Poll body exec tempers peer’s warning to critics

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner George Garcia on Sunday walked back threats issued by his colleague, Rey Bulay, saying the poll body should exercise maximum tolerance against those questioning the conduct of the elections.

In an interview on radio dzBB, Garcia said filing cases against the poll body’s critics should be a last resort for the Comelec.

Garcia’s remarks were a marked departure from Bulay’s warning that he would seek the help of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to round up and jail anyone who suggested that the Comelec is biased or that it would cause election fraud.

“Anyone can file a case against us, and we can also file a case against those who are sabotaging the elections,” Garcia said in Filipino. “But to me, that will have to be exercised under extreme circumstances, where they are really questioning the integrity of our elections.”

He also said that criticism against the Comelec is welcome, as long as it is not based on fake news.

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“For me, all comments and criticisms of the Commission on Elections are very welcome because those help us and lead us to what we should do. However, these comments should be truthful and not based on fake news,” he said.

Garcia urged people to listen to mainstream media and not solely depend on social media for their information.

Senate Minority leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday said Bulay should not be onion-skinned because Filipinos are only expressing their concerns over the May 9 elections.

“We are public servants. We should not scare the public. The plea for a fair and honest election is a plea in every election. There is nothing wrong with that,” Drilon said.

“The citizenry is calling on Comelec to exercise its constitutional duty, and that is expected from them,” Drilon added.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro also hit the Comelec for issuing threats against its critics.

Castro was reacting to Bulay’s threats as well as a statement by Commissioner Socorro Inting attacking a call for honest, peaceful, and orderly elections because it was “unnecessary” and sowed a lack of trust in the poll body.

“There is no place for the onion-skinned and trigger-happy in public office,” Castro said in Filipino. “This is more important the higher the public official is in government and the greater their duties are, like protecting the sanctity of the elections.”

“Citizens either by themselves or through their organizations are completely within their rights to appeal or call for the holding of orderly, peaceful, and credible elections,” Castro said.

“That’s just the Filipinos’ way of telling the poll body, ‘Hey, Comelec, do your job,’ because after all, the holding of orderly, peaceful, and credible elections IS the Comelec’s job under the Constitution,” she added.

Neither do such calls tend to “sow distrust on the integrity of the Comelec” nor “subtly condition the minds” of the public, she said.

“No Commissioner should be onion-skinned and get angry over such appeals from the public, much less threaten to sic the military on citizens who are just exercising their rights,” she added.

“We therefore believe that the statement issued yesterday by members of the Commission is a prior restraint on free speech and expression—which includes political speech—and constricts the already-shrinking democratic space in the country. Such statements the Comelec en banc must retract immediately,” she said.

“We support, laud, and echo, all calls of citizens and their organizations for the Comelec to ensure free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections,” she added.

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