‘2022 polls not perfect but…’

COMELEC Chairperson George Erwin Garcia. (Comelec photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chairperson George Erwin Garcia on Tuesday gave his agency an “8 out of 10” for their performance and outcomes in the May 2022 national and local elections.

In a forum hosted by the Ateneo School of Government, Garcia shared his own assessments on the recent polls, which saw one of his old clients win the highest post in the land.

Garcia likened his assessment of the recent elections to grading students’ performance during and at the end of a subject.

He said that his grade would be somewhere between “8 or 8.5” out of 10, admitting that it was “definitely not a perfect election,” citing the continued lapses in transparency and accountability.

He also shared that he gained a realization upon joining the COMELEC, which was a completely different view from when he was practicing as an election lawyer for 23 years.

“What I can say is that it’s not that easy to manage an election. I thought, when I was a practitioner [for 23 years], I would say to myself that it was easy. But when you are inside [the COMELEC], you don’t touch on the cases [as much], not because you are abandoning the constitutional duty to dispose of this case, but because it’s not really a priority,” Garcia said.

“The priority, really, is operation and management of the elections. Adjudication will always be a part of election management, but that is only 15 percent. The [rest of the] 85 percent is ensuring that all election paraphernalia will arrive on time, in all places, all venues. It needs to be monitored well,” he added.

He attributed the mark to private election watchdogs who call out the COMELEC’s faults and shortcomings in the electoral process.

“The presence of civil society groups and organizations completed the task of the [COMELEC], because [their] presence (sic) will always be a wake-up call on [our] part whenever they say, ‘Something is wrong with this,’ ‘Why are you not present during printing of the ballots from October 2021 to February 2022?’,” he remarked.

Garcia added that civil society groups such as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), and the Legal Network for Truth in Elections (LENTE), among others, ensured that they observed transparency and accountability.

He emphasized that transparency entailed action, citing his own push to livestream the printing of the ballots as well as their loading onto trucks when the ballots were being delivered to local government units.

He also noted their public outreach on the voter registration process, spoiled election paraphernalia, and other important poll-related issues.

“Without the presence of these groups, the COMELEC may perhaps not be aware that we are not ensuring greater transparency in the process of the conduct of the election. What is really important in order to ensure honest, credible, and peaceful election is to always ensure transparency [and] proper accountability,” he added further.

Garcia stated that moving forward, as chairperson, the commission would continue to listen to grievances and suggestions as it prepares for the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections and the 2025 midterm elections.

“You can criticize the COMELEC, we will listen to you, because it is a leadership that listens, and will act based on what you are saying,” he said.

“Election is not only the business of the COMELEC, it is the business of everybody and therefore, people must be able to understand the conduct of this election because at the final analysis, this election is not for [the COMELEC]. This election is for [the public],” he added.

Garcia was able to serve as COMELEC commissioner from March to June of this year, and assumed the role of the agency’s spokesperson during the height of the 2022 polls.

Prior to President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of Garcia as commissioner, he was known to the public as then-former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s lawyer in the 2016 election protest in the vice-presidential election.

The winner of that contest, both in the elections and in the Supreme Court, was Marcos Jr.’s eventual rival in the 2022 presidential elections, now-former vice president Leonor Robredo.

While he was bypassed by the Commission on Appointments in June, he returned just more than a month later, this time to head the poll body until February 2029.