Did you know that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has been safeguarding the fundamental right to vote in the Philippines since its establishment as an independent constitutional body in 1940? As a guardian of the people’s right to vote, COMELEC is tasked with the crucial duty of upholding the integrity of elections.
Elections are not merely a process; they are the very heartbeat of democracy, allowing communities to voice their aspirations and ensuring that their needs find representation. With this in mind, let us take a look at its vital role in shaping the destiny of the Filipino people through the democratic process. Let’s get started!
The recent budget challenges faced by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) underscore its immense significance as a pivotal government agency responsible for overseeing the democratic process in the Philippines.
As revealed by Chairman George Erwin Garcia, COMELEC’s crucial role in preparing for the 2025 National and Local Elections (NLE) has been hampered by a significant budget reduction of P17.4 billion.
In a time when the integrity and transparency of elections are paramount, COMELEC plays an irreplaceable role in ensuring fair and credible polls.
This budget shortfall not only affects the overtime pay of its dedicated workers but also impacts critical aspects like the transportation of new machines and the pilot testing of ballots and other necessary preparations.
As such, the challenges faced by COMELEC serve as a reminder of the agency’s vital role in upholding the democratic principles upon which the Philippines is built and the need for adequate resources to fulfill this essential mission.
The history of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is a fascinating journey through the evolution of electoral governance in the Philippines.
- COMELEC, the Commission on Elections, was established as an independent constitutional body through a significant amendment to the 1935 Constitution in 1940.
- This amendment was driven by a growing dissatisfaction with the conduct of elections under the Secretary of the Interior, who was suspected of favoring the political interests of the ruling party.
- The Secretary of the Interior’s close relationship with the President raised concerns that elections were being influenced to serve the incumbent Secretary’s political agenda.
- To address these concerns, the National Assembly proposed a constitutional amendment to create a Commission on Elections composed of a Chairman and two members, with the aim of taking over the election-related functions of the Secretary of the Interior.
- This amendment was ratified by the Filipino people in a plebiscite on June 17, 1940. However, it couldn’t be implemented in time for the 1940 elections. As a result, the National Assembly passed Commonwealth Act No. 607, establishing a statutory Commission on Elections with the same powers as the constitutional Commission. This act took effect on August 22, 1940, and the Commission began its operations on September 14, 1940, overseeing the December 10, 1940 elections.
Becoming a Constitutional Commission
- The constitutional amendment creating the Commission was officially approved on December 2, 1940. On June 21, 1941, Commonwealth Act No. 657 was enacted to reorganize the Commission as a constitutional body.
- Members of the statutory Commission continued as members of the newly-organized constitutional Commission.
- The Commission’s Chairman and Members were given nine-year terms each, with one member being replaced every three years, except for the initial appointees, who had different term lengths.
Expansion and Changes
- Subsequent constitutional changes occurred, including the 1973 Constitution, which increased the membership of the Commission from three to nine members but reduced their term of office from nine to seven years.
- These changes aimed to further strengthen and refine the role and composition of COMELEC in the Philippines’ electoral process.
Relevant Laws to COMELEC
Republic Act No. 11591 – An Act Fixing the Last Day of Registration of Voters for the 2022 National and Local Elections (30 September 2021)
This law establishes the final day for voter registration in preparation for the 2022 National and Local Elections. It specifies the deadline for eligible citizens to register as voters, ensuring that the voter rolls are up to date for the upcoming elections.
Republic Act No. 10367 – An Act Providing for Mandatory Biometrics Voter Registration (15 February 2013)
This law mandates that voter registration must include biometric data, such as fingerprints and photographs. Biometric registration enhances the security and accuracy of the voter rolls by ensuring that each voter has a unique and verifiable identity.
Republic Act No. 10366 – An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to establish Precincts assigned to accessible polling places exclusively for Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens (15 February 2013)
This law addresses the accessibility needs of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and Senior Citizens during elections. It empowers COMELEC to establish precincts in accessible polling places exclusively for PWDs and Senior Citizens, making it easier for them to exercise their right to vote.
Congress of the Philippines Joint Resolution No. 3 – Joint Resolution Annulling the Book of Voters of the Municipalities/Cities in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Directing the Commission on Election to Immediately Conduct a New General Registration of Voters in the Region, Providing Funds therefor, and for Other Purposes (11 June 2012)
This joint resolution addresses specific electoral issues in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It directs COMELEC to annul the existing Book of Voters in certain areas, conduct a new general registration of voters, and allocate funds for this purpose to ensure a fair and accurate electoral process.
Republic Act No. 8189 – Providing for a General Registration of Voters, Adopting a System of Continuing Registration, Prescribing the Procedures Thereof and Authorizing the Appropriation of Funds Therefor (11 June 1996)
This law outlines the procedures for general registration of voters and establishes a system of continuing registration. It ensures that eligible citizens have the opportunity to register as voters at any time, maintaining an up-to-date and accurate voter list.
Republic Act No. 3588 – An Act to Provide for Permanent Registration of Voters and for this Purpose to Postpone the General Renewal of Registration of Voters which is set for Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Three (Repealed by Republic Act No. 8189)
Although repealed by Republic Act No. 8189, this law is mentioned in some COMELEC resolutions for reference purposes. It initially aimed to provide permanent voter registration and postponed the general renewal of registration in 1963.
These laws play a crucial role in shaping the electoral processes and procedures in the Philippines, ensuring the integrity and inclusivity of the country’s elections. COMELEC operates within the framework of these laws to fulfill its mandate of conducting fair and transparent elections.
Enforce and Administer Election Laws:
- COMELEC is responsible for enforcing and administering all laws and regulations related to the conduct of various electoral processes, including elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referendums, and recalls.
Jurisdiction over Electoral Contests:
- COMELEC has exclusive original jurisdiction over all disputes and contests pertaining to the elections, returns, and qualifications of elective officials at the regional, provincial, and city levels. It also holds appellate jurisdiction over contests involving elective municipal officials decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction and elective barangay officials decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction.
- Decisions on election contests involving municipal and barangay offices are final, executory, and not subject to appeal.
Decision-Making on Election Matters:
- COMELEC is tasked with deciding all questions related to elections, except those involving the right to vote. This includes determining the number and location of polling places, appointing election officials and inspectors, and managing the voter registration process.
Deputization of Law Enforcement Agencies:
- With the concurrence of the President, COMELEC can deputize law enforcement agencies and government instrumentalities, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to ensure that elections are conducted freely, orderly, honestly, peacefully, and credibly.
Registration and Accreditation:
- COMELEC is responsible for registering political parties, organizations, or coalitions. To be registered, these entities must meet specific requirements, including presenting their platform or program of government. Religious denominations and sects are not eligible for registration. Entities that seek to achieve their goals through violence, unlawful means, or refuse to uphold the Constitution, or are supported by foreign governments, may be denied registration.
- Foreign government financial contributions to political parties, organizations, coalitions, or candidates related to elections are considered interference in national affairs and may lead to the cancellation of registration, along with other potential legal penalties.
Petitions and Investigations:
- COMELEC can file petitions in court, either upon a verified complaint or its own initiative, for the inclusion or exclusion of voters. It also investigates and, if necessary, prosecutes cases involving violations of election laws, including election fraud, offenses, and malpractices.
Recommendations to Congress:
- COMELEC can recommend effective measures to Congress to minimize election spending. This may include limitations on where propaganda materials can be posted and efforts to prevent and penalize election-related fraud, offenses, malpractices, and nuisance candidacies.
Recommendations for Disciplinary Actions:
- COMELEC can recommend to the President the removal of any officer or employee it has deputized or the imposition of other disciplinary actions for violations or disregard of its directives, orders, or decisions.
- After each election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum, or recall, COMELEC is required to submit a comprehensive report on the conduct of these events to the President and Congress. This report provides an overview of the electoral process and its outcomes.
When you visit the official website of COMELEC, you will see a host of services they offer to the public. Here are some of them:
- Requirement for Voting:
- Voter registration is a mandatory requirement for any eligible Filipino citizen who intends to participate in Philippine elections.
- Definition of Voter Registration:
- As defined by Republic Act No. 8189, voter registration is the process of completing and submitting a sworn application for registration to the election officer of the city or municipality where the applicant resides. Approval by the Election Registration Board is required to complete the registration.
- Key Elements of the Registration Process:
- Completing an Application Form for Registration (AFR) does not automatically make an individual a registered voter.
- The applicant must personally submit the accomplished AFR to the local Commission on Elections (COMELEC) office before the Election Officer (EO), who represents COMELEC in each city or municipality.
- Approval by the Election Registration Board (ERB):
- The applicant’s registration is not complete even after filing the AFR before the EO.
- The Election Registration Board (ERB) must approve the application, which occurs during scheduled quarterly hearings.
- By law, ERB hearings take place four times a year, specifically on the third Monday of April, July, October, and January.
- Finalizing the Registration:
- When the filed AFR is approved by the ERB, the registration process is nearly finished.
- The ERB must approve the applications of all qualified applicants during its quarterly sessions.
- Inclusion in the Book of Voters (BOV):
- The last step in the registration process is the inclusion of the ERB-approved AFR in the Book of Registered Voters (BOV) of the respective city, municipality, or Highly Urbanized City (HUC) district.
- After the ERB hearing, the EO adds the approved AFR to the BOV alongside all other registered voters in the area.
- Becoming a Registered Voter:
- Once the approved AFR is included in the BOV, the voter registration applicant is officially considered a registered voter in the concerned locality.
Voter ID Generation and Distribution
The generation and distribution of voter ID cards, a crucial component of electoral processes, have been temporarily halted. This decision is a response to the approval of a bill by the House of Representatives. This bill aims to establish a national identification system that would introduce a single ID for all government transactions.
Under Republic Act No. 9189, as amended by Republic Act No. 10590, all eligible citizens of the Philippines who are living abroad (i.e., OFWs) and meet certain criteria have the right to participate in the electoral process.
Overseas voting allows Filipino citizens to vote for Senators and Party-List Representatives in Philippine elections, ensuring that their voices are heard in the political affairs of their home country.
Register Anywhere Project (RAP)
The Register Anywhere Project (RAP) is an innovative initiative designed to facilitate voter registration for eligible individuals in the Philippines, especially those who are temporarily residing in areas outside their permanent residence.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is COMELEC, and what is its role in the Philippines?
COMELEC, short for the Commission on Elections, is an independent constitutional body in the Philippines responsible for overseeing and administering elections and other electoral processes. Its primary role is to ensure the integrity, fairness, and transparency of elections in the country.
2. Who are the members of COMELEC, and how are they appointed?
COMELEC is composed of a Chairman and six Commissioners. They are appointed by the President of the Philippines with the consent of the Commission on Appointments. The Chairman and Commissioners have fixed terms of office.
3. What are the key functions of COMELEC?
COMELEC has several crucial functions, including enforcing election laws, resolving electoral disputes, deciding on questions related to elections, registering political parties, recommending measures to minimize election spending, and submitting comprehensive reports on electoral events to the President and Congress, among others.
4. How does COMELEC ensure the fairness of elections?
COMELEC promotes fairness in elections by enforcing campaign finance regulations, monitoring election spending, conducting voter registration, and preventing and penalizing election fraud, offenses, and malpractices. It also deputizes law enforcement agencies to maintain order during elections.
5. Can I register to vote anywhere in the Philippines, or do I need to register in my hometown?
You should register to vote in the city, municipality, or district where you are a permanent resident. However, the Register Anywhere Project (RAP) allows qualified voters temporarily residing in different areas to register to vote in their temporary residence’s jurisdiction.
6. How do I file a complaint or report an electoral violation to COMELEC?
You can file a complaint or report electoral violations to COMELEC by contacting your local COMELEC office or using their official website. They have a complaints and feedback mechanism to address such issues.
7. What is the role of COMELEC in the Philippines’ electoral calendar?
COMELEC plays a central role in organizing and conducting various electoral events, including national and local elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referendums, and recalls. It sets the schedules, manages the logistics, and ensures the proper conduct of these events.
8. Is COMELEC’s decision on election disputes final?
COMELEC has the authority to make final decisions on election disputes, particularly those involving municipal and barangay offices. These decisions are generally not subject to appeal, ensuring a swift resolution to electoral contests.
Commission on Elections
Address: Palacio del Gobernador Bldg., Gen. Luna St., Intramuros, Manila
Telephone number: +632 527-2771
Office hours: Tuesdays till Saturdays, 8 am to 5 pm
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/comelec.ph/