Sep 222014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA1529 2005-04-04 00:07 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Preparations for August 8 ARMM elections

¶B. MANILA 646
¶C. 04 MANILA 6032
¶D. 04 MANILA 4416

¶1. (SBU) Summary: Over 1.1 million people are registered
for the August 8 election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim
Mindanao (ARMM). Election officials hope for the first time
to use automated counting machines, originally purchased for
the May 2004 nationwide elections but subsequently impounded
by order of the Supreme Court due to allegations of
corruption. The USG-funded Consortium for Political Process
Strengthening (CEPPS) is working to help the GRP and civil
society groups unite their efforts in the most effective
manner. Electoral reform advocates want the ARMM election
to demonstrate improvements in the aftermath of the
controversial 2004 elections. End Summary.

COMELEC Preparations

¶2. (U) According to Commission on Elections (COMELEC)
officials, approximately 30,000 people registered during the
recent registration drive (which closed on March 15) for the
August 8 ARMM elections for governor, a vice-governor, and
members of the regional legislative council based in
Cotabato City. COMELEC will add these new registrants to
the current validated list, which contains some 1.1 million
voters. COMELEC officials noted that the ARMM — consisting
of the five provinces of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi,
Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur — had nearly 2.5 million
inhabitants during the last census in 2000, of whom over 90
percent were Muslim and only 68 percent were literate.
COMELEC officials expressed satisfaction that over 85
percent of the total voting age population had now

¶3. (SBU) COMELEC is focusing on a voter education drive.
Milagros Desamitos, COMELEC’s Director of Voter Education
for the ARMM, told poloff that his office is training a
multi-sectoral group — the Electoral Reform Association
(ERA) — in how to disseminate voter information and
encourage wider civic participation in the coming election.
ERA membership includes the editor of the leading Tawi-Tawi
newspaper, several professors from Mindanao State
University, other local NGOs, and faith-based community
groups from both Muslim and Christian areas. Desamitos
reported that COMELEC provincial office directors from Sulu,
Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao were actively encouraging local
government officials to join in ERA’s efforts. Major voter
education challenges include obtaining valuable media
airtime on local radio and television, as well as providing
information in the native dialects of the ARMM provinces.
Desamitos reported that COMELEC was coordinating with the
Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA), under the Office of the
President, and had already obtained translators to assist
with Tausug, Yakan, Maranaw, and Maguin — the main dialects
in the ARMM other than Visayan dialects, which are common
throughout Mindanao.

¶4. (SBU) COMELEC is also trying to obtain automated
counting machines to use in the election. COMELEC
Commissioners recently met with Supreme Court Chief Justice
Hilario Davide, who indicated that the Court might be
favorably inclined to allowing the limited use of a number
of the currently embargoed counting machines this August.
(Note: The machines, originally intended for the May 2004
national elections, were impounded when the Supreme Court
ruled in early 2004 that the COMELEC contract to purchase
them was illegal and probably corrupt. End note)
Commissioners noted that the Solicitor General had filed
comments with the Court indicating his approval of COMELEC’s
petition to use several hundred of the machines in the
election. COMELEC officials predicted that the use of
machines would vastly improve the counting process and thus
speed up reporting of the final poll results.

Civil Society Efforts

¶5. (SBU) In addition to the COMELEC-driven ERA effort, the
Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER), a coalition of NGOs
focused on advancing electoral reforms, is also planning to
encourage active citizen participation in the August 8
election. CER plans to hold a summit of NGO, GRP, and
business (primarily media) representatives in May or June
2005 in Cotabato City in order to train participants as
electoral observers and voter assistance volunteers.
According to both COMELEC’s Desamitos and CER’s Chairman
Ramon Casiple, the national Catholic group Parish Pastoral
Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), which is also a CER
member, is trying to mount an ARMM-focused educational
campaign but has encountered some resistance on the ground
in the ARMM from Muslim groups. PPCRV’s large staff of
mostly young volunteers played a major stabilizing role as
domestic observers and by manning thousands of voter
assistance booths at the precinct level during the May 2004
elections. PPCRV’s effort in the ARMM will continue, but
CER’s Casiple said that other NGOs in CER were also reaching
out to the networks of both the Moro National Liberation
Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Role of CEPPS

¶6. (U) The USG-funded Consortium for Political Process
Strengthening (CEPPS) is working to help the GRP and civil
society groups unite their efforts in the most effective
manner. As part of CEPPS, a representative of the U.S.-
based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES)
is now in the Philippines working on electoral reform with
the major players. An important near-term priority for the
IFES representative is arranging an information technology
expert’s review of COMELEC’s IT strategy. In addition, the
IFES representative is working to provide phased funding and
material preparation assistance for CER’s voter education
and information drive. IFES also plans to bring in a
campaign finance expert to assist Philippine congressional
electoral reform committee members regarding possible
legislation in this area.

¶7. (U) Beyond providing technical assistance to both
COMELEC and CER, the CEPPS effort is targeting voter
education opportunities, in which it can encourage the GRP
and civil society to leverage each other’s materials and
training plans. CEPPS has arranged meetings with COMELEC,
CER, and other interested organizations, including the UNDP
and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Institute, in order to foster
and sustain lasting public-private partnerships of experts
in the field. CEPPS’ aim is for these linkages to support
real reform in time for the ARMM election, as well as to lay
a sustainable foundation for reform building toward the mid-
term 2007 national elections.


¶8. (SBU) Electoral reform advocates want the ARMM election
to demonstrate improvements in the electoral system in the
aftermath of the controversial May 2004 elections. So far,
COMELEC and civil society efforts seem to be effectively
addressing some of the chronic problems that have afflicted
Philippine elections, including patchy voter registration
lists, antiquated election counting procedures, and
inadequate public information campaigns. Campaign-related
violence and vote buying, however, likely will nonetheless
plague these elections, despite procedural and technological
improvements. The CEPPS project underscores strong USG
support for the overall reform effort.



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