Last May 28, the Ateneo School of Government convened the Ateneo Post-2013 Election Summit in Ortigas Center, Pasig City. In attendance were Commission on Elections Commissioner and lawyer Louie Guia, Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, Rappler’s founder and CEO Maria Ressa, Legal Network for Truthful Elections‘ Executive Director lawyer Rona Caritos, and of course PODER’s own Project Director Joy Aceron. The speakers presented their respective general assessment on the recently concluded midterm elections.
In the summit, ASOG’s Aceron presented her general assessment of the elections, including problems in the precinct count optical scan machines, transmission and canvassing, voter turnout, election-related violence, campaign finance, and security checks of PCOS. She also reflected on such topics which the Ateneo FactCheck Initiative looked at - political dynasties; coalitional/party politics; critical reform issues/agenda i.e. anti-dynasty bill, party development bill, freedom of information bill, women empowerment bill, and environment agenda.
For his part, Comelec Commissioner Guia stated that in this year’s elections, the Commission has improved its performance by way of, among others, the introduction new guidelines, enhanced efforts on registering persons with disabilities and providing them with special voting precincts. According to Guia, positive accomplishments were also posted in other key areas like by enfranchising certain sectors including the registration and voting of 37,000 detainees from the Bureau of Corrections and Provincial Prisons, intensifying efforts to notify candidates of campaign violations resulting in cleaner streets and less propaganda materials in places where they should not be put, pushing for more intensive and effective voters education programs like Isumbong Mo, and the mascots “Boy Bawal and Tina Tama”, and making unprecedented efforts to monitor campaign finance.
However, Guia acknowledged that the Comelec also encountered problems like the late release of the source code because of the legal battle between Smartmatic and Dominion. As a result, he said, the Commission had to rely merely on the certification by the SLI, the certification entity, that the machines were “ready” for use in the elections.
Secretary Carandang conceded that there are still many pieces of legislation that needed to be passed, like a law to put more stringent regulations on mining, rationalization of fiscal incentives, an organic act between the Moro National Liberation Front and the government. According to him, the administration came up with a coalition for the 2013 elections, hoping for a legislative body that will be supportive of such reform agenda. For him, the 2013 elections, notwithstanding the problems encountered, were generally fair and credible. On the issue of campaign finance, Carandang believes that it should not limit campaign spending but instead have full disclosure of the spending.
Rappler’s Ressa disclosed during the forum that based on official election result, 39, 898,992 voters came out which gave a voters’ turnout of 75.72 percent; although, according to her, the absentee voting was quite disappointing as there are 737, 759 registered overseas absentee voters but only 113,000 voted. She explained that Rappler, to verify reports on the 60-30-10 pattern, did a per-hour provincial, regional, and cities breakdown of transmission and found out that there are different patterns for these.
LENTE’s Caritos asserted that the country has “no genuine election” if we were to follow the international standards of integrity, transparency, accountability, and public confidence. She made it clear however, that LENTE is not contesting the results of the elections but only its conduct. She disclosed anecdotes about reports received by LENTE of discrepancies between the posted names and the computerized list which had disenfranchised many voters. She said that there were places with insufficient number of ballots causing disenfranchisement, specifically in Palawan where about 400 voters were not able to vote. Caritos also decried the sorry lot of some PWDs and IP who were not able to vote because the precincts where they were assigned were located in the upper sections. She likewise castigated the Comelec for failing to disclose the many areas where there had been transmission failures. On accountability, she noted the lack of speedy mechanisms to address missing names, for instance.
During the open forum, Commissioner Guia agreed that the automated election system is the way to go for the 2016 elections but clarified that the commission is not yet decided whether to use the same PCOS machines used in the first two automated elections. Aceron challenged the Comelec to determine what is really needed to be changed or reformed in the electoral system. She stated that beyond the procedural improvements, the quality of candidates must also be enhanced.
In sum, it is clear that many problems have to be addressed to make elections credible in our country. With the 2016 presidential elections promising to be closely fought, we must fix the flaws now or risk political chaos.
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