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MANILA, Philippines – This is a true story.
Local government officials interviewed for the Galing Pook and Gawad Pamana ng Lahi awards were asked, “How do you ensure your programs are sustained and institutionalized?”
With a straight face and a serious tone, some candidates answered, “My son is running. My wife is running.”
Edna Co, dean of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance, shared the story as she stressed the need for political and electoral reforms ahead of the 2013 midterm elections.
Stuck with Mr Trapo, Madame Epal and father-and-son politico, what can voters do?
At a forum of the Ateneo School of Government’s Political Democracy and Reform (PODER) Program on Thursday, October 25, Co and her fellow speakers offered some tips.
Here are 5 ways voters and civil society groups can participate in the election despite the same old politics of patronage and dynasties:
1. Score your candidates
Know your standards and how well candidates meet them. In the absence of what Co called “a sterling presence of a political party,” the dean said it is more realistic to focus on individual candidates.
This is especially important because pundits have noted that only a few senatorial slots are actually up for grabs with 6 reelectionists running and the others within striking distance because of name recall.
Paola Deles, deputy director of the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov), presented a candidate criteria building upon the 2010 checklist of the Change Politics Movement.
Deles’ criteria are divided into the following: integrity and track record, legislative agenda, and “capacity to win power for reform.” Sample questions include:
Deles warned though against what she called pitfalls like the “all-or-nothing approach” and using only a single, sectoral lens in viewing candidates.
“Sometimes, each of our advocacies is important but we also have to be able to look at the national level or the national picture,” Deles said.
For Co, screening candidates boils down to 3 P’s: profile, platform and performance.
Many groups have created their own scorecards that voters can use like that of Co’s Movement for Good Governance. “We don’t mind being plagiarized,” she said in jest.
2. Balance ‘anti-epal’ campaign with need to know accomplishments
For voters to score candidates, Co said politicians must be able to present their track record like the bills they authored, those passed into law, resolutions adopted and positions on key issues.
Some politicians, however, have hesitated in doing so.
Co said, “I spoke to one senatorial candidate who said, ‘Ma’am when I put it up in a paid ad, civil society criticized me as epal.’”
The anti-epal campaign is a drive against credit-grabbing and premature campaigning. Some activists have criticized politicians for putting their names and faces on tarpaulins of government-funded projects.
Co said there is a need to strike a balance. “I have some problems with being accountable and providing reports to the public on what you did and being quickly labeled by civil society as epal.”
3. Don’t forget the PCOS machine.
The dean said an election issue that has been set aside after 2010 concerns the problems with the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
“A small group of people has been crying out in the wilderness complaining about the continuing problems of the PCOS machine and yet majority have remained quiet partly because the issue is largely technical,” said Co.
The 2010 polls was the Philippines’ first nationwide automated election. In 2013, the country will hold its first automated midterm polls.
“This is something civil society will have to come back to,” said Co. “I think even Comelec tends to keep a blind eye and does not listen really very well to the issues of the PCOS machine.”
4. Engage with reform-minded candidates early on
Deles admitted that she was disappointed when the senatorial lineups were announced, particularly with the exclusion of Quezon Rep Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III in the Liberal Party ticket.
She said the lesson learned was not just to vote for reform-minded candidates but to engage them before the campaign, to campaign for them, and to hold them accountable after the polls.
“The wake-up call for us was really bakit parang walang iba. (Why was there no one else?) It was really because we did not start early in taking care of candidates. It’s something we want to start working on but we cannot do it without the actual political parties working on it but we should be part of that process,” said Deles.
5. Take part in the real and virtual town hall
No matter how thorough a scorecard is, voters will not be able to fill it out if they do not know the candidates and the issues. Co and Deles said civil society groups and the academe have a lot of work to do in voter education.
Co said she still believes in traditional town hall meetings for candidate-watching but said this can also be done via social media.
“The academe also has a contribution to make on inputting on the partylist law, and the political dynasty law,” said Co.
Deles said, “The present realities in Philippines politics will not end in 2013 but we hope [they become] an issue. This is an opportunity to talk about it. Cleaning the partylist system, the anti-epal campaign, the anti-wangwang campaign – these should be issues in 2013.” – Rappler.com
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