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 our destination 12 hours later. The travel back home was also about 12 hours.

Our purpose in going to Magsaysay was to participate in the regular meeting of a group called Hagura, an organization of three Mangyan tribes in Occidental Mindoro. The regular meetings are held to give the different representatives of the Mangyan tribes the opportunity to share their issues, problems and concerns and to help find a common solution to these. We took advantage of these regular meetings and requested that we be allowed to participate in them.

Our role was to listen to their election problems, that is, their problems relating to their registration as voters, the treatment that they get from politicians during campaign period, and the issues they face during the voting process. LENTE invited Atty. Erwin Caliba and Tony Villasor who are from the Office of Commissioner Rene Sarmiento of COMELEC as well as Provincial Election Supervisor Atty. Edwin Villa, and a couple of Election Officers, to listen to the tribal leaders and to explain the processes.

The Mangyan leaders, assisted by some religious, were clear and articulate about their electoral issues. Discrimination and lack of awareness by the mainstream society are at the core of these issues. Nevertheless, the COMELEC personnel who were there are  to be commended for being responsive and accommodating of the concerns raised by the  Mangyan leaders.

Although I have been in the advocacy for electoral reform for quite some time, I must admit that the experience was one of the rare moments when I am able to look at our electoral and democratic processes from the lens of disadvantaged. I realized that I may have been doing my work oblivious of how it can become relevant to the very group of people who are supposed to benefit from political reform. This weekend’s experience gave me one important perspective at electoral reform. No high tech machines for the voting and counting processes can be as important as making sure that those who need democracy more are able to exercise their rights in a truly free and fair election, that is, in an election that gives sufficient ballot access to everyone without discrimination and an election free of threats and intimidation.

I am glad I was able to break bread with my new acquaintances last weekend and to get a very valuable learning going back home.