I would like to commend now former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos for resigning his post after innumerable controversies surrounding election irregularities and the National Broadband Network contract.
Several Philippine figures, including CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, have noted that in other countries, officials accused of graft and corruption or who face public disapproval often volunteer to resign. Because such officials could still face criminal charges after resignation, these resignations are not so much for the personal benefit of the officeholder, but for the benefit of the office. Volunteering to resign saves the individual and the country from the possibility of disgraceful impeachment proceedings. More importantly, however, distancing the corrupt practices of an individual from the official position he or she holds defends the sanctity of and respect for the office as an institution. Furthermore, voluntarily resigning in the face of public disapproval defends the basic principle of democracy. Democracy at its most fundamental is rule by the people; the people do not need formal election or impeachment proceedings to voice their will and officials do not need such proceedings to follow that will.
Philippine politics, however, has conspicuously lacked officials with the integrity to resign in the face of corruption charges and public disapproval in order to save the sanctity of their offices. The standard operating procedure of such officials has mainly been denial despite whatever testimony and evidence may be presented. They often vocally invite probes claiming they would only confirm their innocence, then work to block or delay investigations. After a span of time when both the investigators and the public feels somewhat frustrated at the slow pace of investigation, the officials ask that for the sake of unity and progress we forget about the controversy and move on. The most obvious and scarring example of such tactics is the “Hello Garci” controversy, where the Arroyo administration denied wrongdoing, blocked submission of evidence and testimony of key witnesses, and then asked that the country simply forget about it.
This was the standard operating procedure, that is, until October 1st, when Atty. Abalos, chose to resign. Abalos faced mounting calls for his resignation, especially from the House of Representatives which was preparing to file for his impeachment. More importantly, however, he faced growing disapproval from all classes and sectors of society, and presided over a Comelec which had lost prestige and the trust of the people. Abalos’ move to resign was an honorable one, as he can no longer use his post as Comelec commissioner to protect personal allegations, and the Comelec as an institution will no longer suffer due to the negative image and alleged misdeeds of its now former commissioner.
This is the second time in the past month when democratic principles have asserted their strength over traditional Philippine politik. The guilty verdict of Joseph “Erap” Estrada earlier this month was in and of itself a victory for justice and democracy. No matter what political manipulations may ensue in the following months, Erap’s conviction will stand as a powerful symbol that democratic institutions should and can prevail over power, wealth and connections. Abalos’ resignation echoes such symbolism. Our democracy does have the potential to work. In the enduring words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.”