In less than two years, Filipinos will once again march to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2022 Philippine general elections. But for the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), the “first and only non-partisan nationwide network” of lawyers, law students, paralegals, and grassroots volunteers, the task of mobilizing voters to choose the country’s next set of leaders cannot start soon enough.
Last November 11, LENTE conferred with educational institutions, media bodies, and watchdog groups in its first webinar titled Sana Tatlo ang Puso ko, Saan ba ako Maaaring Makigulo?: National, Local and BARMM Parliamentary Elections to gather insights and explore issues on the upcoming 2022 elections.
The resumption of voter registration last September amid the COVID-19 pandemic has signaled the start of the slow buildup of the election climate. Alongside this development, LENTE Executive Director Atty. Ona Caritos warned of the rise of election-related issues set to vex voters in the coming months. “The issue of disenfranchisement will be a big problem in our elections,” she said.
Central problems in the voter registration process include the lack of identification, a lack in transportation modes, shortfalls in satellite registration, and limits on the number of registrants that offices of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can accommodate. Caritos mentioned that in Calamba City, Laguna, for example, election officers can only accommodate 70 registrants per day instead of the usual 200 that they used to process before the pandemic.
Certain sectors and marginalized groups are even more heavily impacted, she pointed out, citing how indigenous peoples often lack proper identification and tend to live far from Comelec offices, which are usually hosted in urban areas. Students who were not issued school IDs may not be able to register as well, she added.
Other sectors with limited mobility, such as senior citizens, persons with disability, internally displaced persons, and persons deprived of liberty, have little avenue to register without access to satellite registration.
Beyond the question of logistics, however, Comelec offices may also fail to follow protocol, such as forcing registrants to apply online when it is not strictly necessary. Caritos advised that voters “report to Comelec if some election officers [mandate] online appointments,” as walk-in registration should be permitted.
Caritos encouraged sectors that are able to register to do so as soon as possible, even with the registration deadline still some 11 months away, as they may find the application process long and difficult.
Sources of information
For LENTE, the displacement of traditional sources of information in recent events, particularly the shutdown of ABS-CBN, has opened a can of worms for the public. “Nawalan ng isang major source of information ang mga tao,” said Caritos.
(People have lost a major source of information.)
In the intervening months, Caritos observed that more and more Filipinos turned to Facebook and other online platforms for news and information—setting fertile ground for disinformation in the coming months.
Electoral candidates themselves will be hard-pressed to disseminate information. Traditional miting de avances and general assemblies, she said, are likely to be ruled out due to health and safety protocols, with online platforms serving as a plausible substitute for launching campaigns.
Amid all this, Caritos urged voters to “really prepare or capacitate [themselves] to fight against fake news and disinformation in the online world.”
Opportunities for participation
In the drive to increase voter participation in the elections, participants from breakout sessions voiced the need for public education, capacity building for watchdog and civil society groups, and monitoring elections in their respective regions.
Some regional elections, such as the 2022 Parliamentary Elections in the long-troubled Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), are in the balance. Currently, BARMM has yet to have an election code, heightening fears of new incidents of electoral fraud.
Participants from BARMM highlighted the need to strengthen ties with the region’s civic society groups, who face limited resources and funding and a lack of networking with other civic groups.
Meanwhile in Congress, measures to improve turnout among disadvantaged sectors such as two-day voting and advance voting are still on the way. As of press time, House Bill No. 7572, which permits senior citizens and PWDs to vote by mail, remains pending in the House of Representatives.
Despite challenges in all levels for the coming elections, Caritos is hopeful that strides in voters’ education will help steer the electoral cycle away from institutional hurdles.
Making the step ahead
Regardless, the electoral process remains plagued by perennial problems. Adit Butoy, LENTE Senior Project Director, emphasized that one of the goals of their movement is to increase the number of civil society organizations participating in the electoral process. “Andaming puwedeng mga areas na kailangan tayo makialam kasi nagkaroon ng parang democratic backsliding,” she added, alluding to sharp concerns over civil rights in previous years.
(There are many areas where we must pitch in because we have experienced democratic backsliding.)
Butoy expressed that civil society organizations can help form stronger support for election-related advocacy, education, monitoring, and reforms by facilitating conversations and looking for areas of cooperation.
As the nation gears up for another election, LENTE is set to carry its discussions further. Caritos expressed her hope that the talk spurs participants to “do something more”.
“We need to do something more in the elections, and we hope that this webinar is the start of that…uncomfortable conversation with everyone, with ourselves na what we’ve been doing in the past, hindi siya nagwo-work. It just doesn’t cut it for change to happen in the country,” she maintained.
(It has not been working.)