Senate Pushes for Electoral Reforms

RJ Barrete

Manila, Philippines — In anticipation for the upcoming election year, the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and Peoples Participation headed by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, as committee chair, together with Senator Panfilo Lacson, convened Tuesday, October 23, to discuss the merits of the Electoral Reforms Act, proposed amendments to the Party List Law (RA 7941) as well as the pressing concern on the prohibition of political dynasty in elective positions.

The committee invited the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as key resource organization. Also present to enrich the committee discussions were members of various political and civic organizations, party list groups, election volunteer groups and several members of the academe.

Proposed electoral reforms

Sen. Koko Pimentel led the discussions by introducing the proposed amendments for RA 6646, also known as the Electoral Reforms Law of 1987. The amendment indicates that public school teachers should voluntarily assist the conduct of elections instead of considering it as their legal duty. This would allow private school teachers and employees in the civil service to serve as Board of Election Inspectors and in case of inadequate numbers of volunteers, citizens of known probity and competence may be appointed by the Commission on Election.

However, concerned stakeholders expressed their reservations for the proposed amendments as this could open the flood gate for partisan volunteers and might possibly encourage political candidates’ stalwarts and supporters to abuse the legal provision thus, creating an environment of misconduct and conflict during elections.

Atty. Franklin Sunga, a trustee of the Philippine Public Teachers Association (PPSTA) stressed that public school teachers have been subject to harassments, and are inadequately compensated. This proposed amendment could be an option for teachers to decline assisting elections because of the inherent danger that might possibly happen to them. Another viable option, according to Eric Alvia of NAMFREL (National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections), the COMELEC may appoint Board of Election Inspectors years prior election to train both public and private school teachers, and civil service servants. This would give enough assurance that they are knowledgeable and well-quipped in the coming elections. However, this would mean a well-maintained and efficient database for monitoring purposes for the election agency.

The Commission on Elections assures that there will be enough number of public school teachers to be assisting next year’s election.

Amendments for the Party List Law

During the discussions for the Party List Law, proposed amendments zeroed in on re-structuring the composition of each registered party organization or coalition. This would mean that each organization vying for a congressional seat should  at least be composed of 40% women and that at least one of the first three positions be occupied by a woman nominee. The proposal was in line with the advocacy of advancing women’s political representation in national posts.

It was, however, pointed out that women’s groups are already present in the Philippine political sphere hence, the goal to advance women’s political representation is already addressed. Further, it was emphasized that the current set-up already allows women to create political organizations or coalitions to represent the sector and push for a nationwide political campaign.

Meanwhile, Senator Pimentel requested COMELEC to clarify their guidelines on screening party-list applications as well as their standards on disqualification. This stemmed from the recent rigid filtering process done by Comelec that rendered numerous party lists representing marginalized groups like the urban poor and blue collar workers illegitimate. Given such, the senator requested the election body to review and study the provisions of the Constitution with regard to the operative definition of the marginalized and underrepresented sector of the society.

Proposed prohibition on political dynasties

In response to clamors against political dynasties on elected positions, Senator Lacson introduced Senate Bill 2649 also known as An Act to Prohibit the Establishment of Political Dynasties authored by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. The bill seeks to prohibit political clans from dominating elective positions on both national and local scope.

It should be noted that Sec. 26, Article 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution clearly provides that the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law. While Comelec acknowledges such an issue as a valid means to effect positive change on the country’s electoral system, a clear definition and scope on political dynasty must first be established.

Presently, Sen. Pimentel, does not expect the COMELEC to immediately solve all these issues as it will be difficult for them to adjust with these changes, especially with the election season only a few months away.

Disclaimer: I do not own the photo used in this article. It belongs to the respective owner.

Twitter: @rjamesbarrete

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