Feb 262013
Abra province, a perennial hotbed of election-related violence, will be the target of a Commission on Elections (Comelec) project that will “aim to restore the full functioning of the electoral exercise” there.

Abra is “really an area of concern for so many years,” noted Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Tuesday. “This is where I grew up.”

In order “to make elections work” in Abra, the Comelec has partnered with nongovernment organizations and academic institutions. The project proponents have chosen Peñarrubia town for the endeavor.

Those who signed the memorandum of agreement with the Comelec were the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG), Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), De La Salle University—Jesse M. Robredo Institute  of Governance, and University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Vicious cycle

The project proponents cited a study conducted by Ateneo School of Government in 2009 describing the situation in Abra as “a vicious cycle of violence, disempowerment and abuse of authority where politicians, due to failures of institutions, are able to use violence to stay in power and enrich themselves at the expense of the people who are kept poor and disempowered, unable to change their fate and the situation of their province.”

The same study also stated that “national and local connections allow the same political families to have a long hold on power and the local elites are one way or another connected to who’s who in politics at the national level.”

Under the MOA, the Comelec will develop a tool for monitoring compliance with campaign finance laws and regulations, election violence, and vote-buying and selling.

It will also create a task force or committee that will focus on the elections in Peñarrubia, name a point person who will coordinate with the proponents, and provide additional personnel to closely monitor the campaign and election in the municipality.

The Comelec is also expected to respond promptly to reports from the proponents, and make accessible the information and documents needed by the proponents in implementing the project.

The proponents, on the other hand, should provide regular updates and reports, identify point person to coordinate and liaise with Comelec and present the various tools and modules developed for the project.

They should also provide copies of monitoring reports and support the implementation and enforcement of the laws, rules and regulations on campaign finance and vote buying/selling and convene a monitoring group that will assist the Comelec in monitoring the elections.

Making elections work

Vince Lazatin of TAN said they want to set the elections right in Peñarrubia “to see if we can make elections work for the people, for the benefit of the people, to empower the voters to be able to choose leaders who will be responsive to their needs.”                       

He said the long-term goal of project is determine the root cause of election “hotspots.”

“Beyond managing hotspots, we really need to look at the root causes why election is violent in some areas, why there are so much vote buying. Hopefully through this project we could gain some insights and have this project until the 2016 elections,” Lazatin said.

Pura Sumangil of CCAGG said poverty forces the people of Abra, the ninth poorest province in the country, to sell their votes.   
“This is a very good project–voter empowerment so they will understand their value as a voter,” she said.

Dr. Francisco Magno of JMRIG said the project provides opportunity to educate citizens. “It is a kind of education where the community is an active participant. We should look at elections as a mechanism of accountability, election monitoring is part of accountability.”

Comelec commissioners Grace Padaca, Christian Robert Lim, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph welcomed the MOA.

Yusoph expressed hope the project would extend to Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  

“I suggest that you extend it to ARMM,” he said. “We have a lot of problems regarding campaign finance.” — KBK, GMA News

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