Thursday, June 28, 2007

VforCE Statement on the Maguindanao Elections

Volunteers for Clean Elections (VforCE)

June 21, 2007

We believe there is enough evidence to show no elections were held or that there was a failure of elections in many, if not all, areas of Maguindanao.

During the supposed May 14 elections in Maguindanao, teachers who served as members of the Board of Election Inspectors have claimed they filled up ballots in favor of administration candidates. NAMFREL was not given its copy of election returns. And PPCRV and LENTE volunteers were refused access to many polling areas and canvassing centers.

The Comelec cannot and should not continue insisting that teacher-whistleblowers step forward to personally testify on election irregularities in the province; one has already been killed, two have disappeared, and many are in hiding. Without a climate of trust and security, which the Comelec should first seek to create, witnesses cannot reasonably be expected to expose themselves to great risks. If the Comelec seeks stronger evidence of election irregularities, it should simply open up the ballot boxes as suggested by the teachers themselves.

More significantly, crucial documents to show elections did take place in the province have mysteriously gone missing for over a month now. It has not helped that Team Unity has inexplicably failed to produce its own copy of election returns to support its claim of a 12-0 sweep in the senatorial contest. Even if the missing documents eventually show up, they will be highly suspect and therefore should not be considered at all, for doing so could likewise result in a disenfranchisement of Maguindanaoans.

We, however, reiterate that for any special elections in Maguindanao to be meaningful, truthful and free, the Comelec, the PNP/AFP and the government, as the case may be, must take the following steps:

cancel all gun permits and disarm paramilitary units in the province
deploy the Philippine Marines to ensure peace and order, including the safety of voters, election officers, and watchers
replace local Comelec officials with trusted Comelec personnel from other areas
count ballots in safe and secure areas
ensure the effective participation of watchdog groups and full media coverage, and
undertake voters education activities before the elections.
If special elections cannot be conducted under these circumstances, then no such special elections should be held anymore. In such a situation, we believe that it will be reasonable and acceptable to disregard the votes for senators in Maguindanao. For while it appears that local officials have been voted into office and have in fact already been proclaimed (after all, it takes only one vote for an unopposed candidate to win), the votes for the senatorial positions remain mysteriously unaccounted for. With over a month now since elections have been held, even if they should show up, they should be deemed spurious and should therefore disregarded.

(From Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO)2/F CCS, SDC, Ateneo de Manila UniversityLoyola Heights, Quezon City, PhilippinesTel. (632) 426.5938, 426.6001 local 4624/

Monday, June 25, 2007

Consumer Activism!

As I listened to tv and radio reports regarding alleged irregularities in the local electric cooperative, at the back of my mind was a shrill voice screaming: DO SOMETHING! I wonder if this is also felt by other consumers. I am suddenly overwhelmed by the sense of helplessness which this service providers have engendered into their constituents!

But before I go storming that sprawling complex in Del Rosario, Naga City, I opted to be a little bit more rational and calm at this point. Thus let us discuss the predicament with a semblance of human intelligence.

Local electric cooperatives it seems are but the tip of the iceberg. They are in fact minute part of this complex industrial complex called the energy sector. And just recently, this sector has been rocked by the passage of EPIRA law. The law intended to, among others, "rationalize" the energy sector in the country. Players in this sector were clustered into the generation, transmission, and distribution companies. The electric cooperatives figured prominently in the third. At present, these electric cooperatives are under the control and supervision of the NEA.

Thus, as I raged on the alleged shenanigans in the electric cooperative, I realize that there are bigger battles for the consumers. It doesnt end with the poor cooperatives. It included huge, even multinational, corporations. Policy reforms must be pursued. Directions should be plotted.

But to do so would entail organizing and mobilizing the consumers. At this point, the consumers are literally divided and vulnerable to vested interests. Therefore, the challenge for raising the level of consumer involvement and awareness on these matters.

Its turning out then that the alleged shenanigans in the local electric cooperative can be a turning point for consumer activism. In a society characterized by prevalent indifference and cynicism, it becomes a compelling reason to get involved. And to get organized.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Democracy and Peoples Participation

1. Democracy

The conventional undertanding of democracy is in the frequently-qouted, western-inspired line: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. When taken by the Filipinos, it was rephrased into a government "off" the people, "buy" the people, and "poor" the people.

But seriously, democracy as a political system is a governance mode that relies heavily on citizens participation. To ensure this, two crucial elements of democracy are the legitimacy of its governmental leaders (consent of the governed to be led) and the acceptable selection process for the preoples' representatives in government (electoral process).

Again, going to the Philippine context, both elements are problematic and eventually becomes the cause of an alarming culture: cynicism, indifference, and pragmatism. "Hear no evil, see no evil." "Mind you own business." "Go to the courts and prove me guilty." "I need money, cant eat principles." These are some of the more popular phrases among Filipinos today.

It is not surprising therefore that peoples participation in Philippine democracy is reduced to lip service nowadays. In fact, it has become an afterthought. The priority is the economy. And as long as that is allegedly done, those in power can get away with everything else.

It is in this political and cultural mess that the elections for barangay leaders will be done this year, barely a few months after the national election. Im afraid that these electoral exercises will be a slap to the quest for peoples participation. Thus, it may be worth our time to revisit the Local Government Code (LGC) and the mechanisms for participation it has tried to institutitonalize.

2. LGC and empowerment

The LGC is a concrete step towards decentralization and devolution. In theory, this process would bring the government closer to the people and provide greater access and participation for the ordinary citizen. The ultimate goal is peoples empowerment.

Interesting provisions in the LGC (as far as peoples participation is concerned) are the following: a) ngo/po/private sector representation in the local special bodies such as barangay devt. council, pre-bid and awards committee, local school board, local health board, local peace and order council ; b)power of recall; c)initiative and referendum, d) public consultation, e)mandatory hearings.

3. LGU Tasks

It is depressing to note that the culture of participation still yet to be seen among many local government units who have opened up to these LGC-mandated mechanisms. And it gets worse when you look at the major works of the local government units such as organizational management, development planning, delivery of basic services, inter-governmental relations, and even its relations with the ngo/po/private sector. The apparently diminishing premium on participation is alarming.

4. Evolving nature of the barangay

But partly because of the LGC, the barangay may be a good battleground for peoples participation. Being endowed with quasi-corporate and mass movement character, aside from being a governmental unit, the barangay is now empowered to champion peoples participation. Its relatively enhanced access to and control of resources, as well as greater mobilizing power for its constitutents, ultimately provide wonderful opportunities for peoples participation.

5. Challenges

The 2007 Barangay election will be a battle of independence or subordination among the barangay leaders. Independence from partisan interest and political agenda will be a tremendous challenge for candidates. Subordination to these agenda and interest is the destiny of the winners.

Unless peoples participation is taken seriously, this will always be the cycle in our electoral system and governance scheme.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Invitation to the Kwentong Bayan!

The Ateneo de Naga University, the Department of Social Sciences, the Institute of Politics, and the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan is inviting the public to a "Kwentong Bayan" (Pagsusuri ng Pambansang Kalagayan) 10am on Friday, 29 June 2007 at the Arrupe Convention Center, Ateneo de Naga University.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where do we go from here?

Now that the election is over, we are constrained to move on even as we keep a watchful eye on what really transpired in the just-concluded electoral exercise. What I'm saying is that we do not really move on unless our doubts are confirmed and our questions are resolved. But again, the pehnomenon of social dynamism compels us to update ourselves, to make ourselves relevant again.

An interesting question that people may want to know is the direction that the newly-elected officials will take. In the case of Naga City and the province of Camarines Sur, for example, is there a possibility of collaboration?

What are the major issues/problems retarding Bicol development? How can these be overcome? What will be the role/contribution of the LGU to the development of Bicol under their respective leader's stewardship? What opportunities for collaboration with the private sector and with other LGUs are presently available or may be explored in the future?

As I relect on this further, there may be hope for the future. Convergence may be an effective strategy to attain Bicol development.

But I would stick to a principled collaboration that is anchored on strategic development policies and programs. Instead of lip service and motherhood statements, what we need right now are concrete, measureable, and feasible interventions for the advancement of Bicolandia.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Analysis of the 2007 Election

The Philippine political landscape was recently dominated by the May 14 election, effectively obscuring other pressing political issues such as the charter change, extra-judicial killings, and legitimacy issues against the Arroyo administration. This presentation will be an attempt to do analysis of the events and emergent trends in the said exercise, as well as of the scenarios and prospects after the just-concluded election.

1. The context
The 2007 elections took place at a time when there is “mixed” feelings among the people on the country’s economic, political and cultural situation.

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri’s latest statement painted encouraging scenario( “I am pleased to report the economy’s robust performance in the 1st quarter of 2007. Gross domestic product or GDP grew by 6.9 percent, surpassing NEDA’s conservative forecast band of 5.3 to 6.1 percent as well as the 5.7 percent median forecast of Bloomberg’s survey. Gross National Product or GNP rose by 6.6 percent.” However, other economists are quick to point out that these so-called economic gains in the macro level still remains to be felt in the micro level, and that specific items in these so-called growth must be closely scrutinized. For example, the economy’s reliance on industries such as call centers and on the remittances of OFW’s does not reflect an expanding productive sector of the country’s economy.

Political controversies continue to challenge the governance structures of the country. For example, extrajudicial killing and forced disappearances has placed the Philippines in the international spotlight. According to the count by human rights group Karapatan, total extrajudicial killings since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office, have hit 863 as of last May 15. The victims included church workers, farmers and youths. The number of journalists killed since 2001 stands at 51. Forced disappearances under the Arroyo administration, according to Karapatan, has reached 196 as of the middle of May. This prompted a comment by Chief Justice Reynato Puno that the Supreme Court would use its powers to protect civil liberties. (

The cultural context is also viewed with ambivalence. On one hand Filipinos are perceived as active and dynamic in the political life, steadfast in their principles and convictions. However, there is a growing loss of interest over social issues either due to confusion on the multitude of problems confronting the people, due to pragmatism, or simply due to declining moral values.

Natural disasters even compounded the burden among the Filipinos in general, and the Bicolanos in particular. Typhoon Reming has devastated the region causing almost incalculable loss in human lives and properties. The situation did not only cause despair, but also left the people vulnerable to unscrupulous and exploitative individuals taking advantage of poverty and misery in exchange for political support and favors.

2. The Electoral Process
It is within the context described above that the campaign of candidates for various elected positions got started. Supposedly, the polarity should have been between the administration and opposition candidates. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The administration played with two major machineries: LAKAS and KAMMPI. The opposition groups on the other hand hardly got their acts together to penetrate local campaigns, focusing the efforts on their national candidates. Thus, the 2007 campaign may be aptly described as "survival of the fittest". In the more literal sense, it is a fight among those candidates who got more money, more media mileage, and more tools for negotiation dominated the campaign. Instead of programs or platforms, people were treated to ads with crazy jumbled letters so they can remember names of candidates.

[It is close to this point when Ateneo de Naga University launched PAGMATU2007 as its four-pronged electoral intervention strategy: education, advocacy, mobilization, and deployment. In cooperation with the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan and the Society of Jesus, we rendered voters education sessions dubbed as Pinoy Voters Academy to significant number of sectors and organizations inside and outside the university.

It is also at this point when we effectively fused with the Archdiocese of Caceres in its electoral work. More specifically, we assumed active role in the Archdiocesan Committee initiated by the Archbishop of Caceres himself. Thus voters education became the major contribution of the university to the Archdiocese of Caceres, Diocese of Sorsogon, and the Prelature of Libmanan.

As the election draws nearer, our education session shifted from the conduct of PVA to the provision of Pollwatchers Training for PPCRV volunteers. Along this line, we acknowledge the role of two Jesuit brothers who worked hard with the university in the conduct of the said training to the various districts within the Archdiocese of Caceres.]
The voting process is just like the previous elections which the Philippines had. The night before the election day is characterized by excitement and anticipation of people going around until the early morning hours for various reasons. The election day itself witnessed the concentration of activities in the voting areas, with the now-familiar experiences of people losing their names in the voters list (and other election day hassles!).
After the voting centers close at 3pm, the counting begins. It is at this point that the ballgame takes on new rules. Lawyers become more prominent, with watchers serving as look outs for action! The counting in this election is no different from the 2004 elections because of the failure of COMELEC to implement the newly-enacted election law.

[ADNU election day mobilization and deployment was coursed through the Archdiocesan initiatives. Ateneans were generally encouraged to integrate and assume active roles in the PPCRV or NAMFREL. CCD was requested to evolve incentive schemes for students through their COP or NSTP programs.

An interesting addition here is the hosting of the International Observers Misssion (IOM) from the Compact for Peaceful Elections. A German student, a lawyer from Denmark, and a professor from Italy comprised the team. From May 13 to 14, they went around the provinces of Albay and Camarines Sur with some of our faculty and personnel, serving not only as observers but also at times as deterrents to electoral violence and fraud. A draft of the summarized observations are attached herewith.]
3. The Electoral Players
The candidates in the 2007 elections are separated on two levels: the national (senators) and local candidates (congressmen/women, governors and board members, mayors and councilors). The national level candidates were polarized according to those who are anti-GMA and those pro-GMA. As of Jun 6 2007 3:00 pm, COMELEC tally shows dominance of the anti-GMA candidates:
1. Legarda, Loren (GO) 18,069,466
2. Escudero, Francis Joseph (GO) 17,858,4163. Lacson, Panfilo (GO) 15,261,9994. Villar, Manuel Jr (GO) 15,004,7145. Pangilinan, Francis (IND) 14,229,4496. Aquino, Benigno Simeon III (GO) 14,052,1667. Angara, Edgardo (TU) 12,187,2258. Cayetano, Allan Peter (GO) 11,560,0839. Arroyo, Joker (TU) 11,381,20610. Honasan, Gregorio (IND) 11,343,60611. Trillanes, Antonio IV (GO) 10,977,68012. Pimentel, Aquilino III (GO) 10,656,050
In the local level however, including congressional candidates, such dichotomy did not come easy. Various districts, towns, and cities found themselves torn between candidates who are GMA supporters. Thus, it is observed that the efforts of the administration were actually focused on the local elections to guard its influence or control over the House of Representatives.

[At this point, it is must be noted that several members of the community, in their individual capacity, got involved in partisan electoral work either as volunteers, contributors, and endorsers of candidates. A significant number of local candidates are also alumni of the university. Attached is an interesting reflection of a volunteer in the congressional campaign of Abang Mabulo.]
PROVINCE GOVERNOR and MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVESALBAY: Jose Maria Clemente Sarte Salceda1st : Edcel C. Lagman*2nd : Al Francis Bichara*3rd : Reno G. Lim*CAMARINES NORTE: PendingLiwayway Vinzons ChatoCAMARINES SUR: Luis Raymond F. Villafuerte1st : Diosdado Ignacio Maria Macapagal Arroyo2nd : Luis R. Villafuerte3rd : Arnulfo P. Fuentebella4th : Felix Alfelor, Jr.CATANDUANES: Joseph C. CuaJoseph A. SantiagoMASBATE: Elisa T. Kho1st : Narciso R. Bravo, Jr.2nd : Antonio T. Kho3rd : Rizalina S. LaneteSORSOGON: Saly A. Lee
1st : Salvador H. Escudero III2nd : Jose Guyala Solis

A general trend pointed out is the emergence again of political clans as dominant players in Philippine electoral politics. Gladstone Cuarteros (28 May 2007) of the Institute of Popular Democracy wrote: "Every election since 1998, the political families are increasing their control of the provinces. Based on an earlier research, political families in 1998 have 64% of all governors. This has increased to 79% in 2001 and 80% in 2004. This year, the political clans have 76% out of the 55 governors proclaimed until today. For sure, when all the 81 elected provincial governors have been declared winners, the share of political clans will be higher."

In the said study, the following figures illustrate his point:

Clan and Non-Clan Governors, 1998-2007
Governor 1998 2001 2004 2007Clan Member 50 (64%) 61 (79 %) 63 (80%) 55 (76%)Non-Clan Member 28 (36 %) 16 (21 %) 16 (20%) 17 (23%)

The party list organizations were also surprised by the playing field they got into. Several party list groups who figured prominently in the 2004 elections found their seat in congress in danger of either being reduced or lost. As of 4 June 2007, 6:00pm the following are leading in the party list count:

1. BUHAY (Buhay Hayaan Yumabong) 1,082,685
2. BAYAN MUNA (Bayan Muna) 871,682
3. CIBAC (Citizens Battle Against Corruption) 705,971
4. GABRIELA (Gabriela Women’s Party) 541,403
5. APEC (Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives) 478,727
6. A TEACHER (Advocacy for Teacher Empowerment
Through Action, Cooperation and Harmony Towards
Educational Reforms) 436,257
7. AKBAYAN (Akbayan! Citizen’s Action Party) 411,192
8. BUTIL (Luzon Farmers Party) 403,002
9.ALAGAD (Alagad) 401,696
10. BATAS 350,780
For its part, the COMELEC has been struggling to maintain an air of independence and credibility. Unfortunately, it can not seem to stop itself from getting into controversial situations. In the party list elections, hotly contested rulings include the non-disclosure of party-list nominees and the determination of the maximum number of seats in Congress.

In the local level, several days before the election, its First Division suddenly acted swiftly on the Robredo citizenship case, citing the popular Naga City mayor as disqualified in the 2004 elections thus cannot sit out the remaining time of his term. This decision is supposedly done by commissioners identified with the opponents of Robredo. The public uproar in the local and national level, it seems, prevented further action on the case. The situation even prompted a statement of concern from our University President, Fr. Joel Tabora himself. When COMELEC sent Commissioner Rene Sarmiento to a fact-finding mission in Mindanao, the poor commissioner ended up resigning from the task for "health reasons". These instances cast a lingering doubt on at least two aspects: the independence of the body from political pressures and the capacity of the poll body to neutralize cheating and electoral fraud.
The AFP and the PNP have been making public pronouncements of neutrality and non-partisan stance. Unfortunately, experiences don't seem to bear this out. For example, the Bicol Command has unilaterally deployed a Regional Mobile Group to operate in Naga City during the election day while pulling out at least 14 local cops for alleged involvement in drugs. This RMG has been going around the city in darkly-tinted vans with no plate numbers before, during, and after the election day. In the First District of Camarines Sur, an army camp was discovered to have campaign materials of a congressional candidate who happens to be the son of the Commander-in-Chief.
Amidst all these, the civil society participation has largely been confined to the non-partisan campaign. Aligning themselves with the electoral watchdogs such as NAMFREL and PPCRV, other groups such as Bantay-Canvass, VFORCE, etc. they continue to provide until now a countermeasure to the alleged possible fraud and cheating. An interesting intervention also encouraged by civil society initiatives is the presence of various international observers such as those hosted by the Compact for Peaceful Elections.
The other armed groups such as the NPA's also surface again in the election period. Some candidates are prohibited from campaigning in particular areas if they do not pay permit to campaign. There are even accounts of "permit to win". Nonetheless, it is a growing perception that such interventions undermine the people's exercise of freedom in selecting their leaders.
4.The Future
What then is the post-election scenario?

In terms of power distribution within the government, a senate dominated by the opposition will have to prove its independence and courage as opposition of the GMA regime. The lower house on the other hand is expected to resume its role as apologist of the executive branch, with a sprinkling of vocal minority within it ranks. Local government unit leaders will also continue to be dominated by allies of the administration, except the key cities of Makati, Manila, and Naga.

In terms of political and electoral reforms, the field is now open for the advocacy towards a no-nonsense implementation of the modernization law. At the same time, previously shelved issues such as the charter change, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances, GMA legitimacy, and growing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions and processes among the populace will be resurrected.

The challenge is for the university to continue articulating the truth, dissecting social problems, and putting forward alternatives for the present situation. As one foreigner has asked: Where are the university professors and students in the Philippines in the middle of all these things happening to your country?