In Chicago: Reflecting on PH elections and beyond
Members of community media, the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA), and the Malaya Movement, after the May 13th elections, shared their thoughts and experiences about and the future of the democratization process in the Philippines.
The group recalled that the concept of democracy did not really emerge as an organic political process among the indigenous Filipinos. The governing practices in existence prior to 1521 were either erased or subdued by the colonizers. In fact, for more than 350 years the Filipinos spent their time more in fighting the brutal colonization, first by Spain and then by the United States.
Thereafter, the political governance that the Filipinos have known was designed in the image of the US constitutional political system with three co-equal branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) of the government.
Nevertheless, in introducing elections as the practice of selecting government leaders, the US maintained the power of the few local elites (hacienderos, caciques, dynasties, bureaucrat capitalists, etc.) in running the government and kept the majority of working and poor families powerless.
Hence, it is not surprising that the ruling elite has taken turns in electing themselves by corrupting the electoral process (vote buying, killings and violence through intra-politics war, lack of transparency and accountability from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), vote padding and shaving, etc.).
Traditional politicians kept the electorate uninformed of political issues and instead bombarded them with self-serving propaganda. Campaigns were more of entertainment than political and educational forums. Also, the power landowners and warlords hold over the lives of the peasants and the poor induced obedience to authority, and it commanded their votes to preferred candidates through vote buying, harassment, and/or outright killings.
PH independence and democracy movement abroad
In the Philippines, deepening the democratic process by empowering the majority came more from the pressure of political, economic, and social reform advocates than from the initiative of elected representatives of the people.
Outside the Philippines, overseas Filipinos have played a role in Philippine independence and democracy movements, like the La Solidaridad in Spain during the 1880s. During the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to 1986, various national democratic and opposition groups were active in the US — Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), Alliance for Philippine Concerns (APC), Movement for Free Philippines (MFP), Ugnayan, Campaign Against Marcos Dictatorship (CAMDI), etc.)
Filipinos in Chicago have been part of those movements. In early 1900, pensionados (students sponsored by the American colonial government to study in American colleges and universities soon after the Philippine-American War) at Northwestern University campaigned for early independence of the Philippines from the United States.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, reform and national democratic activists in Chicago were also active in protesting the Marcos dictatorship. The legacy of those freedom-based and democracy struggles are now being continued by young Filipino American members of the media, Malaya Movement, FAHRA, and other social justice groups.
Campaign for clean and fair elections
Based on the members’ personal experiences the group identified issues that prompted suspicions to the conduct of honest and fair election like the 7-hour delay of transmission of electoral returns, the absence of genuine poll watch dog National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL, the delay of funds for the postage of mailed ballots for overseas Filipinos, malfunctioning vote counting machines, errors in listing voters who have not voted yet to already voted list, corrupted secure disks, among others.
The group considered the presence of poll watchers and watch dog groups during the elections and canvassing of votes as critical in dispelling the alleged cheating and the hocus-pocus happening at the polling places and the office of the Comelec.
Also, the shift to Postal Automatic Election System (AES) must not totally eliminate the Personal Automatic Election System as voters in Chicago would also like to personally cast their votes and experience firsthand the feeding of their ballots to the vote counting machine and seeing the validation of the candidates they voted.
Moreover, extensive voter information and educational campaign must be made utilizing all promotional outlets from direct mailing, printed ads, TV commercials at ABS-CBN The Filipino Channel (TFC) and GMA Network Pinoy TV to face-to-face town hall meetings. Registration of voters should be year-round like the Illinois voter registration system and not be restricted by prescribed deadlines.
Joseph Lariosa of the PhilaMessenger, a news website outlet, pointed out the possibility of voting via the Internet. He said, “With the 5G technology just around the corner, Comelec should explore the possibility of voting thru email. The use of email message in transacting business in the Philippines has its legal basis on Republic Act No. 8792 passed in 2000, An Act Providing for the Recognition and use of Electronic Commercial and Non-Commercial Transactions and Documents, Penalties for Unlawful Use Thereof, and for Other Purposes.” Lariosa also cited the technological advances in using email-based transactions.
“Think of it this way, banking and financial institutions, Stock Exchanges around the world, the printing of U.S. and Philippine Passports, travel ticketing transactions, etc. will not be existing to this day were it not for the use of secured email messages. The danger of email technology getting into the hands of hackers is now being addressed due to two-factor authentication among others, and use of state-of-the-art security features.”
The members of the media claimed that the freedom of the press is necessary not only for covering and monitoring elections but also for the movement for genuine democracy to flourish. They have concluded that the press should continue to speak truth to power and that free speech should cultivate the public thinking independently of the government.
After the reflection and visioning process, the group concluded that democracy is the people’s responsibility. In this regard, the members enjoin Fil-Ams to participate in group discussions to enrich dialogue and achieve common understanding about the future of the Philippines. For more information, please send inquiries to [email protected]