987 Freedom Constitution and is supposed to enjoy a high level of independence but controversies have hounded it even after the Marcos dictatorship. The most recent serious scandal involved President Arroyo and former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who allegedly led the rigging of votes for the former Chief Executive.

To destroy an institution like the Commission on Elections (Comelec), you must first fill it up with handpicked commissioners with questionable credentials and even more dubious impartiality. Then, let them run the constitutional body as if they were ruling over personal fiefdoms. This would then reduce middle-level bureaucrats to mere vassals doing — or forced to do — their every bidding, including perhaps, as the taped conversations involving President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano suggest, rigging the elections in their political benefactor’s favor.”

Read more in our 2005 i-Report special issue, “The COMELEC’s fall from grace: What went wrong with the Comelec?

Aside from the scandals involving its officials, the COMELEC also committed “mistakes.”

The Commission on Elections has a lot to account for, with some of its “mistakes” running into billions of taxpayers’ pesos. Ironically, some of its costliest errors had started out as a means to improve the election process and minimize voting irritants.”

Read more of these fiascos in “Sins of the Commission.”

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