APRIL 11, 2006 (STAR) President Arroyo said yesterday she would "seriously consider" the recommendations of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. for wide-ranging electoral reforms, even as an influential administration party called on her to ask poll officials linked to anomalies to resign out of "delicadeza."

The President profusely thanked Davide, whom she asked to be her adviser on electoral reforms in January, for the "worthy task" he undertook in formulating his "eminent recommendations" for electoral reforms.

Administration members of the House of Representatives welcomed the recommended electoral and political reforms submitted by Davide, which they said underscore the urgent need for Charter change.

Reps. Marcelino Libanan (Lakas, Eastern Samar) and Mauricio Domogan (Lakas, Baguio City) said Davide’s recommendations highlighted the need for reforms in the country’s political system for the country to do away with obsolete mechanisms that delay its democratic processes.

"There’s no other way around this. The term limits, two-party system and de-synchronization of national and local elections need Charter amendments," Libanan said.

Libanan urged the various sectors to keep an open mind on Davide’s proposals which he described as "well thought-out and carefully studied, especially their practicability under the present situation," adding that Davide "deserves our commendation for meeting his task to recommend measures to overhaul our political system."

Domogan said the majority in the House will certainly give weight to Davide’s proposals and determine how lawmakers can help to advance them through legislation.

He also expressed hope that the anti-Charter change groups will spare Davide from attacks and instead study his recommendations fairly and thoroughly.

Davide’s "recommendations will be closely and seriously considered in the light of the common desire to cure the ills of our electoral process, preclude the resurgence of political turmoil, and drive the air of poisoned politics out of the degenerated system," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"Everyone must be on board that train of electoral reform and I thank Davide for giving a strong impetus to our common goals in the national interest," she said.

Davide earlier recommended amending the 1987 Constitution to implement electoral reforms, including limiting terms of elective officials, punishing them for switching political loyalties, and forging a strong party system.

He also asked Congress and the Comelec to craft changes in the Omnibus Election Code, and for the Executive branch "to improve public awareness about their role in bringing about credible and meaningful elections."

Meanwhile, the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP) of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales urged the President to "appoint more men of integrity and capability to the Comelec in order to make the poll body credible once again."

PDSP spokesman and lawyer Jose Ricafrente said that while Mrs. Arroyo cannot remove Commission on Elections officials, she can exercise persuasive powers to convince top poll officials linked to anomalies –including chairman Benjamin Abalos –to resign and pave the way for badly needed electoral reforms.

The Comelec chairman and the commissioners can only be removed from their post by impeachment.

The PDSP also welcomed the appointment of former presidential adviser on the peace process Rene Sarmiento as Comelec commissioner, saying he was a good choice for the post.

However, the PDSP said the President should also fill the two other vacancies in the Comelec with "upright, dedicated individuals who will work to improve the electoral system and (restore) the people’s trust in the commission."

"Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos and the other commissioners linked to the anomalous computerization program should step down before any genuine reforms can be implemented. Rebuilding a damaged institution starts with installing leadership with very high credibility," Ricafrente said.

He said Comelec officials should heed the growing clamor for their resignations. A recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 52 percent of Filipinos want the current coterie of poll officials to quit.

"These officials are impeding reforms and doing the country a great disservice by clinging to their posts. The government cannot hope to regain the people’s trust in the poll body and in the electoral process if these officials tainted with anomalies remain in power," Ricafrente said.

"With another electoral exercise approaching, we need a Comelec that is beyond reproach. It’s time to sweep out the old system and introduce changes that will make the country’s electoral exercises credible once more," he said.

The anomalous purchase of automated counting machines costing P1.3 billion, the controversy involving former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and allegations that some election officials helped rig the results of the 2004 national elections have greatly damaged the reputation of the poll body, he said.

The recent admission of Commissioner Resurreccion Borra that there was indeed cheating in the 2004 polls sparked more outrage and fueled public outcry for a leadership change at the Comelec. — Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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