Response of Christian S. Monsod on being given the Joe C. Baxter Award for 2012
by the IFES, Ritz Carlton Hotel, Washington DC, November 5, 2012
I am deeply honored at being given the Joe
C. Baxter award for 2012 by the International Foundation for
Electoral Systems. I thank its Board of Directors and its Philippine
Office for this unexpected honor. It is a most welcome boost to the
task of nation-building of which IFES has been a valued partner
through the years.
I accept this award as an affirmation by an acknowledged
international expert of the pioneering efforts of the Philippines to
modernize its election system. I accept this award as a tribute to
the spirit of volunteerism that is the moving force in our efforts
at reform as a nation, whether in mobilizing 500,000 ordinary
citizens to protect the ballot or in empowering the basic sectors in
their quest for social justice. Volunteerism, at its finest, is
Free, fair and regular elections is really about social justice,
with the ballot being the only right in a democratic system where
everyone can be truly equal. But social justice is also about social
reform programs where the goal is not equality but equity to make
sure that nobody is left behind by development.
Guns and goons kill in elections. But poverty also kills. It is slow
death from hunger, from diseases that we thought no longer existed,
from the loneliness of a life with an empty future. It is also the
“dying of dignity”.
Clearly our political and economic development must go hand in hand
with social reform. Not only because social justice is a compelling
moral issue but also because conclusive empirical evidence tell us
that sustained high economic growth is not possible unless we also
address the problem of inequality. In other words, social justice
makes good economic sense as well. And that means not only income
reform – quality education, universal health care and livelihood
opportunities - but also asset reform, which is primarily about land
and natural resources.
Reforming our election system has been a rocky journey -- from one
that was misused by a dictatorship to stay in power to a manualized
system that was so tantalizingly vulnerable to cheating that few
politicians could resist doing it. Certainly, the overdue nationwide
adoption in 2010 of an automated system was a signal achievement
widely appreciated by our voters for reporting credible results
within hours of the vote. But my colleagues from the Philippine
Commission on Elections (“Comelec”), who are here today know, from
the lessons of 2010, that the automated system needs major
enhancements, especially on such issues as internal rigging,
auditability, disenfranchisement. And it cannot be vendor-driven.
Moreover, our systemic problems, which may not be similar to those
in more matured democracies like the United States, need equal if
not more attention. What’s the point of an accurate and speedy count
when what is being counted are votes that have been devalued by (1)
the improper, even illegal, use of money, including government
funds, (2) dysfunctional political parties, (3) warlordism and (4)
entrenched political dynasties?
Yet, despite its shortcomings, our people overwhelmingly prefer
elections for choosing or changing their leaders as against a
military takeover, a revolutionary government, a self-serving
revision of the Constitution or a people power upheaval. To them,
elections is about political power that they did not have in a
dictatorship. And they vote with a high turnout of about 75%.
But to improve their lives, the people say that they rely only on
themselves with the use of people power in their own communities.
They no longer go to the streets to serve the agenda of politicians.
This is the changing paradigm of people power. It’s a good omen for
the future, but there is still the challenge to democracy to make
good on its promises.
In 1986, when we liberated ourselves from martial rule, the rich and
the poor, stood side by side in a spontaneous moment of solidarity,
and we promised one another that we would bring our nation to
greatness with a better future for all.
But today, mass poverty is still with us and income inequality has
not changed in 26 years. We have not done very well by our poor, and
we know this must change.
In the battle for change, legal activism and intelligent advocacy
are more effective than sloganeering and street action. Hence, the
continuing dialogue with the Comelec on electoral reforms, and civil
society’s support for the Comelec’s efforts to overhaul the
seriously flawed implementation of the party-list system in the
House of Representatives.
Hence, the example of volunteer lawyers crossing the social divide
to help the poor get land that they can call their own, decent
housing, the protection of their fishing grounds from pouchers and
of their ancestral lands from the environmental degradation of
In 2006, volunteer lawyers took then President Arroyo to Court on
her attempt to circumvent the constitutional term limits by revising
the Constitution itself. The Supreme Court ruled against Arroyo by a
close vote of 8-7 where 10 of the justices she appointed were split
5-5 on the legality of her peoples’ initiative.
In 2010, volunteer lawyers also fought the family of our incumbent
President Aquino in the courts for the distribution to the farmers
of the largest sugar plantation in the country, which the family had
avoided for 23 years. In April this year, the Supreme Court by a
vote of 14-0, including the three appointees of Aquino to the Court,
finally ordered the distribution of some 5,000 hectares to about
6,000 farmers, a decision which has been accepted by the President
and is now being carried out.
These are certainly notable victories. Unfortunately, there are not
enough of them to change the national landscape because our society
is still in the grip of a feudalism where many in the leadership
elite subscribe to a discredited trickle-down economics that
preserves their privileges and widens the gap between the rich and
the poor. This must change if we are to build a just and progressive
We know that this journey takes time and is never easy. But making
the journey is half the battle won. And we shall keep on trying –-
again and again, in isolated rural areas and in the majestic halls
of justice, and in elections after elections after elections until
we get the country we deserve.
Thank you and good evening.