ELECTIONS, like basketball or boxing, are supposedly a favorite sport and pastime of Filipinos.
Yet, unlike basketball and boxing, more than cheers or applause from the bleachers, elections demand more of all voters. Indeed, wrong choices in bad elections will cost voters more than just a game.
Every three years, voters in the Philippines troop to the polls to elect governors, mayors, and legislators, and every six years, a President. But “the worst that could happen,” according to a former US president, would be to have “candidates without platforms, hiring consultants without principles, for elections without voters.”
Data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on voters, voter turnout, and winners in May 2019 and in elections prior suggest that this might be the norm in Philippine-style elections. And it repeats on and on with no clear contrition nor correction from those who vote, and those who court the vote.
For this report, PCIJ’s Data Team collected, curated, coded, and queried official Comelec data on voter statistics, vote turnout, and winners and loser in the last elections.
On May 13, 2019, three in every four or 46,937,139 of the nation’s total registered voters of 61,843,771 cast their ballot. (The latter number excludes as yet the Overseas Absentee Voters or OAVs.)
The Comelec had pegged the national voter turnout at 75.9 percent. This means, however, that nearly a quarter, or one in every four of all registered voters, failed to claim or exercise their right to suffrage – or to vote and be voted to public office – in May 2019.
How has this default affected the results for good or ill of the last elections? And what better things could have happened, if only more voters were more engaged?
The possibilities may inspire and perhaps help reboot the system of the same, same names and families dominating politics and elections in the country.
If only more voters had voted, could more deserving new entrants have a better fighting chance at leadership?
And yes, if only more voters had voted, could the candidates secure bigger majorities and fuller mandates, and turn Philippine-style elections into more inclusive, more transparent, and more accountable community projects?
PCIJ’s data analysis of Comelec data and documents on the voters, voter turnout, and winning candidates for governor and mayor in the May 2019 elections points to many disconcerting findings:
Voter turnout rates were far lower or higher than the national average in some areas, and in a few others, seemingly incredible or irregular at nearly 100 to 178 percent.
Some cities and municipalities had greater, others lesser, voter turnout percentages. In 396 cities and municipalities, was was lower, and in 1,238 others, it was greater.
In one municipality in Lanao del Sur, Comelec placed the voter turnout at 178.4 percent – the town had 5,498 total registered voters but a voter turnout of 9,807 in May 2019. In other areas, the voter turnout reportedly came close to 100 percent.
Philippine elections are a captured process by unopposed, or two or three candidates only – mostly from old political families and political parties -- in most towns and cities.
A total of 268 candidates ran for governor in the 81 provinces in May 2019. Two candidates ran for governor in 26 provinces (32.1 percent), while three competed for the post in 20 other provinces (24.7 percent). Nine candidates ran for governor in Basilan province, while single, unopposed candidates automatically became governor in eight other provinces (Tarlac, Quirino, Northern Samar, Ilocos Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, Compostela Valley, and Apayao).
In the mayoral race, three in every four of the nation’s 1,634 cities and municipalities had only two to three candidates for mayor. In yet another 217 cities and municipalities, though, a single, unopposed candidate ran and automatically won as mayor. In the few remaining areas, from four to nine candidates joined the mayoral race, even as Lumbatan town in Lanao del Sur drew a record number of 11 candidates for mayor.
Three in four of the winning candidates for governor and mayor mostly failed to get the absolute majority vote, by voter turnout or by the total registered voters in their respective areas, raising doubts about the fullness and quality of the mandate that they supposedly won in the elections.
Of the 81 new governors elected in May 2019, only 35 won with 80 to 90 percent of the voter turnout; 33 others got less than 50 percent of the voter turnout; and a few others got only 19 to 35 percent of the total votes.
If the total registered voters were used a reference of the votes that they got in May 2019, up to 61 of the 81 winning candidates for governor won with less than 50 percent of the registered voters in their respective provinces. The lowest percentage of votes obtained against the total registered voters – 13.2 percent – was registered in Davao del Sur (Davao Region).
Most of the unopposed candidates for governor were voted into office by only 41.7 to 65 percent of their areas’ registered voters.
At least 210 winning candidates for mayor obtained more than 80 percent, and about 40 others, from 90 to 100 percent of total votes cast in May 2019.
In contrast, 141 other winners in the mayoral race secured less than 50 percent of the voter turnout in their respective areas. A few others bagged an even lower share of the votes at 26,7 percent, while two other candidates obtained more than 99 percent of the voter turnout. They ran and won in Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte (99.3 percent), and in Picong, Lanao del Sur (99.0 percent).
In two other areas, though, Comelec data showed an apparent irregularity with data entries: Two candidates for mayor reportedly obtained votes that far exceeded the total voter turnout or the number of votes actually cast in their areas.
In contrast, only 334 winning candidates for mayor (20.4 percent of total) obtained 50 percent or less of the voter turnout in their respective cities and municipalities. The lowest percentage of votes obtained vs. voter turnout was recorded for the winning mayoralty candidate of Borongan, Eastern Samar at 25.4 percent.
If the votes they got were computed against the total registered voters in their areas, only 29 or 1.8 percent of the winning candidates for mayor obtained votes higher than 80 percent, and only 13 got more than 90 percent of the registered voters’ support.
The three highest percentage of votes obtained against the total registered voters in the mayoral race came from Picong, Lanao del Sur (96.8 percent); Pantao Ragat, Lanao del Norte (95.8 percent); and Pandag, Maguindanao (95.5 percent).
In all, 1,039, or 63.6 percent of the 1,634 winning candidates for mayor obtained less than 50 percent or the absolute majority vote of the registered voters to secure their victory. The lowest percentage of votes obtained against total registered voters was recorded for the winning candidate for mayor from Rodriguez, Rizal, 19.4 percent.
At least 217 of the total 1,634 cities and municipalities in the country had a single or unopposed mayoral candidate.
The May 2019 elections established the formidable hold on local power of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan or PDP-Laban party of President Rodrigo R. Duterte. The Nacionalista Party (NP), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and National Unity Party (NUP) that are also allied with the PDP-Laban also bagged significant numbers of winning candidates for governor and mayor. The opposition Liberal Party and other smaller parties seem to have been shut out or had gone ghosting in May 2019.
In more than half or 41 of the nation’s 81 provinces, the winning candidates for governor ran under the PDP-Laban party. At least one governor in each of the regions of the country ran and won under the PDP-Laban banner in May 2019.
The National Unity Party (NUP) placed second in terms of number of winning candidates for governor. Nine other winning candidates are affiliated with NUP, followed by eight from with the Nacionalista Party (NP), and seven with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).
Of the 1,634 winning candidates for mayor, one in three or 605 (37 percent) ran under the PDP-LABAN party. A far second is the Nacionalista Party, which fielded 240 (14.7 percent) candidates for mayor who won. The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and National Unity Party (NUP) had 173 (10.6 percent) and 138 (8.4 percent) winning candidates for mayor.
The right to suffrage – to vote and to be voted into public office – is firmly enshrined in Article V of the 1987 Constitution.
Suffrage, says the fundamental law of the land, “may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election.”
This right knows no bounds at all for qualified citizens living and working at home or overseas. “No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage,” the Constitution states.
— PCIJ, November 2019