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CBCP Calls for Electoral Reforms and Revamp

MANILA, July 9, 2007—After two days of its 95th Plenary Assembly, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said the past positive and negative experiences brought about by the May 14 midterm polls led them to call on the government to implement a full revamp of the Commission on Elections “with the appointment of a new chair and commissioners with unquestioned integrity and competence, especially in systems and management.”

Re-elected CBCP President and Jaro (Iloilo) Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, in a statement read before the media earlier today said the appointments from the President and requiring approval from the Commission on Appointments would need “our collective responsibility to monitor the process of selection, appointment and confirmation” for “serious efforts to de-politicize and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

The CBCP said the government should make people responsible for anomalies be held accountable as “good career people in the Comelec can be the catalyst for the renewal of the institution.” The leadership called on the government to assure everyone of the modernization of the electoral system in time for the 2010 presidential election as there ought to be “broad-based and transparent discussions on what type of poll automation is appropriate and how it is to be piloted and implemented.”

The CBCP said “particular attention should be given to ARMM and the problem of warlordism, because it is of the scale that can affect the national elections.”

The bishops added “we also owe it to the voters in those areas who are effectively disenfranchised when elections are not meaningful, truthful and free.”

They hastened to add from a historical point of view, “those in power have found it useful to rely on the brazen exercise of power through intimidation, violence and fraud.”

The also called for a review of laws affecting the electoral system including possible reforms of the party system, party-list law, overseas absentee voting, political dynasties, the ‘legal’ entry of nuisance candidates and the formulation of an agenda for institutional reform.

They called on concerned citizens to continue to develop mechanisms for deepening the political education, i.e. Voters Academy and Gabay Halalan and foster public accountability of politicians to the electoral and for a more sustained and coordinated political engagement, specifically among the youth, citizens groups and Church-based organizations.

Archbishop Lagdameo said there is a need for the cleansing and publication of the controversial voters’ lists long before election day.

The CBCP said they commend everyone who worked hard for honest and clean elections, among them groups like PPCRV, NAMFREL, NASSA, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, the Catholic Media Network and the Legal Network for Truthful Elections, which “undoubtedly contributed to the emergency of a new political consciousness among the electorate.”

The bishops observed “in many cases, voters were not naively allured by popular personalities or those who gave away much money.”

The CBCP continuously condemns “the dirty conduct of elections in some provinces,” as (vote) buying, padding and selling have embarrassingly become systematic and threaten to become a cultural element of our elections.” “We protest against the injustice done to people as their right to choose their leaders was desecrated,” the CBCP statement said as they added they were “horrified by the violence inflicted on innocent people during the campaign and election periods,” as they are “edified by the heroism of those who defended the sanctity of the ballot, even to the point of death.”

Archbishop Lagdameo said since 1992, it was the first time PPCRV, NAMFREL and NASSA “worked closely together and were better prepared and organized to make a qualitative impact on the elections, even in Muslim Mindanao.”

He commended the convenors of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) ably supported by One Voice and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines which focused its attention “on the weakest link in the electoral process—the canvassing of votes” at the towns and provinces.

The group “deterred large-scale fraud,” the CBCP statement said. The country’s bishops observed the continuing dominance in the Philippines of a few political families and “revealed the persistence of vote-buying as a serious problem (including pay-offs not to vote) in a social context of widespread poverty and gross inequality, even if there were a few positive stories of reversals of these old trends.”

They added the “flawed party list law and its problematic implementation is real cause of concern” as there were also “signs of alienation from the electoral process among the citizenry—“a lower than usual voter turn-out 60-65% of registered voters and a “very lower level of participation from overseas absentee voters (14 percent).” (Melo Acuña)

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