We, the academe, civil society organizations, youth groups, and sectoral leaders, call on the national government, Congress, and the electoral stakeholders to COVID-proof the 2022 elections. COVID-proof means ensuring that the elections are safe, fair, and free for all Filipino voters.
One year from now, the 2022 national and local elections will again put the integrity of Philippine democracy to a test. The government certainly puts efforts to address the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, these efforts may not be enough to fully surmount the health crisis as the virus continues to pose a threat to many public activities including the upcoming elections.
Lessons from the recently-concluded Palawan plebiscite and from several countries that recently held their elections showed us that it is possible to hold democratic processes successfully amidst the pandemic. We believe that it can be done as long as the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is given enough support and resources including budget, and assistance to implement effective health and safety policies. Alongside these measures, a multi-stakeholder approach could also support COMELEC, including extensive information and awareness initiatives, and protocols to ensure safe and fair political campaigns.
We further call for specific measures such as:
Ensuring that the COMELEC receives enough funds to overcome the fear and uncertainty of voting. An additional allocation of about PhP 10 billion is needed to implement measures that will protect citizens and create an environment of safe, secure, and credible elections. This estimate is based on international best practices, and the estimated additional cost the government needed to ensure the safe conduct of the Palawan Plebiscite in March.
Protecting voters from COVID-19 and politicking. Stricter measures should be implemented from the start of the election period to voting day. The Philippines can learn from the best practices of countries that successfully held their elections amidst the pandemic such as Indonesia, Singapore, and the United States.
There is a need to curb the expected rise in vote buying due to the country’s economic conditions. It will also be critical not to politicize impending access to vaccines by making them fairly available to all based on identified needs and criteria. Responsive, prompt, and efficient distribution of financial aid will also help reduce politicizing social development, and consequently, the elections.
Implementing an extensive information and awareness campaign on safety. To instill confidence among voters, there is a need to establish an atmosphere of safety and trust in health protocols. It is critical to provide accessible and reliable information on the safety measures done to prepare for election day, and to form effective campaigns against disinformation and misinformation that may cause fear and concern among the voters.
Promoting safe and fair new normal campaigning. There is a need to ensure that political campaigns are safe and fair, that spending is transparent, and that candidates are accountable for their actions.
Adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure transparency. Election stakeholders such as civil society organizations, other government agencies, the academe, the youth, and other sectors could be effective partners in developing and implementing appropriate policy measures and regulations for the elections. Transparency and cooperation can build the legitimacy of this democratic exercise.
We pledge to support COMELEC and other democratic stakeholders to consistently implement protocols that will ensure the success of the May 2022 elections.
We invite the more than 50 million voting population to join us in our call for a safe, fair, and free democratic exercise.
Ateneo School of Government (ASOG)
La Salle Institute of Governance (LSIG)
National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL)