THE National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), in cooperation with the Makati Business Club (MBC), the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), held its first of a series of forums on April 24, 2015 at the AIM Conference Center, to address the four (4) guide questions given to five (5) sectors on how to ensure the credibility of the coming national and local elections on May 9, 2016.
These questions are:
1. What, in your sector’s view, are the top five concerns or issues that could affect the credibility of the 2016 elections? (Concerns/Issues)
2. What might explain why such issues or concerns exist, and what other factors or conditions contribute to it? (Causes)
3. How should these be addressed? Which different groups and agencies should work to address them? (Solutions)
4. What are your sector’s expectations from the 24 April discussion, and what tasks or activities should be carried out after? (Recommendations)
The five sectors and conveners who presented their respective papers are the following:
1. Business. Mr. Peter Perfecto of MBC is the convenor representing MBC, MAP, FINEX and the Philippine Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
2. Political Parties. Dr. Edna Co and Bishop Efraim Tendero from the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, respectively, are the co-convenors representing the top five parties with the most representation in the Lower House and the Caucus of Party Lists. However, only the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) was able to prepare its position paper.
3. Civil Society. David Balangue of NAMFREL is the convenor.
4. IT group. The writer is the convenor representing the IT professionals of Automated Election System (AES) Watch.
5. The Commission on Elections (Comelec)
After the whole afternoon discussion, the forum yielded with the willingness of all the five sectors to support in achieving credible elections. NAMFREL highlighted that the participants will expect soon a clear definition of the extent of automation, security and transparency features of the system, the timeline for the roll out, and an opportunity to engage in detailing the system’s Terms of Reference (TOR) and the RFP if needed. On the other hand, Comelec will engage with the private sector, civil society, and with all other players concerning with the concerns/issues raised and recommendations proposed. It was agreed that the multi-sector discussion should continue and find opportunities in areas like collaboration in helping ensure compliance with the reporting of campaign income & expense regulations by candidates and understanding & addressing vote buying syndrome.
To appreciate what has been discussed in the forum, let me summarize each sector’s paper.
Hereunder is the Business Sector’s (BS) position:
• Concerns/Issues: Appointments of Comelec top officials (done already), PNP Chief, and Chairpersons of Civil Service Commission and Commission on Audit; all national candidates must make public their vision, goals, and platform upon expression of their intention to run for the position so that the electorate will have a solid basis in evaluating their performance as public servants against their promises; party-list nominees should genuinely stand for the marginalized segments of society towards reforming sectoral representation in Congress through legislation; Government should embark on a widely-disseminated information campaign in order to educate and empower voters (e.g., qualifications of candidates, criteria for choosing the right candidates, the necessity of validating their biometric registration, and process of voting under an AES); and, Government should reach out to socially-responsible media companies to provide dissemination support during high viewership timeslots and utilizing the appropriate dialects when necessary.
• Recommendations: The BS fully supports automated 2016 elections provided Comelec has fully complied with all safeguards and standards under the Election Automation Law. Should full automation no longer be considered viable, BS believes that a partial return to a manual process of casting and counting votes should be complemented with electronic consolidation and transmission of results. Another alternative to consider would be to implement both fully automated and partially manual elections based on geographical considerations, such as population density, proximity to urban centers, and the adequacy of power supply. Further, other recommendations are: Comelec, AFP, and PNP should strictly implement the gun ban under the Omnibus Election Code; BS urges the forging of peace covenants among political parties and candidates for national and local positions, the Comelec, AFP, PNP, DepEd, schools, civil society, and faith-based organizations to supplement peacekeeping efforts by law enforcement agencies; Comelec must actively monitor activities during the campaign period for violations of spending limits and non-conformity to the prescribed sizes and allowed locations for placement of campaign materials; and, Comelec must, before the election period, publicly identify which candidates have violated campaign guidelines and have repeatedly failed to report campaign contributions and expenditures during and previous elections for the benefit of the electorate.
For Political Parties (PP), the following is the summary of their paper:
• Concerns/Issues: Composition and credibility of the Chairman and members of the Commission on Elections; conduct of the 2016 national and local elections; performance of the automated election system; campaign finance, including source of campaign funds, campaign expenditures, and vote buying; and degree of election fraud and violence.
• Causes: The election process has been reduced to a simple question of gaining power for power’s sake within the context of personalistic politics, rather than competing ideologies, programs and platforms. The lack of transparency, accountability, and political will of the Comelec are factors in the growth of distrust of opponents, rules, election management, and voters. The weak political party system paved the way for personal, family or dynastic political structures that effectively hamper the growth and strengthening of modern and democratic political and electoral system; and, the electorate has been affected by money politics and their votes are constantly under siege from vote-buying, election fraud, and election violence.
• Solutions: The achievement of credible, fair, and free elections generally depends on the strengthening of their institutional pillars: the Comelec and other relevant agencies, the electoral laws, the political parties, the election monitors, and the electorate. Aside from Comelec, the other agencies that need to address the management and conduct of the elections are DepEd, DILG/PNP, DOF, DND/ AFP, DOST, Congress, and the courts (i.e., including the HRET, SET, and the PET). Other important sectors that need to be mobilized for election work are media, church, civil society electoral reform stakeholders, academic community, business, youth and women.
• Recommendations: The PP sector recommends affirmation of democratic principles; immediate passage of electoral reform bills, such as the anti-dynasty bill, the political party reform bill, amendments to the party-list law, the automated election law, and to the provisions on the conduct of elections in the Omnibus Election Code; immediate passage of the freedom of information bill; transparency in all phases of the AES process; monitoring of the elections; voter education; and appointment of the three vacant seats in Comelec En Banc.
(To be continued next Wednesday)