What could go wrong in the 2016 elections?

A year before elections, watchdog LENTE points out
five issues that need to be addressed ASAP

A year before the 2016 National and Local Elections, the election group LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) identifies five concerns/issues that could affect the elections’ credibility. The five concerns are: appointments in the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the system to be used in the elections, COMELEC’s transparency and openness to work with stakeholders, deactivated voters because of the lack of biometrics and compliance with election laws and prevalence of election offenses.

Appointments in the COMELEC

The individuals being floated now to be appointed to the Commission are personalities with ‘deep’ connections with the current administration. Appointments like this would affect the independence and credibility of the decision and policy making of COMELEC.

Also, these individuals have little or no experience at all with elections. This lack of experience would greatly be a liability to COMELEC which needs individuals to hit the ground running once appointed.

LENTE calls on the President to appoint independent and election-experienced individuals to the Commission. It also calls on the President to consider appointing COMELEC career officials in these vacancies.

System to be used in the elections

With the latest Supreme Court decision on the repair and refurbishment of the old PCOS machines, time is running out for the Commission to decide on which system (automated, semi-automated or manual) to implement for the elections. Each option would be met with criticisms and challenges.

LENTE calls on COMELEC to decide immediately on which system it deems fit to use for the elections next year. It also calls on the stakeholders to fully support this decision of COMELEC. There would always be criticisms/challenges to each system but we should give it to COMELEC to decide, as this is well within their constitutional mandate to do so.

COMELEC’s transparency and openness in dealing with stakeholders

Historically, the critics of COMELEC have always been at the sideline when it comes to the agency’s dealings. These issues, because it came from critics, have always been shunned by the agency. This approach has led to issues being resurrected over and over again. Unresolved issues contribute to the distrust of COMELEC by the public.

LENTE calls on the COMELEC to look beyond the personalities and organizations behind these issues. These issues, if they are resurrected over and over again, do have weight and should be addressed head on. It also calls on these personalities and organizations to give COMELEC a chance to explain.

Deactivated voters because of the lack of biometrics

It is estimated that at least two million voters will be deactivated because of the lack of biometrics. The significance of this number would greatly affect the result of the elections, as this number would always be used as the “what if” for individuals who would lose in closely fought elections. Also, election results would never be credible if a significant number of people would not be able to exercise their right to suffrage.  

LENTE calls on COMELEC, concerned government agencies, NGOs, POs, the Church etc. to get the word out of this looming election reality. LENTE especially calls on the voters to not wait for the last minute to validate their registration, as doing such would only make their validation experience a nightmare.

Compliance with election laws and prevalence of election offenses

With the advent of automation in Philippine elections, the focus of election monitoring has shifted to the increase of election law violations, more especially, offenses in relation to the exercise of the right to suffrage.

After the 2010 National and Local elections, LENTE has always said that election offenses would increase ten-fold as politicians, candidates and political parties would focus their attention to the voters, as the machines are hard to cheat/maneuver. This has been proven in the 2013 National and Local elections, as we saw the monetary value of the vote increase exponentially, especially in areas where elections are close.

Coupled with the shifted focus of politicians, candidates and political parties is the weak prosecution of election law violators. Votes are being bought left and right because everyone knows that no one gets prosecuted or imprisoned for such violations.

LENTE calls on the COMELEC and other concerned government agencies to multiply their efforts on going after election law violators. The organization recognizes the efforts made so far by the Commission in a number of high profile cases. These efforts should be continued further with no regard or whatsoever to the political affiliation of an election law violator.

Given the five concerns/issues above, LENTE will continue its work of ensuring that the upcoming elections and the process leading to it instill public confidence, inclusive, transparent and accountable.