LENTE’s statement on the results of its monitoring project on abuse of state resources in Philippine Elections

Abuse of State Resources (ASR) is an overlooked form of political corruption in the Philippines whereby candidates or political parties unduly utilize official powers and government resources to gain electoral advantage. What distinguishes ASR from the other acts of corruption is its indispensable electoral component, that is, the acts are committed to gain an advantage, and even ensure victory in the elections. Aside from vote buying, ASR is one of the most impactful ways of compromising electoral integrity. (1)

With the lack of systemic effort to monitor instances of ASR in Philippine elections, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) conducted a 12-week monitoring effort to find out how incumbent candidates at the local level may potentially use government resources to facilitate their campaigns and, ultimately, gain electoral advantage over their opponents. LENTE deployed around 40 Long-Term Observers in 17 regions all over the Philippines which generated reports based on personal interviews with the following respondents: i) 174 regular voters; ii) 270 community leaders; iii) 260 civil servants; and iv) 57 candidates and their campaign staff.

Observations / Results

ASR involves different types of abuse which include abuse on financial resources, institutional resources, regulatory/legal resources, and coercive/enforcement resources.

The abuse of institutional resources pertains to the misuse of a state's physical resources such as infrastructures and vehicles. Among the 127 voter respondents interviewed, only 25% observed ASR in their respective areas and their observation involved incumbent candidates who utilized government vehicles to transport supporters to campaign sorties and to distribute campaign materials within the locality. Likewise, the community leaders made a similar observation.

For government structures, the respondents identified barangay halls and covered courts as commonly used government structures being used for campaign materials storage which include foods and beverages for supporters, tarpaulins, and posters.

On the other hand, abuse of financial resources usually takes the form of campaigns veiled as a distribution of social services. This is a more challenging proposition with respect to ASR, pertaining to the practice of muddling social services and campaigns. A number of respondents revealed that the most common observations in relation to this type of abuse is the presence of politicians during distribution of ayuda by DSWD and other government programs such as DOLE-TUPAd. Unfortunately, the general public had a hard time differentiating between legitimate social services and ASR by incumbent officials.

Significantly, over the course of the research, LENTE learned the use of some Job Orders as a form of "legal" vote-buying. Under the Local Government Code, the local chief executives have the power to engage and hire job order personnel as early as a year prior to elections. What made it more compelling is that LENTE learned that some job order personnel oftentimes function as coordinators for purposes of electoral campaigns.

Lastly, a clear example of coercive resources emerged during the height of the pandemic, where local chief executives coincidentally imposed restrictive protocols to curtail opposition campaign rallies under the threat of arrest.

However, it is not unusual for local chief executives to deny permits to conduct rallies to opposition bets inasmuch as the COMELEC has delegated this power to the local government unit itself.

Other LENTE Efforts and Initiatives

LENTE also held six (6) Regional Trainings, attended by 39 different Civil Society Organizations, discussing ASR in Philippine elections and initiating talks about the role of civil society organizations in addressing ASR through advocacy reforms. Further, LENTE also held a series of consultations or focus group discussions with representatives of different government agencies to discuss the current gaps in the Philippine legal framework on ASR, and the possible policy reforms needed to address the issue of ASR, especially in the context of Philippine elections.

Moving Forward

Based from the generated reports from the interviews, together with the consultations with representatives from different government agencies and key electoral stakeholders, LENTE proposes the following recommendations towards addressing the issue of ASR in Philippine elections:

• LENTE recommends the amendment of Section 261 (j) of the Omnibus Election Code to establish a mechanism for command responsibility in so far as the local chief executive / mayor is concerned, in the event that the perpetrator of ASR is a local government employee, or under a job order contract.

• In relation above, LENTE strongly recommends the amendment of COMELEC-CSC Joint Circular No. 1 S. 2016 or the Advisory on Electioneering and Partisan Political Activities to include job orders under the prohibition on engaging with Electioneering and Partisan Political Activities.

•LENTE strongly urges the COMELEC to issue stricter guidelines, in so far as prohibiting the presence of any candidate, incumbent or otherwise, in the distribution of social services during the campaign period.

• LENTE strongly encourages all official Public Information Office pages and other official online accounts of local government units to implement a social media posting policy to ensure that the delivery of information, especially in relation to delivery of public services, is not curbed towards favoring the personality of the incumbent candidates.

• Lastly, LENTE proposes that further study be conducted regarding the practice of some local government units using the provisions in Local Economic Enterprise to justify mass hiring of job order casuals.

ASR is a multi-faceted problem not only in Philippine elections but more importantly, from a governance standpoint. LENTE will continue to lobby for the necessary policy reforms to the Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, Department of Interior and Local Government, and other key election stakeholders to address the longstanding and prevalent practice of ASR.

LENTE also calls on the civil society groups to work together in initiating advocacy reforms that will not only help increase public awareness on ASR but also in lobbying advocacies which aim to combat the proliferation of ASR in the country. Further, citizens are called to be vigilant in monitoring and reporting activities prone to political exploitation to prevent persistent conduct of abuse.

For instances of ASR, LENTE calls the general public to send ASR incident reports or allegations at LENTE HOTLINE at (02) 7502 1591, 0917 106 6265 (Globe), 0920 266 0944 (Smart) or at lente.philippinesagmail.com.

(1) Matthew Jenkins, Best Practices on Preventing the Abuse of Public Resources, Transparency International, May 2017.

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