Here are 10 reform proposals that election watchdogs identified during a PCIJ roundtable discussion to improve the conduct of future elections in the country.
These tasks fall to the 19th Congress and to the Commission on Elections led by Chairman George Garcia.
1. Let the barangay and SK elections proceed in December 2022
Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Oct. 10, 2022 signed Republic Act 11935 moving the synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to the last Monday of October 2023. The election period will be from Aug. 28 to Nov. 29, 2023.
Lente executive director Ona Caritos said the Comelec has completed procurement of election paraphernalia and has begun printing the ballots except for the new voters who registered from December 2022 to January 2023. “They are prepared and it is expected because the Barangay and SK elections have been postponed twice already in the previous years. There is no excuse,” said Caritos.
For the SK Elections, watchdogs also welcomed a Comelec pronouncement that it will no longer receive certificates of candidacy from overage underage, or unregistered applicants.
Watchdogs have warned that the postponement of the Barangay and SK Elections could delay preparations for the 2025 elections, however.
2. Early preparations for next polls
The Comelec is expected to procure new election machines for the 2025 elections. Caritos said there’s still enough time to prepare and the poll body is now crafting the terms of reference for the contract with vendors who will bid for the project.
However, Caritos has concerns about preparations for the first elections of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which will be conducted simultaneously with the 2025 midterm elections. “They’re focused on the barangay [elections]. They’re focused on the midterm elections in May 2025,” said Caritos.
Preparations for the BARMM parliamentary elections need more attention, she said. The Electoral Code was passed only recently but Caritos said Comelec should already begin consultations for the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code and for the functions of the Bangsamoro Electoral Office.
It cannot wait for the last quarter of this year or after the Barangay and SK Elections, she said, especially with the looming registration of political parties including regional political parties. “Hopefully, we see the same momentum and the same focus and dedication that the Commission on Elections is giving the barangay and midterm elections,” she said.
3. Improve access of election monitors to Comelec activities
Comelec held an Election Summit from Mar. 8-10, 2023, which saw the attendance of poll watchdogs.
4. ‘More inclusive’ voter registration process
Watchdogs praised recent innovations that Comelec introduced in the voter registration process.
The Register Anywhere Project (RAP) has allowed local Comelec offices to receive applications from all voters including those who want to vote in another locality. The local offices have been instructed to forward the applications to the intended areas.
“That’s an innovation on the part of the COMELEC to encourage more people to register for the election,” said Caritos.
5. Make the Campaign Finance Office a permanent office
Watchdogs have called for a law to make the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Office (CFO) a permanent office. The CFO currently does not have plantilla positions and is forced to re-hire or hire new people to be part of the office, she said.
The CFO will be more effective if it has permanent employees who are not just lawyers but also accountants and data analysts, they said.
Several bills are pending in Congress.
6. Review spending limits, pre-election and online campaigning
Watchdogs have sought for an amendment of the country’s Omnibus Election Code to review various aspects of campaign finance such as expense limits, contribution limits, and reporting requirements for political parties and candidates among others. Congress has not had the appetite to work on such a massive legislation, however.
Caritos said reforming campaign finance laws should not, ideally, be done by way of piecemeal legislation. But she pushed for the passage of a pending bill that increases spending limits. There’s time to pass the measure before the midterm elections, she said.
Caritos said the spending limits in place are no longer realistic. “It’s what’s holding back transparency and more disclosure on the part of our candidates or stakeholders in the electoral environment,” she said.
“Ideally, it should be a whole of government approach. Pero kung mayroong ‘O sige na, 'yung kayang ipasa’ [na reform measure], expense limit talaga. But we would also want expense contribution disclosure,” Caritos said.
7. Review laws on vote-buying
Comelec Chairman George Garcia has proposed reforms prior to the Election Summit which include premature campaigning, expanding the scope of vote-buying and vote-selling.
8. Add an anti-political dynasty provision in the Party-list law
Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr. in July 2022 filed House Bill 389 or An Act Prohibiting the Establishment of Political Dynasties.
In his bill, no spouse or person within second degree of consanguinity shall be allowed to run or seek re-election in the same province. It is pending with the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms.
9. Improve access to candidates, information
Comelec Chairman Garcia has pushed for the digitalization of election procedures. Under his watch, the Form 1 of national candidates in the 2022 elections has been uploaded to the Comelec website.
The Form 1 is a component of the State of Contributions and Expenditures, which summarizes the filings of the candidates.
Comelec has been pushed to make complete SOCE documents available to the public.
10. Amend law mandating LGUs to provide office spaces to Comelec field offices
Congress has been urged to revisit a proposal to amend Section 55 of the Omnibus Election Code that mandates local government units to provide a “suitable office space” to Comelec field offices. Watchdogs said the provision was a “clear conflict of interest” for LGUs.
The House of Representatives has previously passed a measure repealing the provision, but it did not hurdle the Senate. The current 19th Congress is tackling the proposal again.
*Top photo by Rachel Abanilla/PCIJ