The heroes of the General Registration in Lanao del Sur

During the July 9 – 18, 2012 General Registration of Voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), I was deployed to the Province of Lanao del Sur to lead a team of COMELEC personnel directed to conduct a massive voter education and information drive and to monitor the overall conduct of the registration process in the Province.

It was my second time in the Province of Lanao del Sur. My first stint there was during the June 2010 Special Elections in the Province, so I sort of knew what to expect.

On July 8, 2012, the eve of opening of the General Registration, our team was already deluged with complaints from augmentation election officers and assistants moaning about the harassment they are getting from irate Village chiefs. Apparently, quite a number of Barangay Captains aren’t happy with the clustering of Registration Centers (RC) done by the COMELEC.

The COMELEC had to cluster the RCs to prevent untoward incidents from  happening in the Province known for the occurence of Rido or blood feuds among families.

“Sir ano po ang gagawin ko?,” I was asked by a small-framed Election Assistant (EA) from the CARAGA Region assigned to an RC in a Marawi City Barangay. She told me that a Barangay Captain kept calling her on her mobile phone insisting that the RC assigned to his Village be relocated. Of course, that hapless EA has no authority to relocate RCs, so all I could tell her was to proceed to her assigned station as directed and to take a lot of ‘Ingat.’

I was so worried with that poor EA because the RC she was assigned to is located inside a village notorious for the prevalence of illegal activities and violence. Later on, I was informed by the Army Commander that the village is known as the ‘Tondo of Marawi’ (Marawi has a ‘Tondo’, who would have known?!). And so, I was relieved when I heard from her the next day that she and her team were okay.

The spate of complaints of harassment we received from augmentation COMELEC personnel made me make a mental note that day to coordinate with the 103rd Brigade and the Mayor of Marawi City to ensure their safety and security.

During the first day of the General Registration, we were swamped with reports of prevalence of obviously underage registrants. We noted that the augmentation election officers (AEOs) were left with no choice but to accept the applications for registration of these minors, if only to avoid commotion at the RCs. These enterprising AEOs, however, devised a clever way to mark the applications to indicate that these came from minors. The marks are meant to help the Resident Election Officers (REOs) delete these applications come the Election Registration Board (ERB) Hearing.

The pandemonium at the RCs, we later realized, were peanuts compared to a swathe of registration related violent incidents we monitored during our travels to different RCs in almost all of Lanao del Sur’s 41 Municipalities during the ten day registration period.

We came across the following incidents:

• 10 JULY: Interception and apprehension of alleged flying registrants loaded in one (1) Isuzu Elf Truck, and one (1) FX Tamaraw in Barangay Matling, Malabang.
• 10 JULY: Panic at a Registration Center in Butig Public Market when an unidentified person indiscriminately fired a Caliber .45 pistol;
• 10 JULY: Shooting incident that wounded a Barangay Chairman in the Municipal Hall of Bayang;
• 11 JULY: Interception and apprehension of alleged flying registrants loaded in three (3) Passenger Jeeps, one (1) Multi-     Cab and one (1) Elf Cargo Truck in Barangay Pawak, Saguiaran;
• 12 JULY: Apprehension of a civillian in Marawi City for illegal possession of Caliber .45 pistol;
• 12 JULY: Strafing of a Registration Center and harassment of Augmentation Election Officers (AEOs) in Mapantao Elementary School in Barangay Mapantao, Lumba-Bayabao. Firefight between armed gunmen and security forces lasted for twenty minutes;
• 12 JULY: Shooting incident that killed a 17 year old civillian, near the Oriental Beta Elementary School in Lumbaca-Unayan;
• 12 JULY: Registration in the whole of Butig suspended at 2:00 PM due to violence. Shooting incident at a Registration Center in Barangay Samer and harassment of AEOs in Barangay Poctan. Traumatized AEOs left their stations for fear of their lives. Registration resumed 14 July.
• 12 JULY: Students residing in Mindanao State University (MSU) dorms were reportedly being forced to register under fictitious Maranao names, according to the 103rd Brigade;
• 18 JULY: A former Barangay Chairman killed in a shooting incident near the Municipal Hall in Saguiaran.

These incidents made me a big fan of the augmentation COMELEC personnel who were uprooted from their original stations and deployed to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to help in the cleansing of the list of voters in the Region. Their dedication and courage at the face of intimidation, harassment and violence contributed a lot to help stamp out the label earned by the ARMM as the election fraud capital of the Philippines. After all, a clean and credible elections starts with a clean list of voters.

Augmentation Election Officers from the CARAGA Region

I was humbled with the sincerity I saw from these AEOs and AEAs. ‘Wow they really wanted to help’, I told myself after coming across an Election Officer from Cebu assigned to Gannassi in Lanao del Sur who for ten days had to take care of nagging registrants in her station while regularly checking-up on her child who was battling Dengue at a hospital back home. There was also an AEO from Cebu assigned to Tubaran, LDS who suffered a stroke, paralyzing half of his body. The poor EO, who may have succumbed due to extreme pressure, had to be airlifted from Iligan City to Cebu.

So to all those who served in the ARMM General Registration, Kudos for a job well done!

COMELEC union calls for justice for slain poll worker in Aurora

PRESS RELEASE
July 2, 2012
Reference:      Mac Ramirez, COMELEC-EU Coordinator
Contact:          comelecemployeesunion@gmail.com

COMELEC union calls for justice for slain poll worker in Aurora

The COMELEC Employees Union (COMELEC-EU) today condemned the senseless killing of a COMELEC employee in Maria Aurora Town in Aurora Province Saturday night.

Murdered by motorcycle riding gunmen was Romualdo Palispis, 51, Election Assistant at the Office of the Election Officer (OEO) at Maria Auroria. He was gunned down on Saturday night while playing his guitar inside his house in Barangay Tres.

“The COMELEC-EU condemns the senseless murder of our co-worker in Aurora. We call on the authorities to make every possible effort to bring the perpetrators to justice,” stated Mac Ramirez, National Coordinator of the COMELEC-EU.

According to Ramirez, Palispis is a known human rights advocate in the Province.

“The example of EA Palispis will serve as an inspiration to the thousands of COMELEC employees nationwide as we carry forward with our fight for decent wages, equal benefits and union rights. He may no longer be with us in this world, but his words ‘it is a sacred thing to uphold what is right and oppose what is wrong’ will forever remain with us,” Ramirez said. ###

Reblogged from http://comelecemployeesunion.wordpress.com/

Random listing in the Party-List ballot

The Commission on Elections, on June 15, 2012, issued a Resolution calling for the conduct of a raffle of accredited party-list groups “for purposes of determining their order of listing in the official ballot,” to be used in the May 13, 2013 national and local elections.

COMELEC Resolution No. 9467 states that “only party-list groups/coalitions accredited by or duly registered with the Commission, and which have manifested their desire to participate in the party-list election, may participate in the raffle for purposes of determining their order of listing in the ballot.”

The COMELEC said the raffle will be conducted on December 14, 2012 at the poll body’s main office in Manila.

But the move to abandon the alphabetical listing in the party-list ballot was met with criticism from several party-list groups. Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares averred that this move “will cause massive delay in the voting.”

“We do not support this move because this will clog up precincts (as) it will take more time for voters to look for their party-lists. And if they do not find it or have a hard time doing so, they may just forgo voting for party-lists which would lead to their disenfranchisement,” said Colmenares.

Yacap Representative Carol Jane Lopez and DIWA Representative Emmeline Aglipay, meanwhile, said the new COMELEC rule would pose a problem to visually impaired voters.

Focus on the heart of the issue

Personally, I see no problem with the COMELEC’s move. I think this is a step in the right direction, as this finally addresses the shameful practice of some party-list groups who deliberately start their organization’s names with the letter “A” or the number “1” just so they would land in the top spot of the party-list ballot.

Party-list groups desperately scramble to the top spot precisely to take advantage of the hordes of Filipino voters who have little or no knowledge about the party-list system. This, for me, is the heart of the issue. 

That more than half of the Party-list groups that vied for seats in the 2010 elections had names starting with “A” or “1” is just symptomatic of this bigger problem.

Party-list legislators should then focus their attention in calling on the COMELEC to launch a massive and systematic information and education campaign on the party-list system. 

After all, an informed voter, who knows what is at stake in his party-list ballot, wouldn’t dare waste his vote by conveniently choosing the one on top of the list.

The problematic scenarios raised by our well meaning party-list legislators are, in fact, not new. We have been experiencing them even before when we still had the alphabetical sequence in the party-list ballot. But be assured, the same problems will still plague us even after we make the switch to randomization.

Because, again, the lack of education on the party-list system is the heart of the issue.

Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) in the Philippines

Today we celebrate National Migrant Workers’ Day!

In commemoration of this occasion, I deemed it necessary to focus on Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV), the mechanism by which our kababayans abroad may participate in electing our leaders here in the Philippines.

The OAV

The right to suffrage of Filipino citizens, here and abroad, is enshrined in the highest law of the land.

Section 2, Article V of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “Congress shall provide  a system of securing  the secrecy and sanctity of the ballots as well as the system for absentee voting  by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

Thus on February 13, 2003, Republic Act No. 9189 or the “Overseas Absentee Voting Act” was made into law, granting “all citizens of the Philippines abroad” the right to vote for President, Vice-President, Senators and Party-list representatives.

But since its enactment eleven years ago, Filipinos overseas have yet to reap the benefits of full voting rights as promised by the Constitution. Participation by our overseas compatriots in the system remain dismally low.

Migrante International, the biggest alliance of OFW organizations worldwide, maintained that the low participation can not be attributed to the so called  “growing apathy” among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), contrary to claims by the government and some migrant advocacy groups.

Migrante averred:

While OAV turn-out was indeed low, we believe that it is more important and urgent to review and evaluate the limiting provisions in Republic Act 9189 or the OAV Act , as well as the indifference of some government agencies, particularly the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to OFWs’ issues and complaints pertaining the actual processes and implementing procedures of the OAV. These, primarily, are the main reasons for the massive disenfranchisement of overseas Filipino voters.

The group prepared a Position Paper on what they think the government should undertake in order to improve the system.

I believe Congress and the COMELEC should seriously consider Migrante’s proposals.

In the meantime, I strongly urge Filipinos overseas to register as overseas absentee voters. OAV Registration have been running since October 31 last year. It will end on October 31, 2012.

Qualified Filipinos abroad may file their applications for registration at their Philippine Posts or Consulates. They need only bring their passports- and in the case of the seafarers, their Seaman’s Books – to register.

To learn more on the basic features of the OAV, below is a power point presentation prepared by the COMELEC Education and Information Department on the Basic Features of the OAV. Kindly click on the link to download: 2011_oav_regn

OFWs Kalahok sa Pagbabago! Magparehistro para Makaboto! 

Amend if you must, but do not curtail

COMELEC Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes Jr. (COMELEC Photo)

COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes recently called on Congress to amend the Party-List Law. He said, legislation is needed to “limit the sectors” who wishes to participate in the Party-List polls.

Right now, according to the COMELEC, there are 172 Party-lists that are seeking accreditation from the poll body. Because of that high number, the COMELEC has been conducting ‘marathon hearings’ in a bid to screen each applicant.

The COMELEC Chief seems troubled by the apparent high turn out of PL hopefuls that he wants to limit the number of those they will grant accreditation to to participate in the next year’s election, to 150.

True, the number’s quite staggering. But why fret?

Isn’t the high turn out indicative of a higher level of people’s appreciation to the Party-List System? After all, this is what Republic Act No. 7941 or the “Party-List System Act” is all about. To give the marginalized and the underrepresented sectors a chance to participate in making laws for benefit of the nation.

So I don’t see the anomaly there. It is in the manner of screening of PL applicants where the anomaly lies – the manner by which out and out fake party-list groups manage to get accreditation from the poll body.

I mean, how hard is it to spot a bogus party-list anyway?

Do we need an amendment to the law to be able to find out that an advocacy such as that of the Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga (MAD) can not, in any way, claim that it is a marginalized sector and that Mikey Arroyo does not, in any way, qualify as a poor and underrepresented security guard?

But while I fully agree with the COMELEC Chief that the PL Law needs to be reexamined; his way of doing it, I think, could trample on the people’s right to proportional representation.

Chairman Brillantes is treading on dangerous ground when he said “the law has to be specific. For example, among the professionals sector, when you allow security guards [to be represented], then you have to allow other professions.”

It baffles me as to why the Honorable Chairman wants to ‘limit’ the number of marginalized sectors who wish to participate in the party-list elections.  The COMELEC should not be be putting fences, right? it should be encouraging wider participation in the system.

Therefore, his proposal to ‘specify’ the marginalized sectors in the law, if only to weed out bogus party-lists, I believe, won’t won’t hold water. This would likely end up becoming a stumbling block towards the law’s intent of  promoting  proportional representation.

What needs tweaking in the law is the provision on the qualification of party-list nominees. This is the reason why the likes of Mikey Arroyo and Gen. Jovito Palparan made it to Congress, through the party-list system.

According to RA 7941:

Section 9. Qualifications of Party-List Nominees. No person shall be nominated as party-list representative unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, a resident of the Philippines for a period of not less than one (1)year immediately preceding the day of the election, able to read and write, a bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election, and is at least twenty-five (25) years of age on the day of the election.

So, a person such as the younger Arroyo need not be a security guard if he wants to represent security guards in Congress, if we are to follow the law.

Also, the P10,000 filing fee for filing of disqualification cases against bogus party-list groups should be scrapped.

Yes, the party-list system needs to be strengthened and protected from further abuse and bastardization. Yes, the party-list law needs to be revisited. But no, we should not curtail people’s  right to proportional representation.

—————————————————–

Kudos to Bayan Muna Party-list for filing House Resolution 2472 seeking to probe alleged ‘party-list accreditation bribery’ in COMELEC. The measure also calls for the abolition of the P10,000 party-list docket fee.

Gone to the dogs?

Photo from Bulatlat.com

There’s now a party-list for drug addicts and alcoholics, one for adult school dropouts and one for foreign exchange dealers. The three groups are among the more than 100 party-list organizations that are seeking accreditation from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for the May 2013 and succeeding party-list polls.

I had the chance to review the initial list of party-list hopefuls, and upon seeing it, I felt a bit sad for the country’s party-list system. Party-list groups such as Addicts and Alcoholics Carrying the Message Association Inc. (AACMA); WWW.FOREXDEALERS.COM CORP; Adult School Drop Outs (ASD) Party-list and AKO AT ANG BASURA MOVEMENT (AKO BA), to name a few; made me pause for a bit and contemplate if the system really has gone to the dogs.

Republic Act No. 7941 or the “Party-List System Act” provides that the State shall promote proportional representation in the House of Representatives for Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors in society. No doubt, the spirit and intent of the system is genuine and deserves our full support.

But since 1995, when the bill was enacted into law, the Party-list system of representation have been bastardized and abused to no end. And the ways and methods employed by enterprising party-lists and their representatives in circumventing this system range from evidently mendacious to downright brilliant.

Bastardized

We have seen personalities who have shamelessly used the Party-list as a ‘backdoor entry’ to Congress. Take the case of Presidential son and former Pampanga Congressman Mikey Arroyo. This self-proclaimed representative of Filipino security guards managed to win a Party-list seat two years ago. Gen. Jovito Palparan, notoriously known as “The Butcher” for his alleged lead role in murdering unarmed political activists wherever he is assigned, was also catapulted to Congress thru his party-list BANTAY. By no stretch of imagination would anyone – not even a toothless, shirtless jeepney barker – would believe that these buffoons belong to a marginalized sector. But they passed COMELEC screening anyway.

And so while a son of a former President and an infamous military general successfully landed seats intended for the poor in Congress, a lot of legitimate party-lists were denied accreditation by the poll body. Migrante Sectoral Party, who has members in more than 22 countries worldwide, was stricken off the list of qualified party-lists in 2010. COURAGE Government Employees Party-list was also disqualified in that same year.

187 Party-list organizations were accredited by the COMELEC for the 2010 elections. Of that number, 116 are parties with names starting with the letter “A” or the number “1”. Apparently, these parties desperately scrambled to land the top spot in the ballot to secure the votes of the ‘I-have-no-idea-about-the-Party-list-system-anyway-so-I-will-just-vote-for-the-one-on-top-of-the-list’ and the ‘I-have-no-time-to-skim-through-the-hordes-of-party-list-bets-so-I-will-just-vote-for-the-one-on-top-of-the-list’ type of voters. And, indeed, there were a lot of them! Just ask the 1-United Transport Koalisyon or 1-UTAK who were widely believed to win a seat in Congress by doing just that.

Thus, it is of no surprise that there are quarters that are calling for the re-examination of the party-list system with the view of strengthening it further. Others have gone as far as calling scrapping it altogether.

Vigilance is key

Indeed, steps must be done to insulate the party-list system from further bastardization and abuse, and this is not a task we should leave to the COMELEC or Congress alone. Ordinary citizens, most especially the legitimate party-list organizations must do something to uphold the genuine spirit and intent by which the law was crafted.

We must remain vigilant and keep a close watch on the COMELEC’s screening of party-lists and their nominees. Fake party-list organizations and charlatans who obviously do not belong to the marginalized sector should not be allowed to participate. They defeat the very purpose of the party-list system.

Aside from this, measures must also be undertaken by the COMELEC to keep the Party-list system more accessible and affordable. The system, after all, is for the poor, the marginalized and the underrepresented.

The P10, 000 filing fee and the legal research fee of P100 for filing of petitions for registration must be lowered if not scrapped. Filing fees (P10, 000) for petitions for cancellation of registration or disqualification of party-list and their nominee/s must likewise be lowered if not scrapped. A crackdown on reported syndicates that allegedly sell party-list registrations and nominations must also be carried out by the COMELEC.

Lastly, the COMELEC must conduct a massive and systematic information campaign to educate the public on the Party-list system. The phenomenon of party-lists scrambling for the topmost spot in the party-list ballot to capitalize on the huge number of uninformed voters is a clear indication of this very urgent need.

Undeniably, the party-list system of representation must be strengthened and protected from abuse. People’s vigilance is key to attaining this. Huwag nating sayangin ang dalisay na mithiin ng sistema para bigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga maliliit na tao na makabahagi sa pag-gawa ng mga batas para sa ikabubuti ng kanilang sektor.

Witness pins GMA, FG Mike Arroyo in 2007 election fraud

The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) presented this morning fifteen Election Officials in the Province of Maguindanao who were witness to alleged election irregularities during the 2007 Senatorial Elections in the Province.

Also presented was former Maguindanao Provincial Administrator Norie K. Unas, the right hand man of former Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. According to COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., Unas was the one who “stage managed” and rigged the election results in the 2007 polls, upon the instruction from, said Brillantes, “the highest official of the land.”

Read part of COMELEC’s press release today:

“The 2007 elections in Maguindanao was marred by an absolute commission of fraud and irregularity,” said Brillantes, who with Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and COMELEC Commissioner Elias R. Yusoph, led the press conference this morning at the poll body’s Main Office.

Unas and the fifteen Election Officials and personnel submitted their respective Affidavits before the COMELEC, detailing their knowledge in election irregularities in the 2007 polls.

In his Affidavit, Unas directly linked former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her spouse former First Gentleman Atty. Mike Arroyo in 2007 Maguindanao election fraud.

Unas, in his affidavit, said President Arroyo’s instruction to Datu Andal during a dinner meeting held at Malacanan Palace days before the 2007 elections was: “Dapat 12-0 sa Maguindanao, kahit pa ayusin o palitan niyo ang resulta.”

Unas also said that he was told by Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan that, “Utos ni FG, kelangang 12-0 ang result sa Mguindanao… at kailangan walang makuhang boto si Cayetano.” He said this came after Ampatuan met with the former First Gentleman at the LTA Building in Makati. Unas accompanied Ampatuan during that meeting.

DOJ Secretary de Lima, for her part, cited the significance of Unas’ testimony, saying that “this is the first time that a witness has direct personal knowledge pointing to the first couple” as alleged perpetrators of election fraud. ###

Here’s Norie K. Unas

Norie K. Unas 

Download Unas’  Affidavit here.

The Election Officers and personnel from Maguindanao who were presented by the COMELEC today are:

  • Saliao Amba (Mamasapano town),
  • Maria Susan Albano (Datu Unsay town),
  • Nena Alid (Talayan),
  • Alice Lim (Pagagawan),
  • Susan Cabanban (General S.K. Pendatun),
  • Magsaysay Mohamad (Sultan sa Barongis),
  • Araw Cao (Mangudadatu),
  • Estellita Orbase (Shariff Aguak),
  • Jeehan Nur (Ampatuan),
  • Salonga Edzela (CVL Tech, Maguindanao),
  • Ragah Ayunan (Rajah Buayan),
  • Russam Mabang (Pandag),
  • Asuncion Reniedo (Paglat),
  • Rohaida Khalid (Datu Saudi), and
  • Norijean Hangkal (Guindulungan).

Photos from the COMELEC Education and Information Department

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