The Philippines runs under a democratic government where in a president heads the constitutional republic. The presidential system of this country is governed by a single individual with the exception of their ARMM or Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, which runs a separate government from the national republic. The president of the Philippines operates as the head of the government, commander-in-chief and the head of the state. As proven in the country’s history, elections are manipulated by money and popularity. Philippine elections are the grounds wherein elite families vie for political control and dominance. The wealthiest families compete for national and provincial posts while those with lesser capital stay on municipal or local offices. “The political system of the country is a complex arena with the political parties having a minimal role while media and money have a huge influence” (Co, 2008). Violence during elections also exists and extreme general commitment to democracy is observed.
Filipinos have popular protests against their political system, which led to the forced out of their two presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada. The two said presidents were indicted with electoral fraud and plunder respectively. Politics in the Philippines have been strongly characterized by instability.
Officially known as the Republic of the Philippines, this country is a sovereign nation found in the Southeast Asia region. “It has an estimated population of about 94 million people and one of the most populous countries in Asia” (Abinales 2005). The Filipinos elect a president and a legislature to lead and govern them. The president, vice-president and senators of the Philippines are elected for a six-year term by their people.
Voting turn outs in the Philippines have been high over the past elections with around 80 to 85 percent registered voters participating in national elections. This percentage is generally above average considering the problems evident during election period such as problematic transportation and violence.
Up until the Philippine elections of 1972, it was analogous to the United States’ elections during early industrialization where it featured vote buying, miscounts, ballot-box mixing and election-associated violence. All of these debauched acts of cheating for the electoral spot defeats the sense of democracy. Marcos, knowing his chances was slim, created innovations such as a show of hands to display support in his dwelling in the office. However, despite of trying all of the tricks Marcos’ supporters carried out, Marcos’ time in office ended after the loss in the snap elections of 1986. Many Filipinos were inspired of the heroism democratic forces exhibited.
The electoral system of the past was banished for a new 1987 constitution. From four years, the representatives’ lodging was decreased to three. The president then served an extended period from four years to six which was similar to the senators. More importantly, the constitution established a Commission on Election that is authorized to oversee every facet of the campaigns and elections. The commission is composed of a chairperson and six commissioners, who cannot be a part of the immediate elections. Qualifications for the committee include majority must be lawyers and all must be college graduate. “They are appointed to a seven-year service by the president following protocols with the Commission on Appointments. Commission implements and controls all electoral laws and regulation and has unique dominion over all legal matters such as disputes” (Abinales 2005). Against the influence exercised by the soldiers and other armed groups, the commission may delegate law enforcement agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Also, “the Committee can take over entire municipalities and provinces to their control, or mandate new elections, if necessary” (Co, 2008).
Heading the elections in the Philippines is the COMELEC or Commission on Elections. Citizens of legal age on the Election Day in the country which is 18 may vote. Citizens however need to register prior to the Election Day in order to actually vote and be counted. Registration period is usually set by the COMELEC few months before the election. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) “gives assistance and support to electoral reforms and processes in the Philippines” (Abinales 2005). The IFES helps in modernizing the COMELEC in order to conduct more transparent and sound elections. Moreover, the IFES urges the civil society in creating efficient promotions and advocacies for electoral reforms.
Basic requirements for candidacy include nationality, voter registration, basic literacy and particular age and years of residency conditions depending on the position. Grounds for disqualification of candidates comprises of but not limited to: acceptance of illegal funds and contributions for campaign, excessive spending during a campaign, bribery of any public electoral officials as well as voters and involvement acts of terrorism. However, even with these prohibitions it still proves inadequate due to the subjective kind of registration processes. Furthermore, the Commission also has a problem with the trust rating of the public as they are seen to be incompetent and biased with regards to ensuring proper electoral proceedings from voter registration to the actual tallying of the ballots.
Any candidate knows the importance of media in ensuring they and their platforms are known by the public. Electronic media provides a big fraction of the means the population know candidates. Almost 73 percent of the population depends on these media to distinguish, recognize and identify especially national candidates as the archipelago proves to be difficult to explore. Although mass media in the Philippines is free from explicit government regulations, they are still arbitrated to some extent by their ratings and profit considerations. In concept, mass media should provide every candidate should have equal duration, time and quality of exposure. Advertisement contracts must run through with the COMELEC before being set to motion. Despite spending limits being specified by laws, the poor accountability system and penalizing procedure provide very little effect on the campaigns. Additionally, with the repealing of the restrictions of media campaigns and advertisements in 2004, candidates and parties with more resources were at advantageous positions thus favoring personality and entertainment oriented politics.
Election-related violence is very widely spread in the Philippines. Those more affected are those at the local level in which people experience intimidation and abuse especially those who challenge reigning political clans or parties. Paramilitary groups also extort money from campaigning parties for protection. Again, with almost nonexistent enforcement, laws written to oppose and control violence prove to be insignificant. Plus, t”he pre-election and post-election violence, however it may be related to the elections, are out of the jurisdiction of the COMELEC” (Tigno 2005).
Most countries with weak rule of law experience international substandard with the elections being “free and fair” due to the intrusion of the incumbent government. Dictators use any means necessary to remain in power. They may choose to use their executive power –police, censorship, curfew, martial law et al. Representatives of a specific group or party in a legislature can choose to use its power of majority or supermajority to filter out laws which conforms to their plans of action (such as eligibility and ineligibility for elections and limits or restrictions to the electoral campaigns) to avoid a shift in the power of the body to the non-incumbent parties due to election. Even non-governmental bodies can intervene with elections through the use of physical force, intimidation, fraud which produces improper tallying of votes. Battling electoral fraud through monitoring and other means are of great priorities to countries with strong traditions of free and fair elections. “Problems in the electoral system misaligning to be biased and unfair can occur at numerous phases” (Hedman 2005).
One of which comes from the absence of open political debate which hinders the political growth of a nation. Deficiently informed public also adds to the cause of a failing electoral system. Information may be hidden from the public especially electoral issues such as the truth behind a candidate. It may be because of the absence of freedom of the press, biased information coming from the press from state pressure or control, inability of the public to access news and political media. The freedom of speech can also be abridged by the state with a favored political viewpoint of propaganda.
Unreasonable and inequitable rules also append the problem for free and fair elections. Prohibition of opposing candidates and parties from eligibility for office, gerrymandering, and influencing the thresholds for electoral success are just some of the methods of structuring an election towards a specific faction, party or candidate. “Altering the mindset of the voting public by conditioning through illicit means is also part of the process of changing the landscape of an election” (Hedman 2005).
Campaign interference is also part of the propaganda used to change the results of elections. Harassing opposing candidates and campaign workers are some common ways to vary results. Also, some paramilitary forces use their violence to threaten and intimidate voters from voting for a specific candidate or voting at all. Other forms “include arresting or assassinating candidates for office, closing campaign headquarters, and censoring campaign strategies such as speeches, posters and advertisement” (Hedman 2005).
Finally, the last mean of altering the voting system is by adjusting the election mechanism. Voters are sometimes faced with misleading information on how to vote, infringement of the secret ballot, ballot stuffing, manipulating voting machines, ruining of legitimately cast ballots, voter suppression, fake tabulation of the outcomes of the elections, and use of physical force or verbal insinuation at voting places.
Comparing all of which to the Philippine setup, political debate is very evident. However, some means of suppressing the ideas of the opposition are through enforced disappearances and electoral or political violence. The Philippine press as of today is also independent from the control of the government and information are conveyed to the public with minimal delay and or filters. Some partisans cry out to unfair rules of elections which feature bias on the rules and regulations casted upon the electoral system. “It is very common in the country to produce lengthy and repeating advertisements to condition the minds of the public through popularity” (Co 2008). Some parties also report black propaganda such as issues and gossips, destruction of campaign paraphernalia and harassing campaign groups. “Misleading information is also part of some strategies to ruin the technicality of the cast ballot” (Tigno 2005). Finally, violence is also prevalent in the country especially during the elections.
“Philippines have had many aggressive elections in the past. Numerous reforms have been presented in order to address this issue alongside several constitutional changes” (Abinales 2005). An alternative system has been introduced just recently and should be improved over time in order to enhance the electoral system of the country. The COMELEC should be transformed and restructured in order to better deliver to the needs and requirements of the political and electoral system of the country. Finance laws and other regulations concerning the political parties and campaign during elections should be properly renewed and firmly imposed. Voters should be given more education especially the youth in order to better understand the political and electoral system. The civil society should take on a bigger role in these reforms in order to make electoral procedures successful and passive.