The Commission on Elections of the Philippines – more commonly referred to as the COMELEC – is the independent body, created by the 1987 Constitution, responsible for the enforcement and administration of all laws and regulations relating to the conduct of elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referenda and recalls.
To effectively fulfill this mandate, the Constitution grants the COMELEC the authority to decide on practically all matters involving elections, including the determination of the number and location of polling places; the appointment of election officials and inspectors, and the registration of voters. The single exception to this sweeping Constitutional grant of authority is that the COMELEC has no authority to decide on matters involving the right to vote. However, the COMELEC is empowered to file petitions in court for inclusion or exclusion of voters, and to investigate and prosecute cases of violations of election laws.
Apart from the administration of elections and the enforcement of election laws, the COMELEC also performs judicial functions. It decides all contests relating to elections, election returns, and the qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials. Appeals from decisions of trial courts involving elective municipal and barangay officials are likewise entertained by the COMELEC.
A Brief History
As in many other countries, election management in the Philippines was not always entrusted to an independent Constitutional body. Before the creation of the COMELEC in 1940, the responsibility for running elections fell within the scope of the duties of the Executive Bureau, an office under the Department of the Interior. Upon the abolition of the Bureau, the Secretary of the Interior assumed the task directly, exercising immediate supervision over all government officials designated by law to perform election duties.
However, the close political relationship between the Secretary of the Interior and the President engendered the apprehension that elections could easily be subverted to serve the interests of the incumbent. This led to the widespread perception that elections were tainted with partisan bias, and could therefore not be free and honest.
As a result, on the 11th of April 1940, the National Assembly drafted an amendment to the 1935 Constitution, embodied in Resolution No. 73, which would lead to the creation of an independent electoral commission. Ratified in the plebiscite of the 17th of June 1940, this amendment — together with two others: to permit the reelection of the President; and to establish a bicameral legislature by reviving the Senate – was submitted to the President of the United States for approval.
While awaiting the sanction of the American President the National Assembly, through Commonwealth Act No. 607, created a statutory Commission on Elections vested with the same powers that it would have under the Constitutional amendment. The law took effect upon its approval on the 22nd of August 1940, and the Commission on Elections began its operations on the 14th of September of the same year, preparing for the elections slated to be held on the 10th of December 1940.
The United States signified its approval of the Constitutional amendment creating the Commission on Elections on the 2nd of December 1940, and on the 21st of June 1941, the National Assembly enacted Commonwealth Act No. 657 reorganizing the statutory Commission on Elections as a Constitutional body.