An autopsy of GE 2023, a failed election

The cancellation of the 2023 General Elections sparked intense debates, revealing procedural lapses and miscommunications that led to the controversial decision.

To be deprived of one’s right to vote and choose leaders is a crime, they say. What crime, then, must have transpired when General Elections (GE) 2023 ended before it even started?

Neither political party was thrilled with the outcome, so both issued public statements against the ruling. But lost in the flurry of statements, appeals, and responses were the core arguments of DLSU Comelec and the parties— and the details they left behind the scenes. 

Bones of contention 

The cancellation was ultimately caused by inconsistent procedures and a lack of communication throughout the filing period. Comelec had lapses in their preparations, too, specifically on the distribution of the C-04B or the “Their Takes” form that asks for the candidates’ opinions on national issues. The document was only officially arranged and uploaded for use on June 9, eight days after the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) began. Both parties argued in their joint appeal, a copy of which was provided to The LaSallian, that the delay, coupled with holidays in the filing period, left them only 17 school days to complete the requirements, falling short of the 20 school days prescribed by the Omnibus Election Code (OEC). 

Comelec disagreed. “Not all days are needed for answering these questions,” the commission wrote in their decision. “It is also not required for it to be accomplished first. Other requirements could have been processed and gotten during the time without [the] ‘Their Takes’ questions.” 

Last-minute changes in procedures were also additional hurdles for former Tapat President Marv Sayson and his candidates. “We had miscommunication [where] we overlooked Comelec’s directive because we were under the impression that they would handle the acquisition of the remaining signatures for the C-02 [Form], as was the case in previous elections,” Sayson explains.

Former Comelec Chair Joaquin Sosa clarifies that the acquisition of signatures from both the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE) and the candidates’ respective associate deans was to be “processed manually” by both parties.

The method of acquiring the Certificate of Good Moral Character (CGMC) experienced a similar hitch. Initial instructions were similar to that of before the pandemic—for the parties to physically acquire the certificates from the Student Discipline Formation Office (SDFO). But, according to Sayson, Comelec suddenly reverted the process to digital procurement on June 23 after some of his candidates “already requested for physical copies and paid for CGMC.”

“SDFO has set a two-week process time (for the CGMC), which exceeds the filing period. Thus, it had to be processed ASAP (as soon as possible) with the parties in order for SDFO to process it ASAP and reach the filing deadline,” Sosa explains. The change, he furthers, was requested by SDFO itself because the office could not process the sheer number of needed documents on time. The compromise was to have the office verify in bulk whether any aspiring candidates had disciplinary action on their records.

The LaSallian reached out to former Santugon President Marc Lee to elaborate on the party’s arguments on the issue. He initially declined, but he reconsidered and asked for the list of questions. Despite repeated inquiries, he has not provided any response as of press time.

Democracy denied?

Deciding to cancel the entire election itself was an issue for both parties, each of whom believed that not proceeding at all deprives the student body of a choice. “Their blatant disregard for the implications of denying even a brief extension poses a grave threat to the very democracy we have long fought for within the University,” declared Tapat in a statement published after the failure of elections went public. “The non-continuance of the elections threatens to leave students’ voices unheard and their interests unattended.” 

Like Tapat, Santugon also called on DLSU Comelec to overturn their decision and push through with the election. “It is of utmost importance to strike a delicate balance between the pursuit of an election that adheres to the highest standards of credibility and maintaining the spirit of democracy that fuels our society’s progress,” the blue party wrote, calling on the commission to “take accountability for the lapses that they have incurred.”

Even youth group Anakbayan-Vito Cruz was spurred into releasing its own statement, which it prepared independently from the two parties, explains Secretary General Renee Bernas. “Mahigpit ang paninindigan ng aming organisasyon, kaisa ng iba pa ring mga progresibong grupo sa loob ng De La Salle, na mahalaga ang pagkakaroon ng genuine student representation, lalo ngayong nasa ilalim tayo ng rehimeng Marcos-Duterte,” they say.

(It is our organization’s strong belief, which is shared by other progressive groups in DLSU, that having genuine student representation is crucial, especially now that we are under the Marcos-Duterte regime.) 

Disorganized systems and confusion between political parties and the election body have led to the 2023 General Elections’ demise.

A familiar tune

GE 2023 was but an addition to the long list of elections that were thrown into disarray by a wave of procedural issues.  

In 2010, the very first USG election, Tapat found itself with no contenders due to its failure to submit the candidacy requirements on time. 

GE 2015 was a different story. Comelec initially handed out minor offenses to both parties for lapses and delays in COC filing, prompting Tapat to take the issue to the Judiciary as Comelec’s order violated their memorandum of agreement. So Comelec decided to follow the election code to the letter instead. As a result, the entire Santugon slate was ineligible to run; they all failed to submit a soft copy of the “Their Takes” form. Some Tapat candidates suffered a similar fate because of inconsistencies in their COC filings. An independent candidate was also removed for missing the deadline.

The red party in particular seems to find punctuality a struggle, with GE 2018 being a more recent example. A mere two minutes before the deadline, Tapat urgently sought an extension, citing challenges in processing the documents. Comelec declined because they could not achieve quorum, a prerequisite for the commission to discuss the appeal, on such short notice. Santugon had to run unopposed that year.

In Make-Up Elections 2021, Tapat grappled with penalties for two separate but similar reasons. They received a one-day suspension from campaigning for, again, failing to submit required documents before the deadline. Concurrently, the Judiciary suspended campaigning and elections for two BLAZE2022 positions because two of the party’s candidates for the batch government contested Comelec’s decision to declare their candidacies as “incompletely filed.” This case was finally resolved in March, over a month after the elections, and the verdict upheld Comelec’s rejection of the said candidates. 

Looking back, moving forward

As election season returns, some students reflect on what could have been. For Joshua Adrian Tan (IV, AB-POM), Comelec’s decision to still cancel GE 2023 despite appeals from the political parties was surprising. “Nalungkot din ako when I realized and asked to myself, ‘Mas mahalaga ba ang rules kaysa mapakinggan ang panawagan ng mga estudyante sa isang isyu na may kinalaman din naman sa representation nila mismo?’”

(I was also saddened when I asked myself, “Is following the rules to the letter that much more important than hearing the calls of students on an issue that involves representation?”)

He believes Comelec “could have been more considerate” in their ruling, especially since the commission “also had its own lapses surrounding the requirements and processes during the filing period.” 

Likewise, much is expected in Special Elections 2023 in light of GE 2023’s abrupt finish.

Besides calling for a peaceful election this November, Bernas also shared Anakbayan’s expectations for the upcoming elections: for it to continue without any further drawbacks, with Lasallians giving their support and active participation and the newly elected officials considering the interests and needs of the student body. 

On DLSU Comelec’s part, Carlos Gaw Jr., its incumbent chairperson, shares that they have been more diligent in providing requirements to the parties, keeping them informed of updates, and being available for discussions when needed.

“I believe it was a learning experience for all of the parties involved,” he says.

This article is Part Two of the two-part explainer of the GE 2023 cancellation. Read Part One here for the detailed timeline of events that led to the cancellation and its aftermath. 

Kim Balasabas

By Kim Balasabas

Christopher Go

By Christopher Go

Carmen Maitem

By Carmen Maitem

Frank Santiago

By Frank Santiago

Leave a Reply