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Today is the death anniversary of Ninoy Aquino. His death marked the restoration of our freedom and political rights. As we continue to pursue our vision of total human development, it is but fitting that, in step with our economic gains, we should apply ourselves to the deepening and expansion of those political rights, among which are the universal exercise of the right of suffrage and the modernization of the electoral system.

For too long have we labored under an antiquated, inefficient and fraud- and error-prone electoral system. For too long have underprivileged sectors been effectively denied their right to vote as well as their access to elective office. These have resulted in a growing disillusionment with the electoral system and with the democratic ways of effecting reform and change in our society.

To address these concerns and thereby promote more lasting peace in our country, there is a widespread clamor from the citizenry to reform and modernize the electoral system. A new Omnibus Election Code had been formulated in 1993 that would modernize as well as institute sweeping electoral and legal reforms. The proposed code was the product of consultations with those who are directly involved in elections, such as political parties, legal practitioners, the field offices of the Comelec itself and various NGOs. However, the enactment of an omnibus code met with great resistance from the legislators as they found the task of tackling and passing a new code too daunting, though it was not beyond Congress to pass other codes such as the Local Government Code.

Congress to date has not risen to the challenge of taking a great leap towards the future. It has preferred to take reform and modernization a step at a time. It passed only one major electoral reform measure in the ninth Congress -- the implementation of the Party-List sytem which is provided by the Constitution. Other reforms mandated by the Constitution remain dormant for lack of congressional action.

Moreover, in the case of modernization, the introduction of electronic counting and canvassing is being delayed by false issues on the applicability of optical scanning technology to elections due to incompetent and misleading advise to the Senate, which was taken at face value by the Department of Science and Technology. This was aggravated by the imprudent choice of unsuitable equipment for the pilot-testing of the system in the ARMM elections. Yet, the use of optical scanning technology in elections is a proven technology with proven safeguards.

For the restive and increasingly alienated citizenry, the resulting pace of electoral reforms is too slow. The stakes are too high. The May 1998 elections will be hotly contested and the elections must be clean, credible and efficiently conducted so that, like the 1992 presidential elections, the country is assured of a peaceful transfer of power.

Today, with the May 1998 elections just around the corner and the tenth Congress coming to a close, only one major electoral reform law has been passed: the General Registration and Continuing Registration Law. The following critical electoral reform measures still have to be enacted:

1) Modernization, or the use of electronic machines for vote counting and canvassing which will make the vote count quicker, more accurate and less prone to post-election error or fraud of which the most notorious is the<+"> "dagdag-basas" scheme at the municipal and provincial canvassing.

2) Absentee voting which will finally enable the OCWs to vote as well as win Congressional seats under the Party-List System of representation to the House of Representatives for which they, as well as other underprivileged sectors, are qualified to participate under R.A. 7941.

3). Election of sectoral representatives to the local Sanggunians, as provided by the Local Government Code but which still needs an enabling law (as per R.A. 7887) in order to be implemented in 1998.

We realize that these electoral reform measures are less than what is needed to totally reform the system. We also realize that many safeguards and much dedication are needed to properly implement these measures, both from government agencies and private sector groups involved in elections. These reforms precisely challenge - Congress to enact good laws with adequate safeguards, responsible officials and private sector groups to conduct effective public education campaigns, and all of us citizens to be ever vigilant and tenacious in protecting the ballot.

We recognize that time is beginning to run out. But we should not be deterred. The task is not impossible. And we look on all these as reasons to press on and to appeal to the legislators who share our concerns to re-double their efforts for the immediate passage of these laws.

Congress has shown that it can pass in the record time of seven sessions measures that it considers urgent, for which it claims credit. It is the same sense of urgency and resoluteness that we hope to see in Congress, particularly the Senate, with respect to the enactment of electoral reform measures so that we can rightly claim that we are moving towards the third millenium with political maturity and unswerving commitment to total human development.

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Christian Action for Peaceful and Meaningful Elections
Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
Tel. No. 924-4951 local 3588, Fax No. 924-4442
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