Voters' Education: A challenging new experience for us

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.3, No.1
by Bp. Benedicto S. Navarro, Chairperson, NAMFREL-Marikina
It was no easy task, but we took the challenge. To even think of pulling the people out from what they have been used to doing for decades, in fact every election since the Philippines gained its independence and began exercising their right of suffrage, has been like fighting an invisible foe. But nevertheless, since we were given this task, then, we had to do it.

The first thing we did was to come up with the content of the Voter's Education program and how to execute it. We considered the uniqueness and demography of the people in our City so that the content of our Voter's Ed could be suited to their intellectual mind-set and needs.

We received the Manual for VotEd from the Namfrel Secretariat and gathered some other materials and came up with our own which we called "Electoral Community Forum." So that it would be more effective, we came up with a Tagalog version. We decided to limit the time of the entire seminar to two hours with this simple outline: What to do during Election Day; What not to do; What are the Basis in Selecting the Right Candidates; and, what is the PCOS machine and How to Use it. Then we selected from among ourselves who will talk on which topic, giving each speaker fifteen to twenty minutes to talk on his topic. To draw crowds, we encouraged communities to participate by way of young people or children who formed themselves into dance groups or singing groups. Or, raffle something. We did everything just to draw a good crowd.
Our plan was to saturate the different Barangays with our message and the question was how to do it in the fastest way at the minimum of cost. Fortunately, one of our members own a Mobile Stage Truck and he offered us the use of it. Of course we grabbed the opportunity and made full use of it. Our organization included a Coordinator for each Barangay; we then asked each coordinator to organize for us community and sectoral forum in the different Barangays. In Marikina, we have sixteen Barangays, and we averaged two to three forums a day. We would position our Mobile Stage in strategic locations, like market places, basketball courts, in front of churches, squatters' areas, schools, etc. We even developed our own Election Song which we played before our forum to draw crowd; we encouraged the audience to learn the song, and we held a contest among the children in the audience that whoever could sing it would receive something, most of the time, candies.

We visited all sixteen Barangays; each visit we averaged reaching three to five hundred people. On May 11, two days before Election Day, from 3 in the afternoon to 10 in the evening, we held a Marikina-wide mobile voters education saturation campaign (18 stop-overs, 20 minutes teaching per stop over, average 555 people per stopover or 10,000 people reached, not to mention our mobile announcements in between stop-overs covering an approximate audience of additional 30,000 people.
Photo: https://www.facebook.com/C2G2MarikinaElectionWatch2013
.. However, we have the following observations. We were informed that certain officials coerced and intimidated prospect attendees not to participate in the sessions. Voters' apathy or lack of interest among target participants were observed to be significant in numbers. Traditional selection criteria in choosing candidates were observed based on popularity or celebrity status, affiliation, acquaintance, influence, coercion/intimidation, brainwashed blockvoting, patronage, etc. Ignorance and poverty were used by the politicians to persuade them to sell their votes and/or offer them in-kind products, services, such as bags of rice and groceries and/or hiring them as watchers, volunteers and campaigners. Also observed were the use of government vehicles in transporting their supporters and campaign paraphernalia as well as the use of government facilities as venues for their campaign sorties, including the use of communication equipment for the same purposes, e.e. mobile phones, internet connection, landlines, computers, laptops, etc. and, the use of the more than 6,000 city employees as harassed and coerced campaigners in support of the administration party-candidates for electioneering purposes.
We plan to continue educating our people in-between elections. This is the only way, we believe, that graft and corruption can be curved. An empowered, well-informed population can never be fooled, harassed or coerced by anybody.