The race is on as the Philippines counts down to days leading to May 13, 2019—the midterm elections. With 60 certified candidates vying for the 12 seats in the Senate and more than 180 party list groups to choose from, over 61 million voters will exercise their right to vote and make decisions for the future of our nation.

Now, more than ever, basic voter education plays an important role not just for first-time voters, but also to serve as a reminder to everyone that the stakes are always high whenever election season arrives.

Acknowledging the importance of educating the voters, Asia Society Philippines recently staged “Basic Voter Education for Filipinos” as its first Asia Society Conversations event for the year. Among those who graced the discussion are panelists Atty. James Jimenez, director of Information and Education Department of the Commission on Elections; Maribel Buenaobra, executive director of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV); Richard Amazona, program head of YouthVote Philippines; and Ellen Tordesillas, president and co-founder of VERA Files. The conversation was anchored and moderated by Danilo Arao, University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC) professor and convenor of Kontra Daya.

Highlights of the forum covered COMELEC’s mandate, challenges during election, tips and pieces of advice for voters, laws that could be improved, and the automated election experience.

ON COMELEC AND AUTOMATED ELECTIONS

Question: What is the role of COMELEC in the elections?
James Jimenez (JJ): The mandate of the COMELEC is here not to disqualify people and not to take people out of the running. What the COMELEC is mandated to do is to ensure that the voice of the people is heard and the voice of the people is accurately reflected in the results of the elections.

Basically, COMELEC ensures that the elections are free and fair. Free—meaning, the people are able to vote without unnecessary apprehension, that their votes are respected and won’t be used to subject them to retribution or any negative repercussions. The elections should be fair and not a simple confirmation of who is in power.

Q: Is the automated elections considered successful and good for the Philippines?
JJ: From 2010 and until today, the Philippine automation experience is considered one of the exemplars on how to do automated elections. We get people from emerging democracies coming to the COMELEC asking us to teach them not just to run elections but how to transition into varying degrees of automation. We’ve advised some countries on how to roll out biometrics system and how to use social media as a tool for public information. Despite the reputation of automation, the fact remains that, internationally, it is looked up to as a good experience and it is an experience that we want to continue towards the future.

Despite the reputation of automation, the fact remains that, internationally, it is looked up to as a good experience and it is an experience that we want to continue towards the future,” says Atty. James Jimenez.

Q: Are there election rules or laws that would need to be amended by Congress or are we happy with the current ones?
JJ: As far as the laws are concerned, they are, to my mind, sufficient and adequate. For example, we are still canvassing results with automated elections the way we canvass manual results. There’s a disconnect there somewhere and it has to be amended at some point. In fact, it should have been amended a long time ago, but it wasn’t, because it’s difficult forcing a big block of change through Congress. It’s much easier to chop it up into little bits of legislation. It fits but it doesn’t fit beautifully all the time, so there has to be amendment.

Q: What about the implementation of laws, for instance, when it comes to the candidate’s submission of Statement of Election Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE)?
JJ:
Candidates give us suitcases of documentation. The problem there is that going through all of those suitcases, you scale up the problem given the number of candidates. So it does happen that there’s a lot of reliance placed on the allegation that this report is true and correct and I have an affidavit proving it’s true and correct. The problem there is the fact that if you fail to submit your SOCE, ano ang mangyayari sa ‘yo? Ang malaking issue dyan is that noncompliance is not really punished. It’s not the severity of the punishment that’s the deterrent, it’s the certainty of the punishment. In the case of SOCE, not so much. It’s not so certain. The law itself decriminalized failure to file the SOCE. It weakened the consequences. Operationally, it only really works with the local government units (LGUs).

Q: Would boosted social media posts be part of the campaign expenditures?
JJ: They have to be. In 2016, napakaraming boosted posts but we did not come across a single report on internet spending. How do we find out? In order to boost a post, you’ve got to have a page in terms of service agreement, so your identity is more or less known. It means you have guaranteed that you will abide by the laws of the country. We have jurisdiction. We need to trawl the internet and get all of the ads and trace it back to the page that originated them so we know how much ad coverage was there during a certain period. We have the ability to check these ads.

ELECTION CHALLENGES IN 2019
Q: What are the biggest challenges being encountered this election season?

Maribel Buenaobra (MB): Cheating happens outside of the (PCOS) machines and before the elections. Candidates would spend millions, not for election lawyers or poll watchers. But they would spend millions giving money to families.
Ellen Tordesillas (ET): Before [the automated elections], the cheating was in the counting. Personally, I don’t believe those people who say that cheating still happens in the machine. Once you cast your vote in the machine, ‘yun na ‘yun eh. Vote-buying— that’s where the anomaly is. That’s where you’re influencing the minds of the people.
Richard Amazona (RA): The young people are aggressive in terms of informing the voters that it’s their right to really go out and vote. We had a voters education event in Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu, and one of the concerns of the young people is that they were actually threatened for going out and conducting voters education campaign. These young people were explaining to the communities the negative effects of vote-buying. As part of the modules, our group explains that if a certain candidate provided you P1,500 for that vote, we divide P1,500 for three years and explain the value of that vote for just one day. Sinasabi ng mga kabataang ito na huwag na silang maniwala sa P1,500 na binibigay ng mga kandidato.
ET: The biggest election fraud these days is fake news. Recent survey showed that most of the fake news being spread are political [in nature]. The report showed that makers of online disinformation rely on three techniques: faking or inventing information, misleading readers by subtle manipulation of facts, and making false claims using real events.
JJ: The question of authenticity on social media, there are some candidates that you know are very real (on social media) and these are the ones who started early pero be wary of those who just popped on social media especially those with very polished presences. Social media is now part of the arsenal of any PR company.
RA: Social media are considered marketplaces of anything you’d like to know. In terms of fake news and trolling, masyadong rampant on Facebook. It’s because Facebook is now considered the one having the bigger and easier access.

Q: What can be done to make sure that candidates will focus on issues and not just make a spectacle out of the official campaign?
JJ: There is not a lot that can be done in terms of the behavior of the candidates. Candidates are like ants. Ants are motivated by their desire to survive. They’re basically monomatic. They have one goal and one goal only. For many of them, the biggest thing really is to win, and to stay in power. In order to do that, they will adopt the easiest route always. Always, they will avoid debates. They will dumb down the conversation because it’s much easier to sell a dancing girl than a well-reasoned platform and beautifully argued policy point. They will always follow that path. The only way to fix that is if you make that path not the easiest. The solution is for people to reject all of the bread and circuses being thrown their way.

(From left) Maribel Buenaobra, Ellen Tordesillas, Richard Amazona, Atty. James Jimenez, and Danilo Arao

CHOOSING WHO TO ELECT

Q: What should be considered when voting and how do we elevate the level of discourse during the campaign period?

RA: We developed a CHANGE scorecard for one to be guided as to who to vote for and what to consider. C stands for Competency or the backgrounds and experiences of the candidate. H is for Honesty, so we consider SALNs for current leaders and for those who are new to the political arena. A for Accountability and N for being Non-partisan. Once elected, would they still adhere to the policies of their political party or would they have their own stand in terms of different issues? G is for Good Governance aspect and E for Enabling factor. In terms of proposed agenda, do they have enabling spaces for young people and discussions?
In terms of party list groups, we recommend especially to first-time voters na simulan n’yo muna what issues you would like to champion. Select the party list group that represents
your issues.
MB: What would be the criteria for you to choose your candidate? We have the 3Ks—Karakter, Kakayahan, at Katapatan. It’s very traditional but it’s one way for you to show your love for country. You show your love for your country by exercising your right to vote and using informed decision-making. Knowing and assessing your candidates—tapat ba sila sa bayan? Are they going to make our lives better or not?
ET: Know your candidates and put importance on the honesty of these people.
JJ: Pansinin ninyo lahat ng sinabi nila tungkol sa kandidato. Pero tandaan n’yo lalo na kapag bumoto sa local chief executive, hindi s’ya ang nagpapatakbo ng buong gobyerno. S’ya ang naga-appoint at doon minsan [nagkakamali.] The point is, when you make your choices, also pay attention to his policies. How is he going to now make that a reality? He will do that by appointing people that he knows. Ingat tayo dyan. Never forget that when deciding. — GRACE C. DIEZ


PCOS/VCM REMINDERS

  • The actual ballot to be used during the elections is 20 inches. ARMM ballot is 25 inches since there are more candidates.
  • The QR Code identifies the ballot as authentic. There is a UV mark in the ballot that serves as an additional authentication. Voters are advised not to write anything extra or outside the prescribed shading to avoid hitting the UV mark and being rejected.
  • Voting ovals have to be shaded using the official COMELEC marking pen.
  • Shade at least 25% of the oval. COMELEC recommends 100% shading to make it readable.
  • Do not over vote. If you over vote, votes for that position will no longer be counted. Votes for other position that isn’t over voted, will remain good.
  • Insert the ballot in the machine. After the ballot is read, the machine will process the ballot and then a receipt will come out.
  • After the receipt comes out, the BEI will assist the voter, fold the receipt forward and cut it, give the receipt to the voter for checking and verifying.
  • Election results are printed out in 30 copies. The watchers will be able to see firsthand the results and certified by the BEI. Once the results are printed out, a modem will be attached at the back of the machine and it will connect to the network and transmit results to the canvassing system.
  • Results sent to the canvassing system are not new information, so results are easily verifiable through the election results printed on-site.

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