The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has congratulated the Commission on Elections and electoral stakeholders for the conduct of the May 2022 national and local elections given the high level of participation of voters and the work of the polling staff.
Despite lingering issues and challenges that require immediate attention, ANFREL said the elections were credible and genuine.
The election day, ANFREL added, was largely peaceful, orderly and safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The electoral process was also technically sound despite a number of shortcomings,” it said, citing hundreds of vote counting machines and SD cards that failed “which highlighted the poor contingency planning and communication of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) where up to a million voters had to either wait for extensive hours to vote or were likely disenfranchised altogether."
ANFREL’s Amael Vier pointed out ballot secrecy folders were also insufficient to secure the privacy of voters in casting their ballots which can facilitate vote-buying and intimidation.
He added a secret ballot is an essential part of the right to suffrage and the Philippines “does not meet international standards” in that regard.
He said privacy screens or voting booths should be offered as remedy in future elections.
"I’m sorry to say but the Philippines do(es) not meet international standards in that term. Polling stations are small but mostly tables are near to each other and the privacy folder that is useful when bringing your ballots to the VCM to cast it does not really help when you are marking your ballot because it only covers at best like one side and there are still two more sides which people can really see," Vier said.
"And it’s very easy to see if you know the layout of the ballot paper, if someone is just moving left or moving right, it’s very easy to see who they are voting for. This lack of privacy enables vote buying, enables intimidation and really there’s no reason for the Philippines to be so far behind any other Asian countries, including countries with much fewer resources," he added.
Issues that ANFREL noted requiring immediate attention are:
- Prevalence of vote buying;
- Abuse of state resources for campaign purposes;
- Campaign finance reform;
- Rule of political dynasties;
- Declining state of press freedom and free expression;
- Widespread disinformation.
Asked if the last elections were free and fair, Eric Alvia of National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) lamented the prevalence of vote buying.
"There are certain indications which do not promote a free and fair election environment. You’ve seen a lot of distortion in activities, we’ve seen a lot of people trying to game the system of elections, vote buying in particular, the abuse of state resources so how could you consider the election environment fair when in the onset the rules are being gamed. On the other hand, in general, what was going for our elections was that there was massive participation. At the same time also the general conduct of the elections was generally orderly even if there were some undesired activities, generally, the elections were orderly and if you want to assess that elections that transpired, the results could be said that it was a fair assessment of the will of the voters," Alvia said.
Dr. Arwin Serrano of PPCRV echoed the results of a Pulse Asia survey that showed that more than 8 out of 10 Filipinos found the elections credible.
"We are very happy that no major untoward incidents especially in the area of peace and order happened, except for weeks before election day, there were incidents in Abra and there were special elections held two after May 8 in some barangays in Lanao del Sur but overall the conduct of elections was fast," Serrano said.
Atty. Ona Caritos of LENTE said that while procedurally the elections were carried out freely and fairly given the high level of participation, the elections remain “uncompetitive” with only few and the same families running in every election cycle. Vote buying, she added, also marred the conduct of the polls.
"The value of the vote has increased through the years. In this election, the highest value for the vote that we got from our hotlines was around P25,000…," Ona said.
“Procedurally we’re good but substantially we have to focus more on these two aspects of our elections: the role of money and decreasing electoral competitiveness.”