Technical Assessment of the Philippines Electoral System
In his July 24,1995 State of the Union address, Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos said that one of his administration's "most urgent measures" is to "Clean up the electoral system."
With nearly a century of elections in the Philippines as a backdrop, elections were held throughout the Philippines on May 8, 1995, for half the Senate, the entire House of Representatives and all local offices. Many Filipinos had hoped that a modernized electoral system would be in place by the time of those elections, but an omnibus bill to improve the system did not get past the discussion stage in the session of the Philippine Congress that ended in June 1995. Following the May elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) submitted several new bills to the Congress to modernize the electoral system. At the same time, the Comelec went ahead with arrangements for the March 1996 election for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (four of the country's 77 provinces), for which the Congress had previously authorized computerization of the registration and counting procedures.
Feeling the need for technical assistance, there was agreement between the Comelec and the USAID Mission in Manila to invite the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to provide three experts who would help guide the Comelec in modernizing the electoral system and voting equipment. IFES thereupon put together a proposal for (a) sharing its extensive electoral experience with the Comelec, and (b) providing assistance to the Comelec on voter education, voter registration, design of the ballot, and the voting, counting and canvass procedures.
An IFES technical assessment team conducted extensive research and interviews July 3 I-August 17, 1995, meeting with key officials from the Comelec, the U.S. Embassy and USAID, the Philippine Congress, the Office of the President, principal non-governmental organizations, the media, Catholic and Muslim religious leaders, former election officials, incumbent officeholders and recently defeated candidates. The IFES team found that all individuals were very cooperative and eager to participate in the assessment. These contacts are listed in Appendix B.
Although the IFES team was present in the Philippines for only two weeks, one member, Gilbert H. Sheinbaum, had earlier resided in the country for four years and has closely followed Philippine affairs for over 16 years. His primary role was to ensure that the political, economic, social and cultural climate of the Philippines has been and will continue to be fully considered in drawing up this report to the Comelec and, as appropriate, providing ongoing assistance. The other two team members, Deborah Seiler and Emmett Fremaux, are experienced election administrators from the United States who provided the technical expertise in election systems for the assessment.
In this report and in its discussion with Philippine officials, IFES does not pretend to propose an ideal electoral system for the Philippines. Nor does IFES promote the sale of any specific electoral products. It does, on the other hand, offer a number of observations and options for consideration as the Congress and the Comelec move forward to improve the system.
The IFES team's conclusions generally paralleled the Comelec's views on the best ways to modernize the system. At the same time, the team introduced a variety of technical considerations for the implementation of the modernization scheme. In its recommendations, the team strongly urged (I) swift action by the Philippine Congress on the bills before it because much must be accomplished prior to the next national elections in May 1998; (2) greater emphasis on voter education: (3) complete computerized re-registration of all voters; (4) introduction of pre-printed (rather than handwritten) ballots; (5) automated counting and canvass procedures (another bill before the Congress); (6) careful attention to protecting the integrity of the entire electoral system; (7) additional comprehensive training of Comelec staff, especially in the provinces; (8) a cautious, selective approach to the purchase of hardware; and (9) utilization of additional technical assistance. In reaction to the IFES team's preliminary report, the Comelec appeared to accept all ·points and expressed both its appreciation for the team's guidance and its intention to request additional technical assistance.
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