CEPPS Philippines Election Observation Program Strengthening the Electoral Process IFES Final Report August 2004 Authors: Peter Erben Beverly Hagerdon Thakur Craig Jenness Ian Smith Acknowledgements The IFES team wishes to thank the government and authorities of the Republic of the Philippines for the invitation to observe the 2004 election cycle, and for their cooperation and support throughout. It also wishes to thank the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), its chairman, commissioners and its many officials at all levels both for access and assistance during a very busy time.
The IFES team wishes to thank the Supreme Court and numerous judges and court officials; and the many candidates, party representatives, NGO activists, media representatives, teachers, citizens, and other election stakeholders who took the time to share their views and experience with us. Election stakeholders in the NCR region, region IV, and region V also deserve special mention for their hospitality during field visits from IFES team members.
We would also like to take this opportunity to commend the participants and guests of the working groups and Round Table for their enthusiastic discussion and commitment to electoral reform in the Philippines. In particular, all participants were honored by the presence and words of former President Corazon Aquino. The IFES team would like to thank all of the people with whom we met, and hopes the report does justice to their varied and thoughtful insights.
Representatives of the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) deserve special mention for their generosity and collegiality. Finally, the IFES team wishes to acknowledge and thank our partners at NDI and IRI, and USAID for their generous support. This report was made possible through support provided by the U. S. Agency for International Development, under the terms of Award No. 492-A-00-04-00016-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S.
Agency for International Development. Copyright © IFES, 2004 Table of Contents 1. Executive Summary 2. Introduction 3. Legal Framework 4. COMELEC 5. Pre-election Issues Automation of the Count and Canvass Electronic Transmission of Results Voter Registration Voter Education Training of BEIs and BOCs 6. Election Day Issues 7. Post-election Issues Canvassing Preliminary Election Results Complaints, Adjudication, and Sanctions Election-related Violence Cheating: Perception and Reality Constitutional Amendment 8.
Summary Conclusion Annex I: List of Acronyms Annex II: Biographies Annex III: List of IFES Contacts Annex IV: Organizational Structure of COMELEC Annex V: Main Electoral Laws Annex VI: Misuse of State Resources and Abuse of Office of the President Annex VII: Social Context Endnotes 1 3 4 7 12 12 13 13 14 16 19 24 24 26 26 29 31 35 36 37 39 40 46 47 48 51 53 1. Executive Summary The Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is a constitutional body with broad powers designed to make it independent from other government bodies. Statutorily, COMELEC could be one of the most powerful electoral management bodies in the world.
COMELEC suffers from a number of serious institutional deficiencies that limit its capacity to administer quality elections. It has limited professional and technical capacity; a weak and poorly resourced field structure; organizational problems including a commissioner-in-charge management approach; and an absence of standard operating procedures required to administer such a large organization. Because of its numerous shortcomings, COMELEC has relied extensively on support of other government bodies and civil society to administer elections. The 2004 election cycle was particularly flawed.
COMELEC’s plans and programs for the May 10 elections were disrupted by the late release of funds by Congress and the Supreme Court’s decisions to stop the automation of polling, counting, and transmission of results from taking place. Given the problems mentioned above, however, it is uncertain that COMELEC would have had the capacity to successfully implement these programs. Transition to a computerized central voter registry was similarly abandoned only days before the election and election officers reverted to using manual voters’ lists and voter records.
Voter education efforts were uncoordinated and poorly implemented. Often, voters were not informed of new precinct information instructing them where to vote. The training of polling officials was done through parallel training programs developed by the Department of Education, COMELEC, and civil society. Ironically, COMELEC’s training was the least effective of the three and the most poorly organized, relying on broadcast lectures to groups of up to 500 and the distribution of a General Instructions document on polling in lieu of a proper training curriculum.
Election Day was marred by numerous logistical, procedural, and organizational problems. Many voters did not know where to vote, precincts and polling stations were poorly organized, and voters’ lists were inaccurate. A poorly designed ballot and crowded polling locations in urban areas made voting difficult and did not protect the secrecy of the vote. Numerous procedures were not understood or were ignored due to poor training and weak supervision. The counting process was painfully slow due to complicated ballots and unnecessary procedures.
Still, voter turnout was respectable at approximately 74%, based on valid votes cast. Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI) did their best to find creative solutions to problems. The tabulation process, known as canvassing, is complex. Despite numerous safeguards, it suffers from the perception of fraud. Congress tabulates presidential and vice-presidential votes. This leaves excessive room for delay and politicization, as was vividly demonstrated in this election. The complaints and adjudication process contains substantial due process safeguards.
However, it is complex, extremely slow, and plagued by frivolous complaints. While Election Day was considered to be relatively peaceful, election-related violence and intimidation still have a negative impact on the overall quality of the electoral process, in particular during the campaign period and especially in relation to local level races. Alleged cheating and fraud is a common feature of Philippine elections. Some of these allegations are misperceptions of a distrustful public or face saving by losing candidates.
At the same time, there is little doubt that some fraud, particularly vote buying and selling, was committed in the 2004 elections and may have influenced some lower level races. To guard against this in the future, electoral reform should be high on the political agenda of the newly elected president and Congress. Key Recommendations What appears below is an overview of the 100+ recommendations that appear in this report. It is intended to acquaint readers with the focus and substance of those key recommendations.
IFES would advise stakeholders interested in electoral reform in the Philippines to thoroughly review the detailed IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 1 findings, conclusions, and recommendations presented in this report to ensure accurate and complete comprehension. It is hoped that these recommendations will contribute to the dialogue among Philippine stakeholders and to the hard and detailed work of reaching consensus on necessary legal, administrative, and institutional reforms prior to the next national election in 2007. 1.
Pass draft laws to strengthen political parties, amend the Party List Law, implement sectoral representation at local levels, and ban “permits to campaign” as soon as possible. 2. Consolidate all relevant electoral laws, other than constitutional provisions, in a new Omnibus Election Code. 3. Open the system of presidential appointment of election commissioners to allow for a nomination system and input from other stakeholders. 4. Conduct an independent review of the structure and professional capacity of COMELEC in order to develop a professionalization program and standard operating procedures. . Proceed with implementation of the three-phase modernization program, including voter registration, automation of the count, and canvass and electronic transmission of results. A comprehensive review of the modernization plan would be advisable before moving forward1. 6. Empower COMELEC to remove names from the voter registry provided that voters are duly notified and given the option to appeal. 7. Strengthen rule of law, by holding political parties responsible for acts of violence directed at rival parties and prosecuting all election-related crime through a speedier adjudication process. . Revise polling procedures to ensure the secrecy of the vote, thereby minimizing the effectiveness of vote buying and intimidation of voters. 9. Develop a clear official voter education program and leverage resources by forming strategic partnerships between COMELEC and other state entities (Department of Education, Philippine National Police), civil society organizations (NAMFREL and PPCRV), and local government (Barangay captains). 10.
Modernize the COMELEC training program for BEIs and Boards of Canvassers (BOC) by applying adult education techniques, developing training manuals and materials, and planning an effective cascade-training program. 11. Ensure transparency of the election results by publicly posting a copy of the precinct election return outside of the precinct door and on the Internet. 12. If Congress is to continue to canvass presidential results, create a standing set of rules for its canvassing responsibilities. The rules should reflect the ministerial and non-partisan nature of the canvass. 3. In the event of a review of the current Constitution, consider terminating the practice of canvassing by Congress. The count and tabulation process should be the sole responsibility of the election administration and should eventually be fully automated. 14. Support parallel vote tabulation by a third party, regardless of whether or not automation is introduced, as it is essential for electoral credibility in the Philippines. 15. Streamline and consolidate the jurisdiction for dispute resolution. At minimum, COMELEC should be relieved of initial (trial) jurisdiction.
Local or regional courts could take on a greater share of electoral cases. The idea of a specific “electoral court” could be considered. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 2 16. Introduce measures to penalize or discourage frivolous complainants, including placing on the claimant the burden of demonstrating that there is some cogent evidence to support the claim and that proof of his/her case will materially effect the outcome. 17. Develop a greater range of sanctions to ensure tribunals apply penalties that are proportional to the offence.
This could include fines, loss of media access, campaign restrictions, and public apologies. 2. Introduction Project History In response to an invitation issued by the president of the Republic of the Philippines, IFES and its CEPPS partners deployed a team of representatives in early March to the Philippines to assess the political situation leading up to the May 10 presidential and legislative elections. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the assessment aimed to determine how the respective organizations could contribute to the 10 May elections.
Subsequently, IFES agreed to participate in another joint CEPPS mission to implement the assessment’s short-term recommendations and a program description was submitted. The goals of the project were: • • • • To observe the pre-election, election, and post-election periods and provide technical suggestions to COMELEC and other key players. To host or participate in a post-election roundtable and briefings with CEPPS partners to evaluate the elections and make recommendations for longer-term election strengthening. To support the U. S. Embassy and its observation training event.
To provide support to CEPPS partners’ regarding media monitoring work. Methodology An experienced team of experts gathered the information for this report over a period of three months encompassing the pre-election, polling and counting, canvassing, and post-proclamation periods. Team members conducted well over one hundred interviews with COMELEC officials, civil society organizations, the Department of Education, media representatives, local election experts, security officials, and senior politicians. While much of the work was done in Manila, many interviews and field visits were also conducted in a number of regions.
A list of contacts is annexed. (See attached Annex III: IFES Contact List) Facilitating the working groups and the roundtable event brought together all stakeholders for an informed and constructive discussion of the key changes needed in the Philippine electoral system. It is hoped the production and distribution of this final report, which presents the findings, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations of the program, will further the electoral reform agenda. Content and Target Audience This report is not a description of the May 10, 2004 elections. Rather, it is a thematic analysis of selected aspects of the Philippine electoral process.
It does not attempt to deal with the many complexities in their entirety, but instead focuses on those areas where problems, real or perceived, are most prevalent. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 3 Sections on political parties, civil society, and the media have not been included in this document, as it is expected these topics will be examined at length in the reports of the other CEPPS partners. The target audience is any stakeholder who has an interest in electoral reform in the Philippines. The reader is assumed therefore to have a basic knowledge of the Philippines and its political and electoral systems.
The report deals with the existing electoral system. The final section of the report includes suggestions for electoral reform under a scenario where constitutional change becomes a reality. The report’s conclusions and recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive, or definitive, but are intended to contribute to the ongoing debate on electoral reform in the Philippines. 3. Legal Framework The legal framework for elections exists largely (in descending order of authority) in the Constitution, the Omnibus Election Code and subsequent laws, resolutions and rules of procedure of COMELEC.
Constitution The Constitution was passed in 1987, after the fall of the Marcos regime. It sets forth the electoral framework and enshrines basic principles of freedom of expression, association, suffrage, and secrecy and sanctity of the ballot. It defines structures of government, terms of office, and sets election dates2. The Constitution mandates a strong Commission on Elections (COMELEC), which is independent from other branches of government. COMELEC is composed of seven members, appointed by the president, with the consent of the Congressional Commission on Appointments.
Commissioners sit for a term of seven years without possibility of reappointment, and can be removed only through impeachment. COMELEC’s mandate is to administer all elections, plebiscites, and referendums, and to inquire into and resolve electoral disputes or controversies. It has very broad executive and judicial authority. Among other things, it can deputize law enforcement agencies and other arms of the government, including the Armed Forces; act as prosecutor in election related criminal cases; and act as a first instance and appellate court in deciding electoral disputes.
As a constitutional body, COMELEC is less accountable to the other branches of government and the public. Nonetheless, there are some checks and balances: • • • • • COMELEC decisions can be overturned by the Supreme Court, but only for jurisdictional excesses and grave breaches of authority. Although Congress cannot limit COMELEC’s constitutional authority, it can pass laws that direct the overall conduct of elections and thus regulate what COMELEC does in practice. Congressional commissions may examine the work of COMELEC, although they cannot directly sanction COMELEC or its members.
The Audit Commission may exercise financial oversight over all government bodies, including COMELEC. Commissioners may be removed by impeachment. The underlying theory of the constitutional framers seems to have been to create a body able to completely shield the electoral process from political interference. Its authority, if realized, could make COMELEC one of the world’s strongest and most independent election commissions. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 4 Basic Laws The basic election law is the Omnibus Election Code enacted December 3, 1985. substantially amended by the 1987 Constitution, and at least seven major laws. • • • • • • • • The Electoral Reforms Law of 1987 (RA 6646) – 1987 Synchronized Elections Law (RA 7166) – 1992 The Party List Law (RA 7941) – 1995 “Mindanao Automation” (RA 8046) – 1995 Voter’s Registration Act of 1996 (RA 8189) – 1996 Electoral Modernization Act (RA 8436) – 1997 Fair Election Act (RA 9006) – 2001 Act Providing for Synchronized Barangay and SK Elections (RA 9164) – 2002 Overseas Voting Act (RA 9189) – 2003 It has been (For more detail, see Annex V: Main Electoral Laws) COMELEC Resolutions COMELEC issues “resolutions” to exercise its administrative functions and implement the election laws.
Resolutions are not just administrative edicts; they have the same force as laws made in Congress3. Breach of a COMELEC resolution can carry criminal sanctions, with a minimum penalty of one year in jail. COMELEC’s practice is to issue resolutions on an ad hoc basis; a completely new set of resolutions is issued for each election. In principle, election laws and COMELEC resolutions are widely available. They are extensively debated in the media and other public fora, and amendments must be published in newspapers of general circulation before they become effective.
Laws and resolutions are in English, a language understood by the majority (but not all) Filipinos. In practice, however, the plethora of laws, lack of consolidation, and an ad hoc approach to COMELEC resolutions is confusing, even for election practitioners, giving rise to an extraordinarily high number of electoral lawyers in the Philippines. Not all COMELEC resolutions are issued in a timely fashion. For example, Resolution no. 7213, the main resolution on electoral contributions and expenditures, was passed on 31 May 2004, three weeks after the elections were held.
Pending or Proposed Laws The Omnibus Election Code and subsequent laws provide a comprehensive framework that is largely in line with international standards. Nonetheless, there are serious problems and gaps in certain areas, which should be addressed as part of an electoral reform agenda for the newly convened 13th Congress. Law to Strengthen the Political Party System* Most reformers consider this to be the most essential pending law. The intent is to encourage the development of parties based on platforms and programs, rather than on individuals and influence.
Its most salient provisions include: * Draft considered by 12th Congress. 5 IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election • • • • Regulation of conduct of political parties, including selection of leaders by party congress. Minimum funding by the state to duly registered national parties. Regulation of campaign financing and spending, including restricting individual campaign contributions. Banning so called “turncoatism” (the rampant practice of switching political affiliation, which weakens party structures, confuses voters, and undermines the concept of a viable opposition).
Amendments to the Party List Law* The Constitution requires that up to 20% of the members of the House of Representatives be “elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties and organizations”. The Supreme Court has determined that the current Party List Law is flawed in two major ways: The existing 2% threshold is prohibitive such that congressional seats remain vacant; and the law does not clearly define eligibility criteria to run under the party-list system. The proposed amendments would clarify eligibility, and lower the threshold from 2. 0 to 1. 8 %. ould increase the maximum number of seats per party from three to six. Implementing Law On Local Sectoral Representation* This law is designed to ensure greater representation of marginalized or underrepresented groups at the local level, by initiating mandatory set aside seats for sectoral representation in local legislatures. Law Banning “Permits to Campaign”* In some areas, particularly those under lesser control of the central authorities, it has become practice for local strongmen or armed groups to ask money from candidates for the right to campaign in the area. The draft law would specifically outlaw this practice.
Political Dynasties The Constitution bans “political dynasties,” i. e. , monopolies of political power by a limited number of families. Although the Constitution has been in force since 1987, members of Congress, many of whom come from long lines of political families, have failed to enact the laws necessary to implement the ban. Other The 2002 National Electoral Reform Summit, which brought together stakeholders from COMELEC, government, and NGOs, recommended passage of a law to broaden the knowledge of citizens and eligible voters of the electoral process, and a law mandating structural reforms in COMELEC.
Recommendations Passage of Priority Laws • Draft laws to strengthen political parties, amend the Party List Law, implement sectoral representation at local levels, and ban “permits to campaign” should be passed as soon as The law * Draft considered by 12th Congress. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 6 possible. It is well past time that Congress met its constitutional obligation to ban political dynasties, despite the obvious difficulty of the political debate. • The Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) is planning a summit in September 2004 to follow up on the successful 2002 Electoral Reform Summit.
Lawmakers, administrators, and activists should take advantage of this and similar opportunities to help define the electoral reform agenda for the new Congress. Consolidation of Electoral Laws • All relevant electoral laws, other than constitutional provisions, should be consolidated in a new Omnibus Election Code. If this is not politically possible, then at the least an official, userfriendly compilation of current laws and COMELEC resolutions should be produced and widely disseminated.
COMELEC or the government should develop user-friendly and accessible public information packages on important elements of the electoral system. Greater Uniformity and Consistency in COMELEC Resolutions • It is imperative that the administrative and procedural framework laid down in COMELEC resolutions be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. However, the current practice of re-doing the framework each election cycle creates uncertainty, and hinders efficiency and transparency. COMELEC resolutions should be a standing body of law, updated and amended as circumstances require.
Resolutions should be passed well before elections. Congress should reconsider whether it is proper or desirable that an electoral body, even one with such broad constitutionally mandated powers, should have authority to issue de facto criminal laws. • 4. COMELEC The quality and credibility of the Filipino election process depends on a number of factors, one of the most important being COMELEC’s performance. Numerous stakeholders across Filipino society and even staff of COMELEC itself were highly critical of the performance of COMELEC in the May 10 elections.
While the performance of an election commission can and should be measured objectively, the subjective perceptions are equally as important when it comes to acceptance of election results. When examining how COMELEC could perform better as an institution, it is necessary to look at both improving the actual operational capacity of the organization as well as addressing factors contributing to its poor public perception. COMELEC’s Operational Capacity COMELEC’s chief responsibility is to deliver an effective electoral operation.
The May 10, 2004 election was widely and justifiably criticized for its technical flaws. The principal cause was the failure to implement the three phases of modernization, namely: 1) full implementation of the biometric capturing system / re-establishing a functional voters’ list; 2) automation of count and canvass; and 3) implementation of the VSAT results transmission system / COMELEC quick count. Serious flaws in the voters’ list potentially disenfranchised numerous voters, and the absence of an automated count and canvass meant a repeat of the controversial and convoluted manual counting process.
These technical flaws are symptoms of a wider problem, namely, COMELEC has not evolved to meet emerging needs and is entrenched in an organizationally antiquated state. The drive to modernize COMELEC has been recognized, but has narrowly focused on implementation of some discrete technologies. The push for “modernization” has overlooked the need to modernize management and operations as well. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 7 Management Structure COMELEC staff members acknowledge the management structure at the top of the organization is seriously flawed.
Originally, the Commission was designed to be the “board” of the organization providing policy direction through its resolutions. The implementation of these policies and the daily running of the operation were to be done by civil servants headed by the executive director. This approach, which is technically sound, has been eroded by the evolution of the Commissioner in Charge (CIC) system. Commissioners have divided all areas of responsibility among them. These responsibilities could include a specific subject, such as ballot printing, a headquarters, department, or even the field operations of a region.
As a result, different regions have fallen under different commissioners with little coordination on operational issues. COMELEC effectively has seven department directors with each commissioner taking operational control over his/her area and managing them directly. The executive director position has lost authority and central control over the operation. The commissioners have widened their influence, expanded their staff, and increased spheres of control and power. (See Annex IV: Organizational Structure of COMELEC) The CIC system has proven to be inefficient and ineffective.
Operational management duties belong with the executive director and his/her staff, not the Commission. If commissioners were further removed from management responsibilities, they would be better able to focus on providing sorely needed oversight and policy guidance. With commissioners being replaced periodically and long term civil servants having lost managerial control, COMELEC has little continuity in its handling of the organization. The fundamental problems in top management manifest themselves throughout the organization.
As a result, COMELEC is limited when it comes to planning, coordinating, and implementing its activities in an effective manner. Staffing COMELEC has 2,000 permanent headquarters staff and 3,000 permanent field staff in more than 1,600 municipal, provincial, and regional election offices, placing it among the largest election management bodies in the world. Despite this large body of professional election administrators, COMELEC routinely has difficulty organizing basic activities such as training of polling officials, printing of ballots, updating of the voters’ list, and the dissemination of voter education materials.
Recruitment appears to be based on civil service qualifications without defined job descriptions. Standard operating procedures do not exist and there is no staff development program in COMELEC. The director of personnel said there was no time for professional development training although he agreed, “many staff would benefit from office management training. ” Staff training is conducted when necessary and not as a matter of policy. The lack of clear job responsibilities and poor management is evident to anyone visiting COMELEC offices, which are either quite busy with tasks of questionable priority, or completely idle.
The need to professionalize COMELEC staff was consistently cited by stakeholders, COMELEC staff, and commissioners as a priority for improving the administration of elections in the Philippines. Professional development programs for COMELEC staff could be developed as a part of a broader reform package that addresses the overall structure, operation, and funding of COMELEC. Specific areas to be targeted for reform could include staffing (recruitment, training, and performance evaluations), organizational structure, and operations.
Field Structure For the 2004 elections it was generally observed that COMELEC field staff played an important role in rescuing a poorly conceived and implemented operation by COMELEC headquarters, especially concerning the voters’ list. Successes were achieved, despite the fact that COMELEC field offices are critically under-resourced and in need of improved administrative capacity and infrastructure. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 8 Another capacity problem is the absence of reliable communication inside headquarters and with the field in general. There are visibly few computers in the organization and no on-line capacity.
E-mail is rarely available and few field offices have facsimile capability. Supplies are often so scarce that offices sometimes cease to function. For example, an absence of ink and paper resulted in no voters’ lists printed and displayed in many areas. In the absence of support from headquarters, field offices resorted to seeking support from the elected officials, an obvious and serious conflict of interest. One field station visited had become dependent on a car and printer made available by the incumbent mayor. There is a weak relationship between the field election offices and both provincial offices and the headquarters of COMELEC.
Election officers do not have confidence in the ability of provincial and headquarters staff to support them; instead they fear they will be reprimanded for asking for assistance. Conversely, election officers do not have the opportunity to give input into planning and program development. Election operational processes can only be strengthened when field personnel are integrated into the planning process. Team building between the differing areas within COMELEC is nonexistent, though it would greatly improve the relationship between field and HQ.
Creating opportunities through which election officers can share experiences and provide mutual support would improve communication and strengthen professional capacities. Budget COMELEC had no budget allocated from state funds for elections in 2004, as the general rule for disbursements in a given year is based on activities the previous year (there were no elections in 2003). COMELEC therefore had to request 4. 7 billion Philippine pesos for elections from the incumbent president to be released from her special allowance. It is not an optimal situation to be “dependent” on a sitting president or competing candidate for an election budget.
At the time of the election only a fraction of the budget had been released. The late release of funds had a debilitating effect on COMELEC’s operations. The dependency on the current government negatively impacted the public’s perception of their impartiality. COMELEC’s Credibility Impartiality To be effective, an election administration must be politically neutral, both in practice and in perception. Participants in the electoral process question COMELEC’s impartiality. While it is difficult to evaluate the real nature of this alleged bias, negative perceptions are nearly as damaging to its credibility as proven bias.
When the impartiality of COMELEC is questioned, the focus is mostly on the commissioners themselves, who are believed to hold political allegiances, particularly to the presidency. It is has been alleged that the presidential appointment of commissioners is actively used by the incumbent to influence the electoral process4. President Arroyo appointed five of the current seven commissioners. This includes the current COMELEC chairman, who was previously a politician and allegedly intends to run for office again.
Accused by some of being a politician and not an impartial administrator, the chairman is widely considered to be uninterested in management of COMELEC and is continually under attack from other stakeholders and the media. In a recent public survey, the chairman received a very low approval rating, while COMELEC as an organization fared better. There is also a perception among election stakeholders that incumbent commissioners have used their station for personal and political positioning by using the electoral appeals mechanism for political leverage.
With two impending retirements, the possibility of the Committee on Appointments rejecting the two recent commissioner reappointments and the possibility of Chairman Abalos resigning, the president has a unique opportunity to replace 5 out of 7 members of the Commission by 2005. It is difficult to see the credibility of the COMELEC improving without a drastic change in its current composition. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 9 It is both advisable and possible to lessen the politicization of the Commission by initiating a procedure for nomination of commissioners.
There are many options within the current constitutional framework. One suggestion, modeled on the judicial appointment system, would see the president select from a short list of qualified and broadly acceptable candidates. Candidate lists would be developed in consultations with civil society and other stakeholders, including perhaps through public hearings. Public Relations COMELEC’s ability to perform not only depends on its internal capacity; it also depends on the ability and willingness of all electoral actors to support COMELEC to implement its mandate.
COMELEC must also be willing to cooperate with other election stakeholders and share information in order to facilitate their activities. Civil society actors have been critical of COMELEC’s lack of transparency and poor management decisions. In the past, civil society organizations were included in COMELEC decisionmaking processes. With the current Commission, there is less willingness to work with civil society and less openness with the media. This lack of transparency negatively impacts COMELEC’s public image. COMELEC has poor relations with the media.
The media is highly critical of COMELEC and the organization is constantly coming across as being on the defensive. The problem goes as far as senior staff writing critical articles about COMELEC in the newspapers. There seems to be neither plan nor budget for any coordinated effort to improve public relations. In addition, the COMELEC spokesperson duties are assigned to the director of the Education and Information Department (EID). Voter education and public information are both full-time positions; each gets short-changed when combined in one position.
The inter-agency coordination seen between COMELEC and other election stakeholders at the regional, provincial, municipal, and city levels sets a good example for COMELEC headquarters in how developing relations with partner organizations, including the media, can facilitate a smooth functioning of election activities throughout the election period. Recommendations • • • • • Recognize that strengthening COMELEC begins with a comprehensive “modernization”, not only by introducing new “hardware” but also by truly reforming the organization itself. Establish an electoral reform committee.
Conduct a comprehensive audit of COMELEC management and operations with the aim of bringing professionalism to the Commission. Establish a commission and initiate a new procedure for nomination of candidates as COMELEC commissioners. Consider nominating candidates with a management background. Eliminate the CIC structure and restore management powers to the office of the executive director, including participation in en banc sessions. Involving the executive director and/or relevant senior staff in en banc sessions of the Commission to provide technical advice would help ensure that policy is effectively translated into practice.
Consider an amendment to the Constitution to restructure COMELEC by separating management/policy oversight powers from quasi-judiciary functions into two institutions. Removing judicial responsibilities from COMELEC would increase their credibility, reduce political pressure, and allow them to focus on the administration of elections. Conduct a detailed and systematic assessment of COMELEC’s training and professional development needs within the context of a broader structural review. This needs assessment should include a review of job descriptions and staffing tables both within COMELEC HQ and in • •
IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 10 the regional and provincial offices. An external agency experienced in elections management should be considered for this task. • Address deficiencies in staff capacities by designing and immediately implementing an ongoing professional development program for COMELEC rank and file, especially field personnel. There should be a special focus on election law for election officers. Support the Personnel Department, the Alliance of COMELEC Employees in Service, Inc. , and the Education and Information Department in order to build their capacity to design relevant training programs.
Strengthen the Education and Information Department (EID) of COMELEC as a priority. Consider separating the duties of the voter education section of this department from the public information responsibilities. Hire a professional public relations expert to design a long-term media and public relations strategy. Clarify and streamline departmental functions, consolidating some department functions to reduce overlap and allow more effective use of limited resources. Design and implement standard operating procedures manuals for all COMELEC departments, including field structures.
Set up interview panels of senior staff using standard job descriptions written by the Personnel Department as standard procedure for all future recruitment. The hiring process would thus be more transparent and would ensure a close match between the qualifications of applicants and the requirements of the job. Institute regular performance evaluations for all staff, including senior managers and directors, and assign professional development training consistent with the needs of their particular job description. 5 Reduce the size of COMELEC staff at headquarters.
Conduct internal (COMELEC) post-election reviews and evaluations at both HQ and field office level and synthesize this feedback in order to continually improve procedures for future elections. 6 Introduce basic organizational management tools such as staffing tables, organizational diagrams, job descriptions, and effective performance review processes as standard operating procedures within COMELEC. Introduce new office technology in order to improve communication with field offices. Include field personnel in project planning activities.
Develop and implement voter education programs, especially vis-a-vis the modernization program, as an immediate priority of COMELEC and partner stakeholders. Revise the Omnibus Election Code to include specific minimum standard training requirements for all election officials, including election officers. Election officials at all levels must be provided with professional development training in management, logistics, planning, information dissemination, targeting information needs, presentation skills, and working with the media.
This will be critical in all of the upcoming elections, especially if modernization continues. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 11 5. Pre-election Issues Automation of the Count and Canvass On December 22, 1997, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 8436 authorizing COMELEC to use an automated election system for the process of voting, counting votes, and canvassing results of the national and local elections. After failed previous attempts to implement automation, COMELEC was ready to push through with automated processes in the last elections.
However, the Supreme Court upheld a petition challenging COMELEC’s award of the contract for the purchase of counting machines and equipment to a private consortium that allegedly did not participate in the public bidding. The Court castigated COMELEC for grave abuse of discretion and nullified the contract for purchase of machines supposed to be used in the recently held elections. Since the South Korean vendor has already rejected the request to buy back the counting machines, COMELEC appears to be stuck with the current technology they have acquired, which although not the best, is adequate for their needs.
The last minute failure of the automated count and canvassing program had an enormous impact on planning for Election Day. It affected the implementation of activities ranging from voter education to Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) training and preparation of voters’ lists to printing and delivery of sensitive materials. While the Supreme Court ruled this was unavoidable due to technical reasons, it is hoped these issues can be clarified early enough to facilitate planning for the next election cycle. Assuming these legal ssues can be resolved, it is hoped the modernization program can move forward. As there have been numerous questions raised regarding the design of the various programs and their implementation, it would be advisable to first conduct a comprehensive review of the program to ensure it can be successfully carried without further waste of time and resources. The focus on automation as the solution to all problems has deflected attention from other problems such as management deficiencies in COMELEC and the lack of voter education.
Regardless of the voting method used, ballot design and ballot marking are technical issues and have educational ramifications for the public and other election stakeholders. For the public, automation will require a comprehensive voter education program, which was not a strong point of COMELEC this past election (see the chapter on Voter Education). For election stakeholders, an automated system will require internal training and familiarization with the new technology, including COMELEC employees, civil society organizations, BEI and Board of Canvassers (BOC) members, political party observers, and the media.
This effort will require a new approach by COMELEC to providing educational and information services, while other organizations will need to be more vigilant to ensure they are updated on the new system and what their role will be in ensuring it is successfully implemented, be it training, monitoring, or reporting. Recommendations • • • COMELEC should proceed with the implementation of automation of the count and canvass using existing resources as soon as possible. COMELEC should develop new voting procedures, materials, and training programs based on the technical requirements of an automated voting process.
COMELEC should develop an extensive voter education program to inform voters of anticipated changes to voting procedures and registration requirements. Electronic Transmission of Results The Supreme Court ruled that COMELEC could not proceed with electronic transmission of results due to a technicality (COMELEC had not notified the parties). It is believed that the real reason for blocking the project was enormous resistance to allowing COMELEC to have advance results for the presidential and vice presidential contests. In any event, it is likely that the Supreme Court came to COMELEC’s rescue by
IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 12 canceling Phases 2 and 3 because COMELEC was not prepared to implement either. COMELEC must now begin the implementation of these technologies in preparation for the next election cycle. The last minute ruling against the implementation of this system, coming only days before the polls opened, resulted in chaos at all levels of COMELEC. As part of the preparation for implementing the electronic transmission of results, training on Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) equipment was conducted for election officers just one week prior to Election Day.
This poor planning resulted in election officers being taken away from their field offices during the most critical time of the election period. In the end, it was a misuse of time and resources, as the electronic transmission of results project was scrapped. Recommendations • • COMELEC should proceed with implementation of the electronic transmission results project using existing resources as soon as possible. COMELEC should develop new training materials and programs based on the technical requirements of an electronic transmission of results program.
Training programs should be planned well in advance of the implementation period. COMELEC should develop an extensive voter education program to inform voters about the purpose of the electronic transmission of results program. • Voter Registration Until recently, voter registers were compiled manually at the city and municipal level. While the voters’ list became computerized at this local level, it was still decentralized. In August 2003, COMELEC started implementation of Phase I of the automation process, referred to as the Voters Validation System (VVS).
Under VVS, the validation process was based on the collection of biometric data, the production of a centralized voters’ list, and the issuance of identification cards. To add to this complex program, COMELEC also decided to renumber the precincts7. Both the validation and precinct re-organization programs were poorly designed and implemented. COMELEC did not compile a complete, functional, and centralized voters’ list. The gathering and merging of numerous sets of data and changes failed.
COMELEC was only able to validate a fraction of the actual electorate through the new system, while the remaining voters stayed in the old decentralized system. This resulted in the failure to centrally produce a voters’ list in time for the claims and appeals period, thereby foregoing this fundamental legal requirement. The absence of a claims and appeals period not only denied voters the right to challenge names on the list, it also meant that voters in most regions of the country did not know where to vote. The goal behind validation and centralization of the voter registry was to identify duplicate entries.
This failed for three reasons: 1) only a fraction of the electorate was included; 2) it wasn’t mandatory for people to validate their information; and 3) the system did not have the capacity to process all the voters or check duplicates. In addition, COMELEC did not even have the legal authority to remove duplicates when found. Under the current system, the onus for these administrative changes lies with the voter and, as a result, COMELEC field staff cannot easily remove double registrants or deceased voters.
COMELEC must have the authority to remove voters from the list. To prevent disenfranchisement, voters should have the right to appeal these changes to the voters’ list. In order to be sustainable, it is important that the appeal process is simple and swift. COMELEC headquarters was expected to produce and distribute voters’ lists for each and every precinct in the country. Shortly before the elections, it became clear that this would not happen. The voters’ lists that were produced were so flawed that they were completely unusable to control voters on Election Day.
Recognizing this, COMELEC asked the election officers to salvage the situation by reverting to their decentralized lists and records. These records had become outdated, as they did not include the many new voters who registered or changed their address under the new validation system. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 13 The deeply flawed voters’ list, with missing names, incorrect precinct allocations, etc. resulted in numerous voters being disenfranchised on Election Day. In many polling locations throughout the country, there was confusion among voters in finding their proper precinct.
Many of the voters could not find their names on the lists for administrative reasons (changed precincts, the poor distribution of voter information sheets, the absence of a display period, etc. ). Others had been removed from the voters’ list because they had not voted in the two previous elections. While it is recognized that some voters had been genuinely disenfranchised, 8 in some cases the responsibility does fall back on voters who have not voted in the past two elections or had not registered their move with the local Election Office9.
Fixing the voter registry in the Philippines is essential for the conduct of future elections. It does, however, seem there are two fundamentally different approaches that need to be evaluated: 1) implement the modernized Phase I registration methodology, including the issuance of mandatory Voter ID cards (requiring a monumental investment of time and resources); or 2) revert back to the decentralized voter registration system without biometric data capturing. We believe, that for a meaningful evolution of the Philippine election system to take place, the first option is the answer.
We also recognize that COMELEC at present lacks the capacity to implement this solution and that the significant resources needed might not be made available. Recommendations • • COMELEC should proceed with the modernization of the voter registry, including the production of mandatory voter ID cards, upon a careful review of all aspects of the program. COMELEC should have the authority to remove names from the voter registry provided that voters are duly notified and provided with the option to appeal in person at their local election office.
COMELEC should develop new training materials and programs based on the technical requirements of this voter registration program. COMELEC should develop an extensive voter education program to inform voters of their responsibilities under this voter registration system. • • Voter Education COMELEC did not implement an effective voter education campaign. Civil society organizations such as PPCRV tried to step in to inform voters on how to register and how to vote, but their efforts were often frustrated by the lack of guidance or materials from COMELEC.
Barangay captains also played an important role in providing voter information to the public regarding their precinct. Other voter education efforts by civil society actors focused on general messages of participation in the political process. Not only is COMELEC bound by law to perform voter education activities, it will benefit from making sure that voters know exactly how to cast their vote and what will happen to their vote. COMELEC needs to regain the confidence of the public; one important tool could be a simple, sustained, and strong voter education program.
During field visits it was difficult to find evidence of a voter education or voter information program in action. In some areas, the election officer was able to distribute practice ballots or “Voter Information Sheets,” which allowed voters to readily identify the precinct to which they had been assigned for voting. Candidate forums were organized with some success, but in some areas election officers funded these events partly from their own resources due to the absence of COMELEC funding.
Prior to the actual election process and during the voter registration update, some election officers were unable to publicize the necessity for voters to check their names on the voters’ list as a means of ensuring that their registration was correct and thereby ascertaining the correct precinct at which to vote on Election Day. This was again due mainly to the lack of COMELEC funding. IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 14 COMELEC voter education planning was ad hoc and often activities were started and left unimplemented.
Materials were developed very late or not at all and even when developed on time, little was done to effectively disseminate the voter education materials. For example a Calendar of Activities, a Primer on the Electoral System, and Educational System FAQs were produced but not distributed. Poor design and limited distribution rendered most of these materials useless. Mass media (newspapers, radio, and television) were only used for “panel interviews” and no public service announcements (PSA) were produced10.
The Omnibus Election Code Resolution No. 6667 clearly states that the Education and Information Department of COMELEC shall publish the General Instructions in two daily newspapers on or before March 22, 2004, but this too was not done due to the lack of organizational capacity of COMELEC. Election officers and senior COMELEC staff did attempt some voter education through open forums at the Barangay level, which were effective in some cases. Typical voter questions focused on ID requirements on Election Day.
The director of the Education and Information Department of COMELEC herself attended some of these Barangay meetings or gave addresses at schools and colleges in the weeks prior to the election; this had little impact nationally and was not an effective use of her time. COMELEC’s inability to inform voters will be made even more apparent should there be any major changes to the electoral system, such as the introduction of electronic voting machines.
Many stakeholders have emphasized the importance of ongoing, broad-based voter education to increase voters’ knowledge and understanding of the election process. Voter education can also address the lack of public confidence in the electoral system and increase accountability of election administrators and elected officials. For this reason, many teachers, COMELEC officials, Philippine National Police (PNP) officials, and representatives from civil society have strongly urged that civics be introduced in school curricula.
Recommendations Voter education efforts need to begin well in advance of elections and different stakeholders have an important role to play in informing and educating voters. The following are suggested approaches for conducting voter education in the Philippines: • COMELEC should conduct a voter information campaign to inform voters of basic information enabling qualified citizens to vote, including the date, time, and place of voting; the type of election; identification necessary to establish eligibility, registration requirements, and mechanisms for voting.
COMELEC should plan and budget for a combination of printed materials and radio and television PSAs to be disseminated and broadcast through a variety of sources. The Department of Education (DepEd) should introduce civic education to the elementary and secondary curricula to address broader concepts underpinning a democratic society such as the respective roles and responsibilities of citizens, government, political and special interests, the mass media, and the business and non-profit sectors as well as the significance of periodic and competitive elections.
Curriculum would emphasize not only citizen awareness but also citizen participation in all aspects of democratic society. Age appropriate materials and activities could easily be developed by teachers up to and including helping students to organize their own school elections at the secondary level. 11 Civil society organizations such as NAMFREL and PPCRV should conduct voter education to motivate and prepare voters to participate fully in elections.
Messages should focus on more complex concepts related to voting and the electoral process such as the link between basic human rights and voting rights; the role, responsibilities, and rights of voters; the relationship between elections and democracy and the conditions necessary for democratic elections; secrecy of the ballot; why each vote is important and its impact on public accountability; and how votes translate into seats. Voter education requires more lead time for implementation than voter • • IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 15 nformation and, ideally, should be undertaken on an on-going basis. Barangay captains could play a role as a partner for assisting with local dissemination of informative materials. • COMELEC should leverage resources by seeking alliances with organizations experienced in developing voter education programs. In this way, COMELEC can reduce its share of the financial burden to conduct effective voter education. COMELEC should consider forming strategic partnerships with other state entities (DepEd, PNP), civil society organizations (NAMFREL and PPCRV), and local government (Barangay captains). 2 COMELEC should decouple the “education” and “information” functions and create two separate departments for each task: a voter education department and a public spokesperson’s office. The “media monitoring” carried out by the Department of Education and Information should be contracted out to a professional firm. Having untrained COMELEC staff spot check television news programs amid their many other tasks is a weak attempt at controlling use of broadcast media for campaign purposes.
There are many elements of society involved in an effective voter education campaign. Results of a recent regional roundtable in southern Luzon indicate that there is the potential to coordinate efforts to better inform voters for future elections. Such coordination efforts should be facilitated and supported by civil society groups willing to take the lead in such issues. 13 • • • Voter education initiatives will only become more critical as COMELEC moves to implement its automation program before the next election cycle.
Training of BEIs and BOCs The scale of projects designed to train and meet the professional development needs of electoral staff in the Philippines is enormous. Over 216,000 electoral precincts required an excess of 600,000 Boards of Election Inspectors to be trained, of which 475,000 were teachers. Thousands of Boards of Canvassers, which included school superintendents and principals, also had to be trained. COMELEC itself has a permanent staff of almost 5,000, including 1,615 election officers.
The initial planning and resourcing for this program began in early 2003, but was severely disrupted by two external factors: 1) the decisions of the Supreme Court in January 2004 to cancel a contract for the purchase of 1,700 vote counting machines and to block the use of VSAT technology to transmit precinct results to COMELEC HQ; and 2) the lack of sufficient budgeted resources for the training program. These challenges were exacerbated by the lack of operational capacity of COMELEC to organize and conduct training in an effective manner.
These structural and financial limitations prompted other groups such as DepEd, PPCRV, and NAMFREL to develop their own training programs to compensate for COMELEC’s weaknesses. These initiatives, although admirable, led to duplication and waste of state and private resources, conflicting training programs, and further weakening of COMELEC’s authority as the electoral management body of the Philippines. The Department of Education, as mandated by the Omnibus Election Code, was required by COMELEC to enlist all physically able teachers, principals, and superintendents to fulfill their duties as BEIs and BOCs.
This arrangement has existed in previous elections and it is generally taken for granted by COMELEC that it will continue in future elections, despite assertions by senior DepEd officials that they plan to lobby Congress to release teachers from their legal obligations as BEIs. DepEd recognized the limited capacity of COMELEC to develop curricula and train BEIs and decided, for the first time, to directly train their teachers in COMELEC procedures. This training was not required of DepEd, but was done in order to “support its constituents in performing their duties well and in protecting them from any form of intimidation and harassment. 14 Past experience had shown that teachers would IFES Report: 2004 Philippines National Election 16 be subject to intimidation, lawsuits, and even violence while fulfilling their BEI and BOC duties. 15 What was conceived as supplemental training to better prepare the teachers became the de facto training program for BEIs, as COMELEC’s own training program was delayed and badly under-resourced. DepEd, with its superior organizational capacity, effectively took over many of COMELEC’s operational responsibilities related to training BEIs.
DepEd trained almost 3,000 school superintendents, principals, and vice-principals as trainers; recruited and trained 475,000 teachers as BEIs; provided legal services to protect BEIs from unjust legal prosecution; conducted voter education; issued COMELEC updates directly to BEIs; paid per diems to BEIs prior to the election; established an Election Task Force staffed with 178 DepEd HQ staff and 4,400 regional and local staff to provide technical support to teachers’ concerns prior to, during, and after Election Day; and printed its own procedures manual.
Meanwhile, the Election and Information Department of COMELEC continued to develop its own training program with no consultation or attempt to coordinate efforts with the DepEd. 16 The result was two completely separate but overlapping training programs with different messages and means of delivery. This dual training wasted state resources, created confusion among teachers, and resulted in many basic procedures not being followed on Election Day.
Department of Education BEI Training Program DepEd used a cascade-training program, in which a two-day train-the-trainers (ToT) program was conducted over six weeks in February/March by the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). In total, just seventeen (17) ToT sessions were conducted: one for each region, without regard to class size. As a result, ToT sessions included 100 to 300 participants each and a total of 3,000 school superintendents, principals, and vice-principals were trained as trainers.
These trainers then “echoed” a modified version of the DAP training to 475,000 teachers during the month of April. The ToT curriculum consisted of almost a full day of “capacity building,” which included over 400 Power Point slides on the political, economic, legal, and moral background to conducting elections in the Philippines. The remainder of the ToT consisted of a general overview of procedures. Since the General Instructions were not completed by COMELEC until April, all of the DAP procedures training for DepEd trainers was conducted based on the General Instructions issued for the 1998 elections.
Many parts of this portion of the training were skipped over with trainers receiving subsequent updates in piecemeal fashion. As a result, many of the DepEd trainers were confused about the procedures and this greatly impacted the quality of echo training of BEIs. COMELEC BEI Training Program COMELEC’s training program was also a crude form of cascade training based on the General Instructions (GIs). Five senior trainers from COMELEC, each paired with a senior COMELEC official,17 trained 1,615 election officers over a three-week period from the last week of March until mid-April. 8 The “training” for the most part consisted of COMELEC trai