Monday, July 09, 2007

CBCP Pastoral Statement on the 2007 National Elections

We are grateful to the many people who worked hard for honest and clean elections last May 2007. In a special way we commend the lay groups under the leadership of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the National Movement for Free Election (NAMFREL), the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, the Catholic Media Network, and the newly organized Legal Network for a Truthful Elections (LENTE). Their efforts undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of a new political consciousness among the electorate. In many cases, the voters were not naively allured by popular personalities or by those who gave away much money. We thank the thousands who, in various capacities, devoted themselves to achieving Clean, Honest, Accurate, Meaningful and Peaceful Elections (CHAMP).

Nevertheless, we are mindful of the many evils that continue to plague our electoral exercise. As we have done in the past, we condemn the dirty conduct of elections in some provinces. The buying, padding and selling of votes have embarrassingly become systemic and threaten to become a cultural element of our elections. It has been reported that some voters went to the precincts only when first paid by some candidates. We also express our disapproval of candidates coming from the same family or clan, thus keeping power and influence within the family. We hope and pray that implementing norms be approved to arrest the spread of this malaise.

Likewise we protest against the injustice done to people as their right to choose their leaders was desecrated. We are horrified by the violence inflicted on innocent people during the campaign and election periods. But we are equally edified by the heroism of those who defended the sanctity of the ballot, even to the point of death.

It was an achievement in itself that elections were held on May 14, 2007. But given a climate of social distress and hopelessness, the challenge was how to restore credibility to the electoral process as a core democratic institution for resolving political conflict, and how to get the citizenry, especially the youth, to become politically engaged. On the whole, despite the deep flaws in the process and its administration, the last election maybe said to have been a qualified success with the results generally reflecting the popular will (e.g. only 5 percent of the contested positions are being questioned).

Vigilance, Volunteerism and Coordinated Action.

For the first time since 1992, the Church-based groups, PPCRV, NAMFREL, NASSA worked closely together and were better prepared and organized to make a qualitative impact on the elections, even in Muslim Mindanao. A new group called LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) was organized on the initiative of One Voice with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) as co-convenor— the first time that lawyers, paralegal volunteers were mobilized for electoral work. LENTE focused on the weakest link in the electoral process—the canvassing of votes at the municipal and provincial levels. These groups agreed to coordinate their work through a grouping called VforCE (One Million Volunteers for Clean Elections). The doggedness of these groups, despite the limited time to organize and coordinate, contributed to the deterring large-scale fraud. VforCE offered a framework for coordinated election. The May 2007 elections indeed led to a manifestation of volunteerism and vigilance, underscoring the critical importance of collaboration and partnerships, and providing concrete opportunities for citizen engagement in various aspects of electoral process.

There also were signs of increased maturity among the electorate as the election results demonstrated that sheer popularity/celebrity status and huge media expenditures do not necessarily translate to election victory. These results may also be an indicator of some success in the voters’ education efforts. The citizen groups, including Church-based organizations, have worked on this for years.
But the last elections also showed the continuing dominance in the Philippines of a few political families, and revealed the persistence of vote-buying as a serious problem (including pay-offs not to vote) in a social context of widespread poverty and gross inequality, even if there were a few positive stories of reversals of these old trends. Much remains to be done in the area of political recruitment and financing of alternative candidates, and thus in the development of genuine political party system in the Philippines. That is why the flawed party list law and its problematic implementation is real cause for concern. There were also signs of alienation from the electoral process among the citizenry: a lower-than-usual voter turnout (60-65 percent of registered voters), including a very low level of participation from overseas absentee voters (14 percent).

Agenda for Electoral Reforms and Continuing Political Involvement

Both the positive and negative experiences of the last elections point to a number of important electoral reforms that needed to be pursued:

1. A full revamp of the Comelec, beginning with the appointment of a new chair and commissioners with unquestioned integrity and competence, especially in systems and management. These appointments are going to be in the hands of the President and the Commission on Appointments of the Philippine Congress, and it is our collective responsibility to monitor closely the process of selection, appointment and confirmation. There should also be serious efforts to de-politicize and professionalize the bureaucracy.

2. Holding those responsible for anomalies in past elections and the recently concluded ones accountable to the people. Good career people in the Comelec can be the catalyst for the renewal of the institution.

3. Modernization of the electoral system in time for the 2010 presidential election. There should be broad-based and transparent discussions on what type of poll automation is appropriate and how it is to be piloted and implemented.

4. Particular attention should be given to ARMM and the problem of warlordism, because it is of the scale that can affect the national elections. We also owe it to the voters in those areas who are effectively disenfranchised when elections are not meaningful, truthful and free. Historically, those in power have found it useful to rely on the brazen exercise of power through intimidation, violence and fraud.

5. A review of laws affecting the electoral system. Among the most urgent are the reform of the party system, party-list law, overseas absentee voting, political dynasties, the “legal” entry of nuisance candidates, and the formulation of an agenda for institutional reform.

6. The development of mechanisms for deepening the political education of voters (e.g. Pinoy Voter’s Academy and Gabay Halalan), fostering public accountability of politicians to the electorate (e.g. Bantay Pangako) and sustaining coordinated political engagement especially among the youth, the citizens’ groups, and Church-based organizations (e.g. VforCE).

7. Cleansing and publication of the voters’ list long before the day of election.
As we appreciate and thank the men and women of good will and courage who influenced our last election, so do we thank the Lord for continuing to guide the journey of the Filipino people.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Jaro
CBCP President
July 8, 2007




With due respect to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, it was very unfair and baseless for it to call on the government to implement a full revamp of the Commission on Elections “with the appointment of a new chair and commissioners with unquestioned integrity and competence, especially in systems and management.”
The COMELEC is a constitutional and independent body, meaning, it is not under the EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THE GOVERNMENT . In fact, our COMELEC Chairman and the commissioners can only be REMOVED by impeachment not by the President. If we allow our President to interfere with the COMELEC by removing the COMELEC Chairman, that is UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND REPUGNANT TO THE RULE OF LAW.
The CBCP pronouncements about need for electoral reforms, with due respect, are based on speculations, conjectures and surmises intended to cast doubt to the integrity of the present COMELEC. It is pitiful that COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. was not given any due process at all, a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT granted to all Filipino citizens in our country. COMELEC Chairman Abalos and the Commissioners were outright sentenced and judged, no less than our CBCP, an institution that is vanguard to the teachings of Christ – “JUDGE NOT, THAT YOU MAY NOT BE JUDGED.”
The rule of law demands fairness and above all, evidence. All we read from the papers, heard from radios, watch from televisions and from seemingly undiscerning people, especially from the oppositions, are SPECULATIONS and BLACK PROPAGANDA without any proof that indeed, the COMELEC Chairman and the Commissioners committed breached of their constitutional mandate and duties. It is quite regrettable that a very good and God fearing man who always attend Church masses, like COMELEC CHAIRMAN Benjamin Abalos Sr., has been crucified like Jesus Christ many times. He has unimpeachable and unblemished track record as a government servant for over 30 years. He was not tried nor convicted of any offense in our Court of Justice since he started his career as a dedicated, hardworking and modest public servant.
In fact, the malicious allegations against him as a COMELEC CHAIRMAN will not hold water in any courts in our country because there was no evidence to bolster such mudslinging and malicious statements intended to bring him as well as his entire family down. As intelligent Filipinos, we should not be swayed by BLACK PROPAGANDA. We should be discerning and must have PROOF for all accusations before jumping into any conclusions.

The headlines of newspapers state: “CBCP WANTS ABALOS TO BE REMOVED o CBCP GUSTONG SIBAKIN SI ABALOS” is a proof of wrongful interference by CBCP. It is wrongful interference because CBCP engaged in trial by publicity and chose the wrong forum which is the media! This is a POLITIZATION not DEPOLITICIZATION and UNPROFESSIONAL not PROFESSIONAL! CBCP should have spearheaded an impeachment against the COMELEC officials who should be afforded DUE PROCESS. Any impeachment to be lodged against incumbent COMELEC officials, by analysis, will be DISMISSED because, the accusations against COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. and the Commissioners are purely HEARSIES, GOSSIPS and MALICIOUS CHARACTER ASSASSINATIONS concocted by evil men with selfish and self-vested interests. Hence, why would these honorable men and distinguished gentlemen resign when they did not do anything WRONG before the rule of the law?
CBCP must issue FAIR REMARKS and not single out COMELEC CHAIRMAN ABLOS SR., who certainly did his best as a head of COMELEC. If his best fell short to the high expectations of the honorable members of the CBCP, then God forgive, the gentleman does NOT DESERVE TO BE REMOVED MUCH LESS DESERVE TO BE ATTACKED IN MEDIA. He has human rights which everyone must respect. He was maligned many times and since there was no evidence that he committed any wrongdoing, it should have been better for CBCP to PRAISE HIM and HIGHLIGHT THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF COMELEC for this year’s elections. Then present to the COMELEC what should be done to erase the twisted perception of the public that there is always CHEATING IN COMELEC. CBCP must eradicate the wrong public sentiment by not issuing baseless yet damaging statements against the COMELEC and its officials.
It is basic in the rule of law, we ought to hear first, before we condemn. And if we condemn, we go to the proper forum.

goodwillie said...

Thank you for you Statement. Your reassure us that there is still hope amidst these trying times. God bless the Philippines.