How missing signatures, erratic guidelines killed GE 2023

The mess in procedures witnessed in the 2023 General Elections called the need for improvements in administering the annual polls.

After a period of silence, last July 10, on what would have been the start of the campaign period, the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec) shocked the Lasallian community by announcing the cancellation of General Elections (GE) 2023. The reason? Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) and Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) failed to accomplish all requirements before the deadline.

Both parties issued statements hours after Comelec’s ruling, baring what had been, in the parties’ eyes, a messy filing period mired in confusing guidelines and changing deadlines.

To better understand what had transpired ahead of GE 2023, The LaSallian presents an in-depth investigation chronicling the series of events that led to the cancellation and the actions different parties have taken in its aftermath. 

The General Elections 2023 was canceled due to a multitude of factors, ultimately impeding the Lasallian community’s timely exercise to vote for their next set of leaders.

What went down

The standard election timeline typically goes like this: first, the release of the calendar; next, the opening of the filing period, during which all requirements are provided. This is followed by the closing of submissions, seminars, the campaign period, and finally, the elections. But what unfolded this year was a far cry from this usual, straightforward sequence.

Following the calendar of events for GE 2023, Comelec formally opened the filing for the certificates of candidacy (COCs) on June 1. What was not provided on time was Form C-04B, or the “Their Takes” form, which contains a list of questions on the aspiring candidate’s political opinions.

Former Comelec Chair Joaquin Sosa says it was the “practice of the commission” to upload it later and that candidates in past elections could still complete the form “even though the questions were sent late.” But the problem that arose from this unavailability was not that it was eight days late; on June 9, when the questions were finally made available, Comelec had neglected to inform either party of the form’s availability.

The commission that year also set an independent deadline for Form C-02—which required the signatures of the Office of Student Leadership Involvement, Formation and Empowerment (SLIFE) Director and the candidates—a deviation from the usual practice, according to Sosa. This was initially due on June 17, however, Comelec later announced on June 13 that the deadline would be moved to June 26, taking into account the fact that the initial deadline fell on midterms week. Ten days after the announcement, the commission released an updated calendar that also pushed back some more dates, namely the Debate and Miting de Avance.

On that same day, they informed both political parties of changes to the Certificate of Good Moral Character submission guidelines in response to requests from the Student Discipline Formation Office and SLIFE, which aimed to simplify the process for the offices. Both political parties were able to comply with the new procedure, according to Sosa.

Several days passed, then the deadline for COCs was just a day away. It was only then that Santugon Secretary General Martin Carreon, according to the party’s statement, discovered that Form C-04B had been uploaded. The next day, July 3, at 6 pm, COC filing closed.

What was done

The next few days were a spectacle.

July 5 saw Comelec gathering the heads of both political parties to a meeting where they announced their decision to cancel GE 2023. The next day, Santugon and Tapat submitted a joint letter of appeal, though Sosa points out that this was not their first. On July 4, a day after the COC filing deadline, the parties informally made their case for an extension, but for different reasons. “Specifically, their appeal was that they were unable to procure the signatures for [Form] C-02 (for one party), and the C-03 of some other candidates (for the other party),” he expounds in an online correspondence. 

When it came to the joint letter, a copy of which The LaSallian acquired, the parties instead argued on two technicalities: the COC guidelines were only completed on June 9, and the requirement of 20 school days for COC filing under the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) was unmet due to three holidays during the period. Santugon made a separate appeal on July 8, arguing that the guidelines were inconsistent for the CGMC and Forms C-02A and C-04B.

Come July 10, DLSU Comelec sent an email informing both parties that they denied their appeals. An hour later, the commission made the “failure of elections” public; neither party, they said, was able to submit all the required documents. The decision was also verified by a legal counsel, which Sosa discloses was composed of Counsel Officer Alej Jamir and Inspector General NJ Landicho of the USG Judiciary.

The decision came through a 3-1 vote, with the sole dissenter being incumbent Comelec Chairperson Carlos Gaw Jr., who was then a commissioner for the polling body. “My vote against the majority decision was primarily based on the issue regarding the oversights made by Comelec in supplying certain components of the candidates’ certificate of candidacy,” he explains, adding that their delay in providing the questions “should at least warrant the candidates an extension.”

In his separate opinion, a copy of which Comelec provided, Gaw argued that the start of the filing period should have been June 9, the day they officially provided the list of “Their Takes” questions. He also maintained that the commission should have considered candidates who lacked signatures from certain offices “as these material defects may still be corrected past its deadline,” citing the Supreme Court case Alialy v. Commission on Elections as a basis for his argument.

What followed

Former Tapat President Marv Sayson admits that they did not “pursue the Judiciary route” after Comelec handed down its final ruling. “When this option was presented, it was already quite late, and the upcoming finals week further affected the situation,” he reasons. Instead, the parties were invited by the Legislative Assembly (LA) to give their feedback for amendments to the OEC. 

The LaSallian received an invite from the LA last July 18 about a legislative inquiry set to be held the next day. This was postponed, though no official notice was given. A source in the Office of the Ombudsman informed the publication that, according to their department head, it was beyond the LA’s mandate to initiate such inquiries. 

But “time constraints” forced legislators to make a “last minute” decision not to hold these sessions publicly, Chief Legislator Sebastian Diaz discloses. “The availability of the representatives of the political parties and Comelec wasn’t aligning with the availability of the legislators involved,” he says. Instead, the LA conducted closed-door sessions with the political parties and Comelec on July 29 and August 11, respectively, as a way to bypass their then-unsolved problem. 

Diaz confirms that, at the time, there were no existing guidelines that enabled the LA to initiate such a proceeding. They finally addressed this gap last August 16, when legislators passed the Legislative Procedures Act. “It has been something that I have personally been working on indirectly since I was a new legislator back in 2021,” he recalls. “The issue of not having guidelines on hearings, inquiries, and subpoenas did become more apparent during the time right after the failure of GE 2023, so it took priority over some of the bills on my legislative agenda.”

The LA approved amendments to the OEC last September 27, while an ad hoc Committee on Electoral Affairs presented findings from the inquiry last October 25. They found that the standing OEC had a significant lack of definitions and differences between the types of elections and what would prompt a cancellation. No protection was given to aspirants, and there were no provisions that allowed for any extensions in the allotted filing period.

The modified version of the OEC, which as of press time has not been made available to the public, rectifies these points. 

The LaSallian reached out to former Santugon President Marc Lee for his party’s side of the story. He initially declined but later agreed and requested a copy of the questions. As of press time, he has not responded to repeated inquiries.

With reports from Christopher Go and Carmen Maitem

This article is Part One of the two-part explainer of the GE 2023 cancellation. Read Part Two here for the analysis of the appeals and statements issued by both the political parties and DLSU Comelec.

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