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:
+ ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO, D.D.
Archbishop of Jaro
July 8, 2007