Gearing up for the 2022 national polls, various civil society organizations, academe, government agencies, and other stakeholders met last December 2020 to discuss the challenges in holding the elections during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This year has remarkably changed the way democracy is carried out in different parts of the world. When the COVID-19 crisis took over 2020, governments have been forced to carry out their duties of upholding and protecting the rights of citizens in different ways. Suffrage, a significant hallmark of any democratic institution, has unfortunately been among the pandemic’s biggest casualties. But while some countries have decided to postpone their elections, others like the US pushed through with theirs, although with significant alterations.
Here in the Philippines, the pandemic has gravely challenged our nation in more ways than one. Our country has been wracked with issues like the growing cases of human rights violations, red tagging, and other threats to democracy. The looming elections in 2022 has been another cause for concern. Although the government currently seems firm in pushing through with it as scheduled, the way forward is still stricken with ambiguity.
In response to this, the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS), in partnership with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Ateneo School of Government (ASOG), and the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), held a webinar series with different sectors to gather their insights on the upcoming elections. The ALERTAyo webinar series which included the participation of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), not only seeks to ensure that the electoral process is safe amid the pandemic, but also that it remains accessible and inclusive while still maintaining the integrity of the Filipino people’s decision. The sessions were strategically divided in order to focus on particular issues that plague specific sectors. Among those invited were LGBTQ+ groups, Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) and Persons with Disability (PWD), youth groups, as well as tech groups.
Through the ALERTayo webinar series, the consortium of organizations was able to identify key problems and notable recommendations. This includes the conduct of gender-sensitive training and the creation of gender-disaggregated data for registration by COMELEC, the possible use of the national ID system for voters’ registration, the creation of working groups comprised of tech experts and election officials to address counting and transmission of votes, and the possibility of PDLs having virtual sessions with candidates, among others.
The results of the roundtable discussions with the different groups have shown that the Philippines still has a long way to go before we can say that our elections are fully inclusive-- and sadly, the pandemic has only exacerbated existing marginalization and the inaccessibility of the process. But through similar initiatives, we hope to steadily move forward. The coming together of groups--civil society organizations, specific sectors, and government institutions--can only serve to propel us in our mission of an ultimately FIT (Fair, Inclusive, Transparent) election; it is also further proof that democracy can prevail even amid a harrowing global crisis.