Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written one week after the 2007 elections….

Modernization of elections should be one of the top priorities of government after the midterm polls. We cannot afford to have the same slow, fraud-prone and chaotic manual elections in 2010. The Presidential elections three years from now is looming to be as significant, if not more momentous, than the 2004 polls.

Assuming that the Administration will resurrect the ‘charter change’ initiative this year, the need for modern electoral system remains. If we shift to a Parliamentary form of government, or whatever form of government we will adopt, a credible election result will always be required. Governments will continue to be hounded by questions of legitimacy if elections are marred by high incidences of fraud and violence. In short, a faulty electoral exercise is a recipe for destabilization.

The 2007 midterm polls are no different from past elections. There were cases of ballot switching, ballot-snatching, kidnapping (and burning) of teachers, harassment of pollwatchers, fake election returns, missing names of voters, padded list of voters, ghost voters, vote-buying, power interruptions, last minute disqualification of candidates, failure of elections in some areas and ‘slow’ quick count. There were more than 120 people killed in a “generally peaceful 2007 elections.” Indeed, it’s the usual election experience, Philippine-style.

Foreign observers may be shocked over these incidents but to most of us who are familiar with local politics, these were ordinary cases we expect to happen every election year. It’s time we should be outraged over these abnormal circumstances. If we really want to preserve democracy, then we should protect the sanctity of our votes. We always boast that we have a strong democracy yet our method of freely electing our leaders is erroneous and deficient. We have been voting for the past one hundred years yet our election process remains premodern, slow and embarrassing.

What should be the blueprint for electoral reforms? We can begin with the national leadership of the Commission on Elections. At the minimum, Comelec officials should admit its mistakes, incompetence and complicity in abetting poll fraud and violence. At the maximum, we need to revamp Comelec and appoint new officials with high credibility, intelligence and moral integrity. The Opposition should have its official nominee among the roster of Comelec Commissioners. Past Comelec officers accused of manipulating election results should be charged in the courts. For Garci’s sake, let us put a closure to the 2004 election scandal by punishing the individuals involved in the infamous ‘Hello Garci’ audio recording.

Congress should start deliberating and hasten the passage of the bill which would computerize our election process. The technology is already available to modernize our voting process. Most countries have already adopted modern and efficient system of voting and counting. We should also experiment with internet voting. We have enough time and (hopefully) resources to modernize elections before 2010. What we really need is political will to kiss dagdag-bawas goodbye.

We also need to address the following issues: banning of political dynasties, imposing more sensible qualification of candidates, limiting election advertisements in TV and radio, and implementing party discipline.

We have to improve the Overseas Absentee Voting system. This is one way to show our Overseas Filipino Workers that their votes still matter in choosing our leaders. Their votes, plus the money they send home, are necessary in the process of nation-building. The Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs should quickly assess why there was a low turn-out in the overseas absentee elections. Was the information drive adequate? Were the polling centers accessible to our OFWs?

Congress should revise the partylist law to prevent unscrupulous politicians from bastardizing the essence of this landmark legislation. The partylist system should not be used to extend the sphere of influence of Malacañang and local warlords. We should subsidize genuine partylist groups and modify voting procedure to allow each marginalized sectors of our society to vote for their chosen sectoral group.

The next three years should also be devoted in conducting rigorous voters’ education. This is essential so that we will have more responsible, matured and intelligent voters in 2010. This is our ‘calibrated preemptive response’ against attempts of evil politicians to bribe, coerce and idiotize our naïve voters. Through this measure, we can prevent voters from patronizing famous candidates who have nothing substantial to offer other than their charisma and good looks.

We also have to overhaul the political culture in our country. This may be impossible to achieve in just a short period of time but we have to change this political system which privileges the interests of the rich over the poor. Only the moneyed class can afford the very expensive national elections. The poor has little influence in the governance of our public institutions. It’s not just electing good leaders that matters. We need elections where both the rich and poor can participate as candidates without fear of being cheated and killed in the process.

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Vision 2010

Six months before election day. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has announced the calendar of activities and guidelines for a peaceful and orderly conduct of the coming elections. Comelec has new set of officers. The public is eagerly awaiting the trial of previous commissioners accused of electoral sabotage.

Three and a half months before election day. The four major political parties in the country have just submitted their official list of candidates to the Comelec. There were nuisance candidates but they were immediately rejected by the poll body. Incumbent senators who filed new candidacies were deemed resigned from Congress. There were fewer showbiz candidates. Partylist groups with nominees directly connected with Malacañang were disqualified from running.

Three months before election day. It’s the start of the campaign period. Political advertisements are strictly regulated. Political parties, especially the partylist groups are given subsidies to finance their campaigns. Media networks allot more coverage for candidates who are less affluent. Debates between candidates are given more priority over reality shows.

Two months before election day. Comelec disqualified candidates who were found guilty of vote buying and distributing/posting illegal campaign materials. A presidentiable was also disqualified for giving away health cards, insurance items, grocery bags and cash gifts. The candidacy of a senatoriable was rejected after he/she exceeded the limit for allowable campaign expenses. Soldiers are barred from interfering in election disputes. Instead, Comelec has tapped religious groups and civil society in supervising election hotspots. Soldiers found guilty of actively campaigning for or against any candidate were accosted and punished by the Courts. Police detains journalists and publishers who were asking for payola. The MMDA recommends candidates who should be disqualified for making the cities dirtier and uglier

One month before election day. Local and overseas absentee voting has commenced. Election turn-out is impressive. Voting centers are more accessible. Internet voting is a success. Text voting is being pilot-tested. Religious groups are discouraged from forcing their faithful to vote according to the wishes of their leaders. Comelec disqualifies more partylist groups for not being true representatives of marginalized sectors in society. Private armies of politicians are apprehended by authorities. Government officials using government resources and their power to campaign for certain candidates are suspended.

One week before election day. Comelec announces the completion of cleaning up the voters’ database. Candidates reveal the names and affiliations of their campaign contributors. Candidates disclose their initial campaign expenses. Electoral watchdog exposes candidates who spent too much money during the campaign period and those who received dirty money from crime and drug syndicates. Teachers will already receive half of their extra pay for overseeing the election process. Voters will receive through mail or email an official sample ballot from the Comelec.

Election day. Voting starts at 7am and ends at 8pm to allow more time for more people to vote. Public school teachers will not be forced to perform election duties. Private schools will assist in the elections. Voters will immediately find their precints, flying voters will be identified and handicapped voters will be assisted by election volunteers. Elections are already computerized. There will be no power interruptions throughout the voting and counting process. No failure of elections will be declared in remote areas. Election results will be tabulated in less than an hour. Results will be transmitted to municipal and provincial Comelec centers. Teachers, volunteers and pollwatchers will all get their full stipend.

One day after elections. Foreign observers will report how efficient and peaceful the elections were conducted in the Philippines. Provincial election results will be transmitted to regional Comelec centers. Winning local candidates will be proclaimed. The Comelec’s national office will tabulate final results coming from the regions and overseas. A new president and members of Senate will be proclaimed within the day. Electoral protests of some candidates will be filed. Comelec will resolve these cases in less than a week.

One week after elections. There will be a reshuffle in the Comelec bureaucracy. Comelec officers who were unable to deliver an acceptable turn-out of voters or those who failed to prevent high incidences of fraud and violence will be removed or suspended from office.

Three years before election day. Voters are praying and hoping these marvelous dreams will be realized in 2010. Meanwhile, we are still stuck with the ancient voting process which distorts the will of the people. More than one week after elections, canvassing has not yet been finalized in many areas.

Will 2010 yield a different kind of elections? I hope so.

Related entries:

2007 elections and local politics
2007 elections controversies

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