As the Philippines prepares for the May 2010 elections, there’s a growing apprehension that worsening armed violence in the countryside will blemish the peaceful conduct of this political exercise.
The proliferation of unlicensed guns (the number of which, according to the police, has reached at least 1.1 million); the existence of at least 130 private armies nationwide maintained by traditional and non-traditional warlords; and the continuing armed rebellions waged by the New People’s Army (NPA), the lawless elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the rouge factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the jihadist cells of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) provide a perfect recipe for electoral violence.
The Philippines has become a bazaar of illegal arms in Southeast Asia, largely because of the forthcoming elections. Its very porous borders and limited security enforcement capacity, exacerbated by corrupt officials in cahoots with organized crime groups, facilitate the proliferation of illegal arms in the country. These illegal arms then act to perpetuate the power of private armies of traditional politicians and warlords all over the country.
In Mindanao alone, where all of the radical armed groups operate, there are small to large size private armies of local warlords in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Davao, Lanao, Maguindanao, Sarangani, Sulo, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga. The November 23, 2009 ‘Maguindanao Massacre,’ which claimed the lives of at least 57 people, was just a prelude to the May 2010 electoral violence. As of January 2010, at least 65 people had already been killed in election-related violence, while in the 2007, 2004 and 2001 Philippines elections, 121, 189 and 111 people were killed, respectively, in electoral violence. If the current trend of armed violence is not prevented for May’s elections, the figure could very well be worse.
Because violence has become part and parcel of Philippine elections, some personalities associated with the NPA, MILF, MNLF and ASG are becoming ‘goons for hire’ during them, with the NPA even using its armed groups to extort money from candidates through its ‘permit-to-campaign’ modus operandi in its area of operations. Because the NPA has shown ‘best practice’ in this scheme, other armed groups are now encouraged to follow suit to mobilize funds during elections.
It is clear that worsening private armed violence is a serious security concern that could undermine the peaceful conduct of the May 2010 elections. Although a commission has already been formed to dismantle private armies of warlords and local politicians in the country, there’s a great deal of scepticism over whether the government, with poor track record in dismantling armed radical groups that have been threatening Philippine internal security for decades, is up to the task.
At present, opposition to contraception is, in all probability, hurting the Philippines. Each year, more than half of the 3.4 million pregnancies in the country are unplanned. This extremely high rate of unintended pregnancies results in high costs to women, their families and the national health care system, and impedes development efforts. Yet, unintended pregnancies are preventable if women simply have access to family planning information and services, particularly modern contraceptive methods.
A 2009 study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the Guttmacher Institute shows that investing in contraception not only enables women to plan births and avoid the serious health complications that often accompany unintended pregnancy, but also saves money.
The findings make a strong case for increased spending on contraception nationwide. Ensuring that all women in the Philippines who are particularly at risk of having unplanned pregnancies have access to modern contraceptive methods would result in an estimated 800,000 fewer unplanned births, 500,000 fewer induced abortions and 200,000 fewer miscarriages each year. It also would prevent the deaths of 2,100 women—nearly half of all the deaths from pregnancy-related causes.
Providing modern contraceptive services to all women who need them would raise annual family planning costs from $41.4 million to $87.2 million. However, the medical costs associated with unintended pregnancy, including treating the consequences of unsafe abortion, would likely fall dramatically—from $76.3 million to $13.1 million, by one estimate. The net savings—$17.4 million—could be used to improve and expand a range of health and social services, and thereby increase the Philippines’ ability to achieve its development goals.
Ensuring contraceptive access is especially critical to improving the health of poor women, who face the greatest barriers in achieving the family size they desire. Investing in contraception is investing in healthier families and communities and, ultimately, in a more prosperous country.
On May 10, more than 50 million Filipino voters will troop to the polls to elect a president and vice-president, 12 senators (unlike in the United States, members of the Philippine Senate are elected nationally), 250 representatives and more than 17,000 provincial and local officials.
This will be the fourth general election in the Third Philippine Republic, established in the aftermath of the fallen Marcos regime in 1986. And, like all previous elections, promises to be as colorful, hotly-contested, divisive and displaying more of the same bailiwick politics so typical of particularistic political cultures like that of the Philippines. The 2010 election will also be a historic election for two specific reasons.
First, it will be the first ‘fully-automated’ election in Philippine history. In spite of serious misgivings expressed by a significant percentage of the population--and even by some of the presidential candidates themselves--the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the constitutional body charged with the administration of all elections in the country, is pressing ahead with what it is predicting will be an open and honest electoral exercise. Even more importantly, supporters of automated elections contend that the election results will be known in a matter of days not weeks (or even months) as was the case in the past.
Second, the 2010 election is historic in that for the first time in Philippine history, the ballot includes the names of two former presidents, though they are seeking different offices. Outgoing President Gloria Arroyo is running for the seat currently held by one of her two children in the House of Representatives, while former president Joseph Estrada, convicted of the capital crime of ‘plunder’ three years ago but pardoned by Arroyo shortly thereafter, is trying to reclaim his old post. Although not seeking the presidency as in 1992, another notable side-show in this year’s election is the 80-year-old Imelda Marcos, who is vying for the congressional seat that was once held by her late husband and even more recently by two of her three children.
Under the Philippines’ convoluted political party system, the presidency is being contested by nine COMELEC-approved candidates, although realistically only three or possibly four are given any chance of winning.
Nearly two decades after the 1991 enactment of the Local Government Code (LGC) in the Philippines, satisfaction surveys continue to highlight a number of serious issues that the public want addressing, including rising unemployment rates and an unreliable police service. It is important, therefore, that local government reforms in the Philippines now address a number of interrelated issues on three levels.
The first level requiring action is amending Article 10 of the 1987 Constitution, specifically Sections 1 and 8, which respectively outline territorial and political subdivisions and define the term of office for elected officials as three years. Section 1 is parochial and restrictive, and does not allow for more democratic choice in the form of local governments as political subdivisions of the State, whether Mayor-Council or Commission. Local governments established by Congress are subject to the constitutional mandate of plebiscite or referendum, and the three-year term limit for any local incumbent needs to be extended to allow those elected to be more useful and productive during their term in office.
The second level of issues require congressional action and legislation to reform present intergovernmental relations. Centralism is anti-democratic and, despite the enactment of the LGC making some steps towards decentralization, the central government retains a number of economic powers. According to a 2005 report by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Congress must lead in pursuing further government decentralisation in order to ‘improve service delivery’ and ‘accountability of resource use.’ There needs to be a better balance of political power between central government and Local Government Units (LGUs). Moreover intergovernmental fiscal relations need to be revisited to reduce the high financial dependency of local authorities on central government grants and subsidies. Reducing this financial dependency will increase local governments’ financial autonomy, thereby reducing the impact of the whims and caprices of the central government. This should ultimately lead to greater political freedom.
The third level issues are those for which the remedial measures are mainly administrative and concern the internal operations of local government. This type of reform needs no constitutional amendment or legislation and can be undertaken by an autonomous and independent local government reform commission or by a Joint Executive–Legislative Local Government Reform Committee of Congress. For example; Section 3(k) of the LGC suggests that the realisation of local autonomy can be fast-tracked through improved coordination of national government policies and programs, including the extension of adequate technical skills and materials to less developed and deserving local governments. The only obstacle to such reforms is the necessary political will.
Decentralisation and other local government reforms require careful management, an issue that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is monitoring closely. While none of the issues raised are alien to policymakers, their implementation and success will depend on support from the Philippines’ development partners.
Political stability is crucial to sustainable development. But it depends on both good governance and the broad democratic participation of the citizenry in the political process. The Philippines requires political and electoral reforms to the system that came in the aftermath of the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, reforms necessary for consolidating the established new democracy. These should enable the meaningful participation of citizens in the electoral and political processes, and enhance the credibility of the whole process.
Hopefully, such reforms could also facilitate the emergence of a new politics in the Philippines, one different from the traditional patronage and media-driven kind seen in the post-Marcos period. These new politics will also be geared toward making the Philippine democracy work for all and benefit everyone, especially the vast majority of the citizens who remain poor, disempowered and politically marginalized.
The political and electoral reforms now being envisaged aim to be more comprehensive, long-term and in-depth and should address a greater breadth of components in the electoral system, including political parties, citizen-voters, election administration, and electoral laws and regulations.
For example, the electoral reform package that has been suggested currently covers areas such as constitutional reform (i.e. giving electoral protests to the judicial department while confining the Commission on Elections to election administration), comprehensive citizen-voter education (for example, citizen participation in election and governance, democracy, human rights and development), political party reform (strengthening political parties, candidate selection and training and campaign financing), electoral management reform (such as electoral personnel professionalization and structural reforms) and electoral system reforms (including electoral modernization, citizen monitoring and electoral procedures).
But the key reform will be building a strong and genuine political party system. This will usher in new, party-based rules in both electoral and governance behaviour and establish the foundation on which to build and consolidate democratic institutions.
The overall aim is to have strong political parties capable of sustaining popular support and building party political constituencies, fielding capable candidates, adhering to campaign financing limits and election rules, enhancing party discipline and acting independently of vested and illegal interests.