BY MIKHA FLORES
A social experiment in a town in Abra province aiming to educate and empower voters and track the causes of election violence and vote-buying has hit a brick wall. Local leaders, whose participation is crucial to the success of the project, have rejected it.
The project called ‘Restoring Electoral Integrity in Abra in 2013: A Social Experiment,’ is supposed to be piloted in Peñarrubia in Abra, but the experiment has rubbed the town officials the wrong way.
The Sangguniang Bayan of Peñarrubia has argued that it “would bring unwanted negative attention” to the town.
Town Mayor Geraldine Balbuena also questions the choice of Peñarrubia as the venue for the experiment considering, she says, that there are municipalities with worse records in terms of violence. The provincial capital of Bangued, for one, is more notorious when it comes to killings, she points out.
“Why did they choose our town (to pilot a project to restore integrity) when it doesn’t have the worst reputation,) she asked in the vernacular during a phone interview.
Abra has been called the “Killing Fields of the North” for its history of violence. The Philippine National Police has recorded 30 political killings in Abra over a span of eight years.
In the 2010 elections, 10 out of 27 towns in Abra were on the Comelec’s watchlist. Penarrubia was not on the list.
That’s precisely the reason the town was chosen for the experiment, according to Vicent Lazatin, executive director of Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), which spearheaded the initiative in cooperation with the Commission on Elections and other civil society groups.
“We think that the municipality has the potential of being a showcase of how elections can be run and how an empowered citizenry can meaningfully engage with the LGU after elections. Peñarrubia can be the shining example in Abra,” he said.
The experiment is long-term and is supposed to continue till the end of the term of elected officials. It will cover voter empowerment, engagement of candidates, enforcement of laws, social networking communications strategy and mobilizing alternative incentives, and sustainability and replication.
Recognizing that vote-buying is a “symptom of the deep-rooted and systemic politico-economic problems facing Abra” the project aims to empower voters and make them stakeholders in decision-making for Peñarrubia by persuading them not to sell their votes during elections.
Pura Sumangil of the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG) said the project will monitor the performance of elected officials and report this to the public. “Iyong performance nila will be fed to the electorate.”
With the SB’s rejection of the project, Lazatin said they are now turning to government agencies for help in pursuing their social experiment. “We will be signing a memorandum of agreement with the DILG. Hopefully the DILG can do some persuasion for the LGUs to participate…and then hopefully launch a communications plan as well,” he said.
The SB resolution passed last February 11 stated that Penarrubia “possesses (a) good name and reputation built and nurtured by its own people and leaders over long years of ennobling activities and peaceful existence” and that it “has no record of elections that have been declared as without integrity…” (see resolution below)
Although the resolution would technically have no impact since the project proponents are engaging the candidates and not the local government unit (LGU), Lazatin said in the case of Peñarrubia, the incumbent officials are also the candidates. “Then they, as candidates, will act according to the resolution,” Lazatin said over email.
He said local officials have instructed the barangays not to send people to their empowerment sessions.
Apart from TAN and CCAGG, project partners include the DLSU-Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance and the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance. – with reports from Artha Kira Paredes