Media quick to record warnings election watchdogs

CMFR CHEERS the media accounts highlighting the looming threats to free and fair elections in May. From the start of the national campaign, some citizen groups have warned about questionable practices, calling for transparency on the part of Commission on Elections (Comelec) and flagging rising threats of electoral fraud. 

Namfrel seeks Comelec transparency

The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) on February 21 appealed for a transparent appointment process from the Comelec. The poll body was set to replace the vacancies left by Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas, Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Antonio Kho, who retired in early February. 

ABS-CBN News, CNN Philippines, and Manila Bulletin bannered the group’s call in their reports. The media accounts quoted Namfrel Secretary General Eric Alvia, who argued that publicizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s shortlisted candidates engages ordinary citizens in choosing qualified leaders, and ensures the independence of his appointees. 

Lente appeals to Comelec over “Oplan Baklas”

On February 22, Manila Bulletin picked up the reminder of Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) for Comelec to protect constitutional rights amid Oplan Baklas operations – which had dismantled 

political ads on private property. 

The group urged the poll body to follow due process in its efforts to stop the spread of misleading or unlawful election paraphernalia. Lente added that the reason for existing regulations is to “provide equal opportunities for all candidates.” The circumvention of limits could result in candidates with more resources “flooding voters with an almost unlimited amount” of election materials, Lente further explained.

Kontra Daya hits “questionable” party-list groups

Election watchdog Kontra Daya on March 4 shared the findings of its independent research, which flagged 122 party-list groups on the ballot this May for having unclear advocacies, or being linked with business interests or political clans. The group then urged Comelec to address the alleged hijacking of the party-list system, which deprives real marginalized groups of representation in Congress.

The accounts of GMA News, CNN Philippines, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and highlighted the Kontra Daya study and its appeal to the poll body. Media attention on these complaints against some party-list groups serve as a reminder to voters to check the background of the party in making their choice. 

Comelec urged, open warehouse operations

Namfrel appealed to Comelec anew on March 10 to open the poll body’s ballot printing and warehouse operations so concerned groups could observe the proceedings as required by law. Business Mirror, Manila Bulletin, and The Manila Times carried Namfrel’s statement, which raised concerns about Comelec withholding invitations to accredited persons, preventing them from attending the event in the Sta. Rosa warehouse.

Manila Bulletin closed its report with Namfrel’s reminder: “The cornerstone of the trust and confidence bestowed on the elections is anchored on the inclusiveness and visibility of these various processes and information to the voting public.”

Concern over ghost voters 

News5 and Manila Bulletin reported Kontra Daya’s March 28 reminder on “ghost” voters, or the inclusion of names of deceased individuals in official lists, as these can be used for electoral fraud.

The accounts publicized Kontra Daya’s appeal to Comelec for the following measures: ensure that the master list is up-to-date, upload their online precinct finder, and coordinate with the Philippine Statistics Authority to update records based on reported deaths.

Journalists should continue to amplify the efforts of watchdog groups and civic organizations advocating fairness and transparency in the electoral process. Some of these groups have had long experience in this field; Namfrel for example was the model for other electoral groups in Asia. More recently organized groups expand the arena of public vigilance over the conduct of elections and the fidelity of Comelec to its given mandate. Their findings, especially if flagged early enough, can make the necessary difference in how the polls are conducted in May. 

Media should consider the work of these organizations as an important component in electoral coverage. Agencies who err for whatever reason should be held to account. And the public can demand such accounting only if they are informed.