Register Now, Not Later

Re-blogging what I wrote in July of 2011 in this site. Registering/validating your registration way before the deadline in 31 October 2015 is more important now than before. Now, the law says “No Bio, No Boto.” Exercise your right by registering early.

My Extra Rice

Last Monday, July 4, 2011, I finally decided to go to the Commission on Election Office in Quezon City to have my registration as a voter validated. I shared the thumb and forefinger print of both of my hands, as well as the photo image of my face, to the Comelec’s voter registration data capturing machine (I am not sure if the machine now is still called DCM). For the first time, I witnessed and participated in a “biometrics taking” project intended to improve the integrity of the voter registry.

I have been a registered voter since the general registration in 1997 that started the system of continuing registration. I made sure that my name stayed in the list by voting every election since then. But I had also been lukewarm about submitting myself to previous registration validation projects because of alleged corruption in the purchases of equipment and machines…

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Give us a chance

This was something I wrote last December when I was in those moments of extreme stress. It was not intended to be shared. However, with the issues (many of them are unfair) now being raised against Comelec, I thought that I might share it now.

My Extra Rice

It has been quite a while since I’ve written a blog. The change in my circumstances may have something to do with the blog hibernation. Anyway,  writing what goes on in my mind is what this blogsite is all about.

More than a year and a half since rejoining government as a commissioner of the Commission on Elections, I still need to adjust from being an election pundit, to one subject of pundits. It has not been easy being in government. My wife definitely did not cherish my appointment, although she has been giving me valuable advice in my work from the start. She longed for our past quite and simple existence.  It does not help that people who I associate with before are now relentless in their criticism of the institution, which I, and my colleagues, have been trying to help develop and improve.

I have always said that I myself was once a critic…

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Voter Education? Who really needs to be educated?

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I wrote this piece way back June of 2011 when joining the election commission was still an impossible dream for me. But the message is still the same – the bottom line of which is that elections are actually intended to empower the masa. Allow me to share this piece againin this first working day of 2015. Happy New Year!

My Extra Rice

It has oftentimes been said that the most important reform that must happen to  Philippine elections is to have more educated voters. It is argued that no matter how efficient and accurate our registration,voting and counting processes can become, no substantial improvement in our political system can ever be realized if the “quality of the votes” continue to be “low.” We cannot have an effective, responsive, and accountable government if Filipinos continue to make “bad” choices during elections.

But what has made the “quality of the votes” low?  Has it been because many Filipinos do not know how to distinguish between decent and obnoxious politicians, or between honest and mendacious candidates, when they go to their polling stations to vote? Has it been because many Filipino voters would rather sell their votes for a few hundred pesos to corrupt politicians rather than vote for those who can offer “good governance”? Has it…

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Year-end experience 2014

I have a very interesting year-end experience that made me reflect about how I have so far projected myself to the people I regularly worked with. I am aware that I have short temper, which made me say things I shouldn’t have. I was in fact advised by one colleague to watch my temper as I have already hurt the feelings of my colleagues in several occasions. I am thankful of the advice and one of my important new year’s resolution is to be a bit more patient and sensitive about how others feel. And I am sincerely sorry to those whose feelings I have hurt. I didn’t mean to hurt people. I just have a wrong way of expressing my passion for work.

But my experience today is quite different.

While I was having my morning walk with our pet dog, I had an encounter with a man who I recognized to be a Comelec employee from the main office. Our short conversation went this way:

Me:    Kumusta na po kayo?

Him: Mabuti naman po ako.

(There was a momentary pause)

Him: Para pong nagkita na tayo. Saan po kaya tayo maaaring nagkita?

Me:    Marahil po sa Manila.

(Again, there was a pause)

Me:    Baka po sa Comelec.

Him: Sa main office?

Me:    Baka nga po doon.

Him:  Palagi po ba kayo sa Comelec.

Me:    Opo. Marami po kasi akong trabaho doon

(Another pause, he appeared to be feeling awkward)

Him:  Kayo po ba si Comm. Guia?

Me:    Opo.

Him:  Pasensya na po kayo. Baka po sa gamot ko. Low-profile po kasi kayo

Me:    Okay lang po. Pareho naman po tayong empleyado sa Comelec na may kanya kanyang naka assigned na trabaho ……..

I then also felt awkward, not sure if it was proper for me to have engaged the man in the aforesaid conversation and not telling him who I was right away. But the experience got me to reflect about how my co-workers look at me, or whether I am actually doing my work well…..

Siguro trabaho lang nga talaga….

Message to my Co-workers

I am relatively new to the Commission on Elections and I was told that criticisms are part of the job. I have been trying to understand this situation especially as I have been associated with many of those who have recently been attacking Comelec on this single issue of election automation. I am sure that while many of you have mastered the art of ignoring these attacks and live as if they do not exist, some also do get hurt and troubled. It is important to listen and understand the issues that our critics are raising. I always think that listening to the public is part of our job. It is also important, however, for us to realize that, in the end, it is we in the Commission who are tasked to execute the institution’s mandate and are therefore the ones primarily responsible for the success or failure of managing our elections. Thus, for as long we can honestly and confidently say that we are hardworking public servants who conduct ourselves in the highest standard of integrity, competence, and service and who have the best interest of the public in mind, we can proudly hold our heads up high and face anyone with courage and dignity. While we cannot profess to have the monopoly of election knowledge and expertise notwithstanding our years of election management experience, nobody, and simply nobody, can rightfully claim the monopoly of good intentions. Not us. Not our critics. Not anyone else.

Needless to say, good elections bring about good governance, which, in turn, translate into better service to the people. After work we all return to our respective communities and experience government service, or the lack of it, like all other citizens of the country do. There is no sense therefore for us to be doing our work with less passion and dedication than necessary as we are our own client. We stand to benefit from the good works that we do. We also stand to suffer if we do not do our job well. We cannot fail to serve ourselves.

Let us therefore face these criticisms by showing to everyone how we work hard to improve the process and how we are addressing some of the valid issues. Let’s also show that we are achieving great headways in the other aspects of elections. We are pursuing to give better electoral access to those traditionally deprived of access (PWD, Detainees, IPs, IDPs). There is an unprecedented vigor in enforcing campaign finance laws. We will continue to ensure fairer election by enforcing campaign rules. We are continuing to do organizational development efforts to make our institution more responsive to the demands of the times. Let us highlight our successes as we also continue to correct our failures. Let’s be proud of ourselves and of what we do.

A hopeful New Year to All.

Give us a chance

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It has been quite a while since I’ve written a blog. The change in my circumstances may have something to do with the blog hibernation. Anyway,  writing what goes on in my mind is what this blogsite is all about.

More than a year and a half since rejoining government as a commissioner of the Commission on Elections, I still need to adjust from being an election pundit, to one subject of pundits. It has not been easy being in government. My wife definitely did not cherish my appointment, although she has been giving me valuable advice in my work from the start. She longed for our past quite and simple existence.  It does not help that people who I associate with before are now relentless in their criticism of the institution, which I, and my colleagues, have been trying to help develop and improve.

I have always said that I myself was once a critic of the Comelec whenever there are matters that needed criticism. However, I had also always made sure to offer realistic solutions and alternatives, conscious and aware of the circumstances and limitations. In fact, I had made myself always available whenever an opportunity for me to contribute came. I am proud to say that, even before I joined the poll body, I had contributed to the strengthening of campaign finance enforcement and in adopting adjudication rules under an automated election system in the Commission. All of these were possible because Comelec was willing to listen.

I can also say that when I joined the poll body, I was able to understand and put in the right context some of the many issues I personally had against Comelec. I can attest that there are a lot decent, committed and skilled employees inside the Commission. What the institution needs is the capacity to show to the public about the hard work that its employees are made to do. Yes, there are a lot of things that are far from ideal. But this does not mean that all hope is lost as is portrayed by some of the commission’s fiercest critics. Things will definitely be better. Things are actually a lot better now. Teaching an elephant to dance takes time. Please give Comelec the opportunity to prove itself worthy of the people’s trust. Allow us to earn the people’s trust- your trust. Your Comelec is now more than willing to listen. We need your support. Whatever happens, Comelec  will be the one running the elections. You just gotta give us a chance.

A Weekend to Remember

Having just come from Mindoro last week, I find it right to re-blog this old post of mine from two years ago. While I was with a Mangyan tribe in Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro then, last week was with the Hanunuo tribe in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. I hope to write more on this…..

My Extra Rice

It was a new kind of weekend for me. I did not know what was going to happen and how the experience would become, but I agreed to go just the same. Actually, I just wanted to be with the other LENTE volunteers and observe how projects are implemented on the ground. Having been tasked as the organization’s acting executive director, and part time at that, I needed to have a sense of how it is on the field.

What I got from that weekend however was more than what I expected.

I joined LENTE’s Ona Caritos, Det Det Eugenio, and Kat Lee, Erwin Caliba and Tony Villasor of COMELEC in having gone through a 12 hour travel from Cubao, Quezon City to a remote village in Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro. It was my first time to experience RORO (bus-ferry-bus-tricycle). We left Cubao 6 am on May 12, and we reached…

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Resurrecting My Extra Rice

My new circumstance prevented me from sustaining this blog. It was “shock and awe” for me to be back again in government, this time, in a position that carries with it great responsibility. Having partly recovered, I find it alright to resurrect my foray intro blogging, ever hoping that I can contribute to the electoral reform discourse.

A lot of things has happened since my last post. But more exciting things will certainly come – many things to write about.

As when this adventure of mine started, writing for the sake of writing shall be my motivation – whether or not there are interested readers.

Meanwhile, I am watching the announcement of the results of the Scottish plebiscite. What struck me right away was that the election officials announcing the results also reported ballots which have been invalidated and took time to explain why they were so invalidated. Such transparency should serve as an example to those managing elections, including myself of course.

till then…

Blogging Hiatus

It is been quite a while since my 35th blog. I hope to write more even if no one is reading. he he he.

I may write about my recent trips and and engagements in Libya (Training Lawyers on their Role in Elections), Papua New Guinea (Campaign Finance Monitoring Report), Kenya (Election Dispute Resolution for Judges), and Kyrgysztan ( Political Finance and Abuse of State Resources)

Lord, please give me time and energy to write….

Strengthening campaign finance regulation in the coming election can still happen.

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Conceding that the Philippine Commission on Election or COMELEC had been rendered powerless by law in going after those who campaign outside of the period designated by law for campaigning, Chair Brillantes said that the poll body will instead go hard against candidates on campaign spending.

Well and good. If my recollection serves me right, this is the strongest statement ever by a high election official against excessive spending in election. Now the question is how will the COMELEC be able to do this?

As I have pointed out before, the poll body has no dedicated unit within its bureaucracy to perform campaign finance work. By default, the Law Department and the various field offices receive the mandatory (and perfunctory) Statements of Contributions and Expenditures of candidates and political parties, as well as the reports of firms and contractors producing campaign materials. The Education and Information Department receives copies of contracts and broadcast logs on political ads. But because these units perform other equally important election work during election season, all that they can actually do is to receive and compile reports, and in the case of the law department, identify those who submitted and those who did not. Virtually nothing more can done by these units.

In a newspaper report this morning, Comm. Lim was quoted as saying that Comelec needs to hire accountants for campaign finance work but the Commission on Audit would not allow money to be spent for it.  Although I can understand the context behind the statement and the call for civil society groups to do the audit of reports, this seems to show that the earlier strong momentum to capacitate the poll body to do campaign finance work might be waning.

The proposal almost two years ago for the creation of a dedicated campaign finance unit in COMELEC is precisely based on the aforesaid lack of capacity of the institution.

While those who will be assigned to this unit will be doing more or less exclusively campaign finance work, the unit itself will be on an “interim” status in the sense that what is really needed is a more permanent department within the Commission. Once the department is created, with the appurtenant personnel and budgetary allocation, the “interim” unit can metamorphose into a “department,” with trained, experienced, and fully capacitated personnel.

The idea of an “interim” campaign finance unit is to allow the Commission to do something more in its campaign finance work NOW without having to create new plantilla positions and to allocate compensations for them (and thus to complicate its budget issues) that a new “department” can bring. The recommendation was to pick from existing officials and employees from COMELEC and assign them to perform campaign finance work. I might be wrong but I do not see the need for additional compensation in this. If ever there is indeed a need, then the additional money would be very minimal. Further, I am sure there would be enough existing personnel within the Commission for this.

COMELEC had done this before. It created an Management Information Service or MIS unit in 1991, taking personnel from other COMELEC departments. When the Information Technology Department was created later in 1997, the staffers of the MIS became the new staffers of the IT Department.

New accountants, moreover, are not that needed at the start. Audits can happen after elections and the existing accountants in the Commission can do the audit work in between election seasons. But during the election period, all that are needed are trained personnel, not necessarily accountants, who can compile submissions, and do initial analysis on whether the reports are complete and faithful to the requirements provided.

The COMELEC can also scale down its own expectations on the output of the unit. The minimum is to ensure that the reports of candidates, political parties, donors, election material contractors, including media entities, are made transparent and EASILY and IMMEDIATELY available to the public. This would mean that all the necessary information are in the reports before they are accepted and that obvious discrepancies, suspicious entries, and outright evidence of an offense are immediately reported out.

Designating an Election Assistant to perform these functions at the municipal or city and at the provincial level will be necessary to make campaign finance regulation efforts be felt in the regions as well. Based on some informal consultations I had with field election officials, this will not be that much of a burden on their election work. All that they would need would be clear guidance and instructions on what they need to do.

It would also be good if the COMELEC itself take the initiative to report the information culled from the reports to the media. This would give positive public relations points for the Commission. The public would then be inclined to realize that COMELEC is actually doing something on this very vital aspect of election.

These are the envisioned activities of the “interim” campaign finance unit. Initially nothing much, but the impact is immediately strong. People are tired of candidates violating the law on election spending and are continually curious as to where candidates get the tremendous amount of money they spend for campaigning. Seeing COMELEC actually do, and not just say, something about campaign finance will increase the credibility of the institution.

I remain hopeful. Strengthened campaign finance regulation still happen. There just has to be a stronger will to work for it.

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