Police, NGOs discuss definitions of election-related incidents
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) discussed on Thursday, February 27, a new categorization of election-related incidents, in preparation for the 2016 national polls.
The term "politically-motivated incident" (PMI) was introduced by the PNP to CER and various representatives from government and civil society organizations (CSO) in a roundtable discussion (RTD) on the definition of election violence at the Sulo Riviera Hotel in Quezon City.
The PNP proposed it as a blanket term for "incidents carried out and/or planned by any person or group of persons to influence the outcome of the elections, or achieve specific political ends whether it falls within or outside the election period."
Unverified incidents which are perceived to be politically-motivated would be tagged as "provisional PMIs" until the motive is validated by authorities.
PMIs are then further classified as election-related violent incidents (ERVI), such as acts of intimidation or physical harm, and election-related non-violent incidents (ERNVI) such as vote-buying or unlawful electioneering.
Currently, only incidents, violent or otherwise, that happened within the election period – from 120 days before an election to 30 days after it – are classified as election-related, according to the Omnibus Election Code.
Therefore, technically, the Maguindanao massacre did not fall within the existing definition of an ERVI, noted CER chairperson Ramon Casiple, despite it being politically-motivated. (WATCH #TalkThursday: Remembering the Maguindanao Massacre)
Fifty-eight people, including at least 32 journalists, who were on their way to file a gubernatorial candidate's certificate of candidacy were brutally killed by a group of armed men in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.
It happened on Nov 23, 2009, outside the election period of the 2010 polls, which started on January 10.
The RTD revisited the existing definitions of ERVI based on actual experiences on the ground.
"A major test of the maturity Philippine democracy is how we conduct our elections. Are our elections here free and fair?" Casiple asked.
"Besides vote-buying and electoral cheating, election violence has been one of the major problems hindering the conduct of free and fair elections in many areas of the country," he added. (READ: Violence mars election day)
The PNP reported fewer election-related incidents during the May 13, 2013 midterm elections. Excluded from the official count were politically-motivated incidents that took place outside the election period. (READ: Mid-term polls were 'generally peaceful' - PNP, Army)
Casiple noted that the electoral cycle is not limited to the election period. "In reality, the electoral cycle is continuous. The winning candidate wants to retain power, while the losing candidate wants to have another shot at claiming power."
"Politicians are used to this electoral cycle. The question is, do our institutions like Comelec and the PNP think the same way? Or the tendency is, after the election period, hinto na muna (they would take a break for a while) and wait for the next election?" asked Casiple.
The use of the terms "PMI" and "provisional PMI" will do away with the time period and focus on the motive behind reported incidents.
Any crime or election offense that took place in off-election years and proven to be politically motivated, therefore, would be included in election statistics.
It would also clear up confusion in reporting such incidents. "Sometimes, when the politicians themselves are the victims, people and the media are quick to say that these are politically motivated because they know the political environment better," said Chief Superintendent Rene Diaz Ong, executive officer of the PNP Directorate for Police Community Relations.
"But the police does not classify it yet as politically motivated either because the verification of the incident is ongoing or it falls outside the election period."
This is the reason behind the term "provisional PMI," he added.
There were concerns, however, that some unrelated incidents might be tagged as a PMI.
"The term might be too all-encompassing that even normal crimes could be tagged as such. For instance, victims of a house robbery could easily claim that the crime is politically motivated because they are supporters of a certain official or candidate," said lawyer Marjorie Martin of the Liberal Party.
"The use of the terms may be open to abuse. I think clearer parameters should be identified," she continued.
The PNP said that validation of the motive is the key to classifying whether an incident is politically motivated or not. But it also said that it is willing to put specific, qualifying parameters in the use of the proposed terms.
"On one hand, we have an extension of the definition to include election-related incidents outside of the election period. But on the other hand, we have a limitation of the definition to include only those that disrupt the elections or the political process within the democratic system," Casiple said.
The roundtable discussion was also attended by representatives from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the committees of electoral reform of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), and the Manila Liaison Office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). – Rappler.com