Criteria in Choosing the Next COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners


In January 2022, PARTICIPATE, a non-partisan and pro-democracy 2,500-strong coalition of academe, civil society organizations, youth groups, and sectoral leaders, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to make the appointment of Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairperson and Commissioners open and transparent to ensure that the next officials are committed to maintaining the political independence of the electoral. In addition, the Coalition called on the President to "Appoint individuals as COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners based on integrity, proven competence, probity, and independence."


PARTICIPATE reiterates our call to appoint qualified individuals to the COMELEC based on a clear set of criteria to protect the integrity of the institution, our elections, and ultimately, our democracy. The members of the COMELEC must be able to assert their autonomy and demonstrate that no political force or favor will be allowed to intervene in any manner in the performance of their mandates.


The current issue involving COMELEC Commissioners concerning cases brought before it underscores the importance of our proposed criteria. Indeed, the COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners must not only be impartial, but they must also be widely perceived as impartial. Their personal and professional conduct should be above suspicion and beyond reproach.


It is also clear to us that the President should not nominate an individual who has, or is, perceived to have a partisan background. The President should not appoint a person solely due to his fraternity affiliation. We also firmly believe that the President should not nominate another person to this key constitutional body primarily because they hail from the Davao region. In fact, breaking from these networks will signal strongly that the President drew from a larger and more competitive pool of public servants.


Given the unique situation that confronts us as we are holding our elections under a pandemic, as well as the myriad challenges concerning our political and electoral laws and practices, we outlined below our proposal on the standards we believe should be used in choosing and evaluating the next COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners.


The Constitution provides for the minimum qualifications to be appointed to the COMELEC. However, we believe that these additional standards are inherently expected and required from the officials of the election management body in order to protect the integrity of our elections, which is the very foundation of our democracy.



INTEGRITY & PROBITY:


  1. The appointee must be truthful and honest in both words and actions -a life marked by integrity and accountability. This involves demonstrated experience in upholding fairness and truth as they exercise discretion in their decisions and actions.

  2. In discharging his/her duties as a public official or private individual, the nominee must not have been involved in or condoned graft and corruption and other acts contrary to our democratic values. He/she should behave ethically.

  3. The COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners must render just, correct, and impartial decisions and do so in a manner free of any suspicion about their independence, impartiality, and integrity.


PROVEN COMPETENCE:


  1. The nominee should be considered based on his or her capacity and merit anchored on relevant experiences and aptitudes and not on one's political affiliation or personal connection.

  2. Aside from the minimum qualifications of COMELEC members provided in our Constitution, the nominee should have appropriate knowledge, skills, and relevant experience in organizational leadership, public administration, including proven competence in high-stakes decision making, problem-solving, and contingency planning as we are holding elections under peculiar circumstances.

  3. The nominee should have a track record of being open to innovative ideas and criticism. A history of supporting evidence-based reforms would be a very useful trait. The nominee should show adherence to and a deep understanding of the value of promoting participative governance in their previous leadership and management roles.

  4. The nominee should commit to employing professional and qualified people who have a deep commitment to upholding the integrity and independence of COMELEC. He/she should promote a sense of pride and mission in public service and values the public's trust by fulfilling one's responsibilities to the best of his/her abilities.


INDEPENDENCE:


  1. The nominee should have demonstrated the ability to perform his/her responsibilities without fear or favor. In the performance of their judicial, regulatory, and administrative functions, the COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners must show their independence by ensuring that their decisions and actions are based on their assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free from any external influence, threat, or pressure, whether direct or indirect, from any group or individual or for any reason.

  2. The nominee should not hesitate to speak up when he/she has uncovered unrighteous, dishonest, and unethical practices. The nominee should have a proven track record of calling out unfair and nefarious practices or supporting whistleblowers in their previous experiences.


We hope that the abovementioned criteria will guide the President as he selects his nominees. We understand that the President already has a shortlist of possible nominees. In this regard, we call on President Duterte to immediately disclose to the public said shortlist as well as the specific standards he would apply to select best-suited candidates to become the next COMELEC Chairperson and Commissioners before he even nominates. The public has the right to know.


In disclosing the shortlist, we are strengthening COMELEC's credibility as an institution and safeguarding the integrity of our electoral processes especially at this time when it is most needed.


By immediately publishing the list of individuals being considered for the key positions in COMELEC, we are strengthening our democracy by being transparent regarding the selection process and by creating concrete avenues for the people to constructively get involved by providing invaluable information about the applicants. Moreover, public interviews by the President of the applicants should be conducted prior to the nomination and on top of the confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments.


In the same light, we are hopeful that the members of the Commission on Appointments will consider these additional criteria in evaluating and deciding the confirmation of those whom the President will nominate to the COMELEC.