In less than a week, the 2016 National and Local Elections (NLE) will be held, allowing the Filipino people to vote for the candidates of their choice. One month before the elections, however, are we truly ready to vote?

While the Filipino people continue to be on the lookout for candidates who will be transparent and effective in leading the country, the Philippine statecraft has become quite similar to show business. Factors such as a candidate’s government service and experience, parental lineage, personality, exposure to media, and personal preferences all affect the behavior of the electorate. However, what isn’t very much highlighted in the media are the issues on electoral fraud, premature campaigning, and sectoral problems that plague our society. As a consequence, such issues have not been given emphasis by the electorate as well.


Electoral fraud

Considered a below-ground activity, electoral fraud includes vote-buying, vote selling, and bribery. Punishable by law, it is a phenomenon wherein candidates enlist the help of “brokers” for bribes in exchange for votes. As termed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), it is the biggest threat in attaining clean elections.

The Philippines has had its fair share of illegal interference. Comelec had reported numerous cases of vote-buying during the 2013 local elections, wherein the outcomes resulted into disqualification of candidates and some even getting confined to prison. Over the years, electoral fraud has become quite rampant within rising democratic countries.

Back in 2004, democrat parties were also accused of vote-buying and reckless use of resources in order to fund Gloria Arroyo’s bid for president. She was later accused of scheming with the election officials to sustain her presidency.

Vote-buying is experienced in almost every election period. Such matters lead to the underground activities even ministered by the national and local candidates themselves, as depicted in the Arroyo case. Nonetheless, Filipinos continue to tolerate such a crime since it can be seen as a matter of mutualism, a “win-win” situation of sorts.


Premature campaigning

Over the years, Filipinos tend to vote for candidates who have garnered their attention. Through premature campaigning, voters are exposed to platforms of candidates earlier than expected or set by Comelec.

It has become a matter between the “middle-class” candidates and the powerhouse, the latter getting their faces plastered first among the streets of Manila and other provinces. It is indeed an affair of money and power, for campaigns serve as a strapping tool to get the vote of the electorate. Thus, it is only fitting that whoever gets their faces plastered among the rest should be given due recognition even before the start of the campaign period—a shrewd act performed by the “powerhouse” candidates.

Although not explicitly considered as premature campaigning, those candidates who appear in renowned TV shows and public media are also mulled by many as engaging in such. In line with this, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago proposed an anti-premature campaigning bill that lets a candidate be considered one if only he/she has filed for a certificate of candidacy. In addition, this bill reportedly prevents candidates and aspiring politicians to star in Philippine visual media.

Furthermore, to alleviate this issue, the Comelec has made several memoranda on what a candidate can and cannot do before the campaign period. For the 2016 NLE, the campaign period for national and local elections started in February and March, respectively.


Recently developed electoral processes

Back in January, the Comelec held a demonstration of the new vote-counting machines which are updated units of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) used during the 2010 and 2013 elections. The electoral system uses the machines to tally the votes, then the voting systems would determine the number of votes of the candidates.

Last March, the Supreme Court has agreed to issue out receipts or the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to the voters to warrant credible elections. Once again, this method was questioned by the Comelec because it can be an opportunity to conduct vote-buying among citizens. As claimed by senatorial candidate Richard Gordon, the VVPAT will serve as an official receipt to ensure that the votes bought are “correctly credited to the candidates of their choice.”


Sectoral problems under the radar

Aside from the usual vote-buying, cheating, and dirt in political records being dug up, there are problems that media and, by extension, society is paying less attention to. During a senatorial forum in Ateneo de Manila University last March 14, sector representatives were also invited aside from the senatoriables because Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), the forum organizers, believe that citizens must be at the heart of politics, not the politicians. During the forum, issues that have been brewing for years were revealed to remain unsolved today.

Most Filipinos now talk about Roxas’ comic book, Poe’s dual citizenship, Duterte’s womanizing and seemingly barbaric ways, Defensor-Santiago’s health condition, and Binay’s corruption cases. Among the senatoriables, Alma Moreno’s interview and Manny Pacquiao’s controversial statement against the LGBT community remain at the spotlight. The upcoming election is centered on the candidates, but one should ask, where is the citizens’ place in this election?

While Roxas and Duterte are bickering about the legitimacy of the former’s Wharton School of Business degree in Economics, Filipino laborers are suffering from the contractualization policy that hinders them from having steady jobs, move to higher positions, and earn more income. Meanwhile, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are still pleading for stronger protective laws for OFWs, and farmers are suffering from the consequences of the failing Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CAR) Law.

While Binay is debating with presidential forum organizers about his “documents,” Tacloban City is nowhere from its state prior to Typhoon Yolanda and the victims and the displaced people of the Zamboanga Siege last September 2013 still have not rebuilt their lives.

Daang Matuwid. Fight corruption. End poverty. Global competitiveness. Such big words, such huge dreams. But how can our government accomplish something big if the seemingly small things remain unsolved?


What now, PILIpinas?

These issues the public has paid little to no attention to only point to the fact that the country is not fully ready to conduct an entirely clean election, and that these trivial concerns amount to bigger problems yet to be solved.

Electoral fraud, premature campaigning, sectoral problems, and the possibility of having tampered electoral processes are enough proof of this, and while the majority are enjoying the bickers of the presidential candidates, the choices to an orderly leadership are indeed bound by either graft cases, parental lineage controversies, and disqualification issues. Many voters believe they are constrained by having no other real candidates who are genuine enough to lead this country into progress.

Time has passed and now we are only one month away from the 2016 elections. Are the Filipinos truly ready for the elections?

Yasmin Cariño

By Yasmin Cariño

Paulyn Navarrete

By Paulyn Navarrete

Debrah Louise Tabaquero

By Debrah Louise Tabaquero

Leave a Reply