The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), which pioneered the people’s involvement in the electoral exercises of 1984 and 1986 (when President Ferdinand Marcos agreed to call a snap election), is back.
In Resolution SPP No. 12-200 promulgated on Dec. 21, 2012, the Commission on Elections accredited Namfrel as its citizens’ arm. Together with the Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and One Vote, Namfrel is authorized to conduct election-monitoring and voter-education activities. These functions are subject to the direct control of the Comelec, in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and in coordination and cooperation with other duly accredited citizens’ arms, and subject to the limitations as may be provided by the Comelec.
To quote from its flyer: “Namfrel’s commitment is to actively participate in strengthening democratic institutions and processes, particularly the electoral process. It highly encourages the involvement of citizens in this enormous task of guarding democracy. Namfrel believes that it is only by harnessing the power of the informed and concerned citizenry that free, orderly and clean elections, as well as honesty in government, can be achieved.”
For the May elections, Namfrel will aim to focus on voter education, the random manual audit (RMA), and compliance with Comelec Resolution No. 9476 (Rules and Regulations Governing Campaign Finance and Disclosure in Connection with the 13 May 2013 National and Local Elections and Subsequent Elections Thereafter), in addition to its election-monitoring activities.
Comelec Resolution No. 9476 is a milestone in the Philippine election process as it provides clear rules and regulations governing electoral contributions and expenditures. These are areas that have in past elections been abused or totally ignored for lack of rules and guidelines, as well as focus on the part of the Comelec regarding their implementation. Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes and his commissioners deserve praise for issuing this resolution.
Among the items covered by the resolution are the required reporting of contributions and expenditures, acceptance and submission of advertising contracts, detailed accounting of expenditures, preservation of records and inspection and examination of statements, and specific sanctions for non-compliance. The sanctions include fines and penalties. Repeat violations are subject to higher fines and, more importantly, perpetual disqualification from public office.
Namfrel has been actively involved in the review of election rules and regulations and has compiled detailed recommendations on various aspects of the May elections. It is to submit to the Comelec comments and suggestions on the conduct of the RMA, focusing on the importance of random sample selection and a statistically valid sample size to justify extrapolation of the results to the population. A properly conducted RMA will help dispel concerns on the integrity of the voting machines.
Among the accredited citizens’ arms, Namfrel has the best credentials in the conduct of the RMA: Its chair and co-vice chair are former chairs and managing partners of the two largest accounting and auditing firms in the country. In addition, it counts among its partners the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which has chapters nationwide.
Namfrel has compiled recommendations that, once adopted by the Comelec, would facilitate the monitoring, audit, and examination of the reports submitted by the candidates. Among the recommendations is the periodic (weekly or biweekly) submission of the reports in electronic Excel templates, which will be posted on the websites of the Comelec or citizens’ arms. The candidate and his/her treasurer are required to attest under oath to the completeness and accuracy of their submissions.
In addition, within 30 to 45 days after the elections, the final report should be submitted to the Comelec, again electronically and using Comelec-prescribed templates. The final report is required to be audited by an independent auditor accredited by the Securities and Exchange Commission. One of the large auditing firms in the country, the Philippine Auditing Standards Council, may be requested to provide the audit work program and the standard audit/examination reports that the auditor can issue, depending on the results of the audit. Even the audit fee may be prescribed as a certain percentage of the total campaign contributions received.
The May 2013 elections will be held at a time when the Philippines is at the threshold of an economic takeoff. Honest and credible elections are necessary for the country to show the world that our democratic institutions are working; this will in turn send a strong signal that we are advancing, not just economically but politically as well.
A sustained economic takeoff will only be possible if we are politically mature, for it will suggest a stronger and democratic government. It is therefore to every citizen’s interest that we pay close attention to the May elections, in order to ensure that the outcome is perceived and accepted as the true will of the people. In this regard, the roles to be played by citizens’ arms such as the PPCRV, One Vote, and Namfrel cannot be overemphasized.
David L. Balangue is a former chair and managing partner of SGV Co. He is chair of the Coalition Against Corruption, and co-vice chair of Namfrel. Comments may be sent to email@example.com.