Disqualified ABSC bets question Comelec’s process on rulings

Former candidates slam 'complex,' 'tiring' electoral system
Art by Janssen Romero/ THE FLAME

ALL CANDIDATES who were disqualified in this year’s Artlets Student Council (ABSC) elections are questioning the AB Commission on Election’s process, saying the poll body did not provide them enough opportunities to appeal the decision.

On April 26, the AB Comelec announced the temporary disqualification of four candidates, including two of the three bets running for president, due to alleged campaign violations.

Two separate resolutions released by the AB Comelec on the same day barred Tindig-AB bets Justine Claire Ello (for president), Amaya Cabiling (secretary) and Frances Ricci Tongco (public relations officer) and independent candidate Gabriel Emmanuel Gabrillo (for president) from participating in the student council poll. The ruling rendered their votes invalid.

The decision has raised concerns among the candidates, with Tindig-AB party criticizing the AB Comelec for its supposed “lack of due process.”

“Due process was lost as we weren’t given the chance to appeal for the rulings of the first and second offense,” Tindig-AB campaign manager Dale Marollano told The Flame.

According to him, AB Comelec only reminded Tindig-AB of its right to appeal during its third offense.

“We sent out their (AB Comelec) required letters of explanation on each of our first and second offenses within 24 hours. But after receiving our letters, a ruling will be released immediately wherein weren’t we supposed to have an appeal?”

“They ask for a letter of explanation, but they don’t seem to take into account our personal or technical difficulties,” Cabiling, the lone candidate for secretary, said.

The party supposedly violated several implementing rules and regulations after sharing posts of the candidates’ pictures on its social media page; failing to provide a link to their posts in the commission’s tracker; and failing to remove campaign materials from their personal social media accounts when the election began.

Tindig-AB also claimed that the AB Comelec had  failed to explain to the candidates their temporary disqualification until the poll body came up with a Facebook post clarifying Resolutions No. 18 and 19.

Gabriel Emmanuel Gabrillo, who ran against Ello as an independent candidate, was also disqualified due to alleged campaign violations.

“There was a violation of due process because they did not respect the five days for us to issue or file an appeal. They publicized it immediately,” ABSC candidate for president Gabrillo told The Flame.

He shared Marollano’s views, saying his first offense was recorded “without the Comelec demanding” his defense.

Gabrillo received his first offense on April 20 after sharing a Facebook post of The Flame showing the credentials of all ABSC candidates. The AB Comelec had prohibited independent candidates from appearing in the same campaign materials.

“The commission has no right to deem the [contents of] publications as campaign materials as it is only for informing [the public]. The commission cannot assume otherwise. The fact that they ruled us for that, it’s a sort of violation of our rights to expression,” Gabrillo said.

The former independent candidate argued that offenses should not have been publicized until the candidates have exhausted their five-day right to appeal.

According to the University Students’ Elections Code (USEC) of 2011, complaints on election protests or offenses should be filed in writing within five days after the violation was committed.

Tindig-AB and Gabrillo intend to contest the ruling of the local Comelec unit through the Central Comelec.

“We acknowledge that we made a mistake, however, the penalty that must be imposed on us candidates, on me as a candidate, must be just in the eyes of the law.” Gabrillo said.

USEC provisions ‘outdated’

The disqualified party and Gabrillo believe that the USEC is outdated, and called for the reduction of poll requirements and restrictions.

Ello told The Flame that the Comelec had required candidates to delete the platforms posted on their social media the day before elections.

“Our personal accountability to fulfill those platforms are lost because the Comelec requires us to delete it… It also robs the opportunity of students to get to know their leaders because the platforms are not available,” she said.

The vagueness of the student election code undermines student polls, Cabiling said, citing instances of Comelec’s approval for each candidate’s posts.

Marollano echoed a similar view, saying the student elections code needs an “overall” revision to adapt to current events.

Gabrillo claimed that the USEC fails to consider the different media types available and is too strict on political parties.

“I do believe that the rules that are stipulated in USEC need to be lessened in terms of the different requirements for political or partisan organizations. What happens is that rules are strict for political parties, so there are no political parties anymore,” the former candidates said.

Current USEC provisions and AB Comelec’s implementation “erodes” democracy in the University, he added.

According to Gabrillo, the local Comelec unit violated the right to freedom of expression by requiring approval to post testimonials from other students.

“They (AB Comelec) will file a case against you that it is considered as campaign material or related to campaigning. This is against our freedom of expression as students and as normal citizens,” he said.

Cabling, meanwhile, cited the need for clearer poll regulations, especially on what constitutes campaigning.

“I don’t think it’s considered campaigning if you only want to clarify our stance on certain issues.” secretarial candidate Cabiling said.

“And the implemented rules and regulations [of the Comelec] itself did not go into specifics on what was considered as campaigning, she added.”

The Flame has reached out to AB Comelec on Friday, April 26, for comment but has yet to receive a response as of writing.

‘Complex’ electoral process 

For Tongco, 7 P.M. classes made it difficult to comply with the commission’s requirements to re-check and input campaign materials in the commission’s tracker.

“As someone who ran for the first time, it is disheartening on my end. It is discouraging to continue [running] due to the many confusing and stressful processes,” Tongco said.

“Majority of the posts during campaign season were done with me quickly going home to revise the pubmat at around 6 PM, have it checked by 7 PM, and post it before 8 PM.”

Ello, a former ABSC external vice-president, said it is “tiring” to be a student leader within the university.

“From the day you start filing your candidacy until the end of your term [in office], there are many restrictions and processes to follow and learn just in order to be successful for your community,” she said.

“It’s hard to stomach that as a student leader, all your efforts will be put to waste only because of not deleting campaign materials.”

Marollano described the 2024 ABSC election as a “failure.”

“I feel pity for my slate and at the same time, maybe the USEC and IRR (implementing rules and regulation) really need an overhaul to prevent future candidates from experiencing the same problems,” he said.

“It really needs to change in order to relive the political environment in UST and reduce the current student apathy in the university.”

AB Comelec suspended the proclamation of Ello, Cabiling and Tongco on Friday, April 27, following the announcement of the election results.

Only communication junior Kevin Christian Crisolo and Asian studies sophomore Naniela Nicole Lagunsad were elected as ABSC internal vice president and treasurer, respectively.

This year’s AB Halalan recorded 1,352 voters or about 38% of the Faculty’s total student population of 3,555. F — V. Palad and H.K. Pavon with reports from John Martin Revilla


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