Monitoring Efforts of LENTE in Ensuring Accountability for the 2023 Barangay and SK Elections
October 30, 2023, Quezon City. The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) continues to observe election day processes focusing on Accountability issues of vote buying, abuse of state resources, and election-related violence. For this 2023 BSKE, we saw how impactful COMELEC's aggressive campaign against election law violators vis-a-vis candidates' compliance with election laws.
For elections to be considered genuine, there must be accountability within the election process.
In 2019, COMELEC created Task Force Kontra Bigay as an ad hoc committee with the goal of curbing the most persistent election offense - vote buying. In 2023, the Committee on Kontra Bigay was strengthened into a standing permanent committee with a collaborative and whole of nation approach. One of the efforts of the Committee is to list acts presumed as incidents of Vote Buying. This has helped strengthen LENTE's Accountability Monitoring process.
In total, LENTE received 159 total reports of voting buying.1 Among the listed acts by COMELEC, the top 4 instances were 1) The gathering or gathering of two or more registered voters in a particular place with the purpose of buying votes,2 2) Paying or appointing more than two (2) watchers in each precinct of each candidate,3 3) Giving, distributing, and receiving any assistance other than what is normally given to qualified individuals,4 and 4) Offering or promising something of value for a person's vote.5
However, what is essential here is ensuring that these violators are held accountable for these election offenses. In order to ensure accountability in elections, there is a need to bring to account those who conduct criminal acts that affect electoral-related rights. The continued failure to hold any person liable for vote buying despite its widespread conduct has resulted in a lack of confidence in the electoral process of the country. More and more, people will believe that holding electoral positions is reserved for the rich and for those willing to cross moral lines.
Abuse of State Resources
LENTE continues to monitor Abuse of State Resources in the 2023 Barangay and SK Elections (BSKE). There are 4 General Types of Abuse of State Resources (ASR): 1) EPAL - promoting a government project alongside the name and photo of an incumbent Barangay official running for reelection, 2) LGU Intervention - Local Government Officials or Employees providing LGU resources to an incumbent candidate for the Barangay and SK Elections, 3) Use of Financial resources such as distribution of social services or aid in community, 4) Use of Institutional resources, infrastructure (barangay halls and covered courts), government vehicles, and stationery.
In the 2023 Barangay and SK Election day monitoring, LENTE received 82 total reports of ASR incidents. The most common among the reports was EPAL with 32 incidents. There were 26 reports for the Use of Financial Resources, 19 for Use of Institutional resources, and only 7 for LGU Intervention.
With the political context grounded on patronage and political families, the need to limit abuse of state resources becomes more important. The value of limiting ASR is connected with ensuring that elections are inclusive, and not only limited to those with political power and access to the incumbent's advantage. Government resources should not be used for partisan purposes as this will create an unfair electoral advantage against a majority of Filipinos.
There were still reports of election-related violence (ERV) across different parts of the country. There were multiple reports of shooting and gunfire which caused panic among the voters and disruptions in the process of voting. Such reports were received from Puerto Princesa, Malabang, Tuburan, Isabela City, and Datu Odin Sinsuat.
Aside from gunfire, a couple of incidents of fist fights and other forms of physical altercations were reported in a couple of areas in Marawi and Cotabato City.
It will be important to identify the total number of ERVs for the 2023 BSKE and to identify how these can be mitigated in future elections. It will be particularly important to pursue how armed personnel were able to bypass COMELEC's efforts to lessen ERVs such as the checkpoints. If there were people who failed to ensure the gun ban, then they must be held administratively liable to ensure stronger accountability in the elections.
Close of Voting
Aside from the issues mentioned above on election offenses and election-related violence, a majority of LENTE volunteers reported that voting ended on time and without any major issue. However, there were reports of illegal and flying voters (voting under the name of someone else or voting in a different voting center) in certain areas such as Cagayan De Oro and Laguna.
With the closing of the polls, it will now be important to focus on the counting and canvassing process, along with COMELEC's audit of the general BSKE.
COMELEC must ensure that voting for the vulnerable sectors will be improved for the next elections, that offenders for recurring election offenses such as vote buying are held liable and convicted, and that erring election officials are also held administratively liable. Stronger accountability in the elections can ensure greater confidence in the process leading to more alternative candidates. This will be important for a more robust democratic and a genuine electoral process. ###