LENTE’s statement on the first public consultations of BTA Bill No. 29 – Bangsamoro Electoral Code

October 21, 2022, Ortigas, National Capital Region. In line with the Bangsamoro Transition Authority's (BTA) ongoing development and public consultation, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) presents its recommendations to the current iteration of the proposed Bangsamoro Electoral Code (BEC).

Since 2020, LENTE, in various roles and capacities, has been actively assisting and participating in the development of an Electoral Code for BARMM. LENTE has employed a multi-stakeholder approach and conducted consultations and focused group discussions with various government agencies, election law experts, civil society organizations, and the BTA Parliament regarding the proposed BEG, and provided its insights and recommendations to the same up to date.

The BTA Bill No. 29, the Government of the Day's version, is one of the remaining priority codes that are set to be passed by the BTA Parliament. Thus, in consideration of the same, LENTE would like to provide its salient proposals and recommendations for the Code's enhancement.

First, LENTE suggests that an emphasis on the needs of Vulnerable Sectors be included in the functions of the Bangsamoro Electoral Office (BEO). Through its research, public consultations, and focused group discussions with multiple stakeholders, LENTE believes that the following circumstances must be considered in the enhancement of the functions of the BEO: a) Introduction of a new and different form of government; b) Low rate of literacy; c) High level of support needed by vulnerable sectors; d) Widespread electoral violations; and 3) Political Dynasty.

Given this context, LENTE also proposes the creation of the Vulnerable Sectors Bureau (VSB) in connection to Article III of the BTA Bill No. 29. The creation of this bureau would ensure that vulnerable sectors are able to fully exercise their rights of suffrage through the formulation, implementation and assessment of policies that will increase the accessibility of the electoral processes such as but not limited to registration, campaigning, and voting. Moreover, the VSB will be able to provide the electorate and those seeking to be elected with sufficient, timely, and accessible information about how, when, where and other requirements for candidate qualification, voter registration, voting, and other electoral matters as well as provide the Bangsamoro people with information about the details and value of the electoral processes.

Second, LENTE strongly recommends that the Bangsamoro Government provide additional resources to the Bangsamoro Electoral Office. The provision of additional resources will ensure that the BEO is able to provide an a) accessible and suitable place for its field officers and their staff, b) recruit additional election assistants subject to the approval of COMELEG, and c) procure other resources
that may be approved by COMELEC.

Third, under Bill No. 29, the BEO is mandated to procure "space" in at least one newspaper of general circulation in every province or city. This space shall be known as the "BEO Space" wherein candidates can announce their candidacy. In relation to this, LENTE proposes that the BEC may consider the allocation of space to "parties and independent candidates." Further, LENTE suggests the consideration of the BEO having the power to purchase media time for advertisements which can then be raffled to candidates and parties. The same can also be considered for the purpose of ensuring equitable exposure for all.

Regarding the provisions related to the BARM Political Party Subsidy Fund, Bill No. 29 simply provides that "six months after the first parliamentary elections, the parliament shall, by law, establish a BARMM Political Party Subsidy Fund, which shall be used to augment the operating funds of Accredited Political Parties." Thus, LENTE proposes to include more details regarding the same such as those pertaining to party development, campaign expenditures, and their schedules of release. LENTE also recommends the inclusion of safeguards such as accounting requirements to ensure the proper use of the political subsidy fund.

Furthermore, in view of BARM's Parliamentary System form of government, LENTE highlights the following recommendations for the BTA's consideration: i) a clear step-by-step procedure on how seats for representatives should be allocated based on proportional representation of the number of votes received with emphasis on low threshold, no seat cap, gender quota, and zipper list, ii) four different options on the manner of selection of sectoral representatives, iii) consideration of anti-political dynasty provisions in the list of nominees for parties competing in parliamentary elections, iv) four-level requirement for the establishment of political parties in the region, v) introduction of varying requirements that would secure the equal representation of women and other sectors, and v) a requirement for political parties to have a "Membership Book" to operationalize the anti-turncoatism provision found under the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

LENTE's other recommendations for the enhancement of the code include the following: i) application of assisted voting to persons with disability or those with manifest disabilities only, ) secureness of election information and materials accessibility, and ili) introduction of candidate logos and photographs on election propaganda ballots.

In light of the importance of democracy and the people's right to suffrage, LENTE hopes that the BTA Parliament considers these suggestions for the improvement and strengthening of Bill No. 29 which would result in safe, accountable, transparent, and inclusive elections in the BARM that would inspire national public confidence.

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