‘Antiquated’ poll code needs overhaul—Guia


THE misuse of candidate substitution, unregulated online and social media advertising, legislative hurdles for online voting are just among the symptoms of an “antiquated” Election Code, which needs a long-overdue update, according to a former Commission on Elections executive.

In a phone interview on Monday, retired Comelec commissioner Luie Guia told BusinessMirror lawmakers should finally consider a “holistic” review of the 1985 Omnibus Election Code, which he said no longer reflects the needs of the current times.

He noted that as early as 1993 there was already a proposal to update the current Election Code, which even includes a provision for providing certain flexibility to Comelec to adopt new technology as well as additional restrictions for the substitution of candidates.

Pending reform

However, he noted the said legislation was never passed, left by the wayside as other  economic and social reforms were pursued. This, he said, resulted in the numerous issues currently being faced by Comelec.

“It is the electoral system, which will implement the said social and economic reforms. But it usually does not get much attention since it is not a ‘sexy’ topic,” Guia lamented.

“Why is there corruption in the government? It is because of the existing system, which allows them to get elected. Isn’t addressing the system important?” he added.

He noted there were attempts by Comelec to come up with a draft new Election Code, but it was never passed into law.

Piecemeal reforms

Instead of the updated Election Code, he said Congress opted to go for a piecemeal modernization of the election system such as the Automated Election System and the Party-List System Law.

But, he pointed out, such a compartmentalized approach could cause certain issues in the election system since, he explained, changing one aspect of the polls could affect its other factors.

He cited the example of the recent proposal of some lawmakers to abolish substitution, which he said if implemented may deprive some parties of a potential representative in an election in case their candidate will face unforeseeable circumstances such a death or disqualification.

The said 1993 bill tries to address this by banning the withdrawal of candidates and just allowing substitution in case a candidate dies or is disqualified.

Whether such an approach is practical or not, Guia said it will be up to the lawmakers to decide, but what is important, he added, is for the amendment to be done in consideration of other factors of the elections.

Election agenda

The updated Election Code could also address many of the restrictions that  prevent Comelec from introducing innovation in the conduct of polls such as online election and regulating online election ads.

“Even within the existing Constitution, you can modernize the legal framework. Like for instance, you recognize what technology could bring to the process. so you just provide the standards and parameters for it,” Guia said.

The former Comelec official hopes the matter will finally be addressed by the candidates in the 2022 polls as part of their election agenda.

“The democratic process we need, which will allow the people to express their agenda better. So you have to look at the structure of how it could be possible, This comes with political reforms,” Guia said.

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