May elections crucial to Philippines - NSC official

Posted at 01/10/2010 8:08 PM | Updated as of 01/10/2010 11:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE) The success of the May elections is crucial to the country’s political and economic stability in 2010 while its failure or deferment could trigger unrest, a National Security Council (NSC) official said Sunday.

“At the center of the ongoing controversy on the automated polls are fears of a no-election, no-proclamation or failed elections. Too many things, observers say, could go wrong,” said Carol Redojo, head of the NSC’s national security monitoring and assessment center.

The briefing was made by Redojo at the 38th Bishops-Ulama Conference in Davao City.

Redojo said that the potential for a crisis situation in 2010 exist because there are uncertainties and divisive issues currently surrounding the coming polls.

She said, however, that to a large extent the country’s own inexperience in poll automation may be feeding much of the public paranoia.

“…there are concerns that the Comelec [Commission on elections] would fail to meet its automation [targets]. Many areas might be disenfranchised with inadequate facilities or infrastructure for automation,” said Redojo.

Redojo said the May elections is this year’s “main event.”

“The integrity and orderliness of the coming polls is crucial in setting RP on the right track to put political and economic recovery after 2010,” said the NSC official.

Rallies, uprisings

The NSC official said a recent survey showed that the failure or deferment of the May elections could revive public inclinations towards rallies and People Power uprisings.

“In the October nationwide survey by Pulse Asia, a near majority of 49 percent said they will support, but not joining protest actions should the elections be deferred or cancelled; 41 percent said they will neither support nor join protest actions; only 10 percent said they will both support and join protesters.. the figure is higher in Metro Manila at 15 percent,” said the NSC official.

She also cited that trend of rallies launched against the government have been on the decline for the past three years citing less and less people are attending the rallies.

“The biggest rallies so far could only muster 15,000 maybe up to 20,000 protesters at a time,” said Redojo citing that “that there has been some kind of People Power fatigue."

She said immediately however that that “this does not mean it will never happen again.”

Redojo said that that one of the key reasons for the continued failure of several attempts in the past to revive EDSA-like popular revolts was “the lack of a duly private figure to rally behind under a common agenda.”

In the May elections, however, Redojo said that some parties, which she did not identify, “are configuring their campaigns to prop up their candidates, not only as next president but also as rallying figures in the event of a crisis.”

Redojo said that conditions, if opinion surveys and current rally trends are to be accepted as indicative, that would most likely push key sectors out on the streets are:

- if after elections, there would be allegations of massive cheating;
- if elections are deferred or failed, there would be allegations of government manipulations;
- if by June 30 no president is proclaimed, an unresolved vacuum arises.

Redojo admitted that the government does not have clear options should there be a failure to have a change of leadership through the May elections, that is, if elections are indeed deferred or failed.

She said that there are bills that they have filed in Congress in an “an attempt to address precisely that gap in our laws.”

She raised the question, however, if legislators can still reach a consensus and pass a law before the elections or before the terms of elected officials expire on June 30.

Through elections

Redojo said that from the NSC perspective, change should be achieved through elections.

“From the national security point of view, the normal and lawful processes rather than people power revolts is still the best path towards greater political maturity. There is a deep clamor for change among Filipinos, but the government believes that any change from 2010 and beyond should be achieved through legitimate process, performing the elections is the most important of these,” she said.

Redojo also said that a crisis need not arise, especially if the problem was caused by circumstances beyond the control of the government.

“Otherwise, should the government be blamed for the any derailment, anomalies or failure of elections, the country could be thrown on the brink, possibly create a free for all situation that could give potential adventures, dangerous ideas,” said the NSC official.

Redojo said the government hopes that it can persuade the Comelec to be transparent about the timetable of the automated elections and “come clean on its current problems, if there are any.”

The NSC official also said the public should be made aware that the government “is at the forefront of the campaign, for timely, orderly and credible elections.”

Should a crisis erupt however, Redojo assured that government would be capable of “dealing with any potential troubles that may arise before, during or immediately after elections.“

“This includes government’s readiness to exercise political will and to take full command of the situation should worst case scenarios become inevitable. Under such circumstances, only the government has the capability to restore public order,” said the NSC official.

Religious leaders, military

Meanwhile, acting National Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, who also attended, said that the meeting of the religious leaders was very important in avoiding such People Power revolts.

Aside from the national defense chief, present at the meeting were Armed Forces’ chief Gen. Victor Ibrado, the chief of the military’s armed services, all the unified area commanders, and other top military officials. Also present were all the national defense department undersecretaries, and some assistant secretaries; and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director General Milo Ibrado – an elder brother of the Armed Forces’ chief.

He said that that the “drastic political changes”, such as Edsa I and Edsa II, were influenced by two major institutions in the country – the religious community and the military.

“Remember Edsa? If the military did not join, there will be no Edsa revolution. But the military would not have joined if the military did not see Cardinal Sin and all the bishops and all the priests and the nuns and different leaders of the various courtesan congregations also going there,” said Gonzales.

“In other words, the two most important institutions that could trigger real change in the country are really the religious sector of our society and the Armed Forces,” he said.

Gonzales appealed to the religious leaders and the military officials on the May elections.

“We know in our hearts that something is wrong in our country today.. We know in our hearts that the election in 2010 may not fulfill the dreams that our nation, what our people are wishing for but it’s the right way of initiating change in the Philippines,” he said.

“Despite the limitations of our democracy, despite the hardships that our Comelec is experiencing today, we must stick to what is moral, legal, constitutional. We cannot continue to push our people to actions that are outside these parameters. In the end, it does not work,” he said.

Continuing security concerns

Redojo also informed the meeting of the religious leaders that security issues will be prominent in the government’s priorities even after the elections including the campaign against insurgents, armed groups and criminals as well as preparing for natural disasters and calamities.

On the communist insurgency, Redojo said that the military and police have already done their part in meeting the president’s directive to end the communist rebellion. She said the rest of the efforts now comes from the political side - to persuade the remaining rebels to yield their firearms and avail themselves of the government’s Social Integration Program.

Meanwhile, Redojo said that the Maguindanao Massacre was a golden reminder that election-related violence remains a part of Philippine politics.

She said that the November 23 massacre gives a warning to government that somber measures are required against armed groups including insurgents.

The NSC official said the national police believes there are more than a 100 private armies all over the country with rebel groups being the largest of them.

On the issue of loose firearms, Redojo said that National Police chief had also disclosed that from 2004 to 2008, 97.7 percent of gun-related crimes involved loose firearms.

There are more than a 1.1 million loose firearms in the county, with only less than 30,000 in the hands of rebel groups and the bulk in the hands of private armed groups, said Rodojo citing police estimates.

She said the government is implementing an enhanced amnesty program to enable the government to more effectively regulate and account weapons in the possession of non-state groups or personnel.

Redojo also cited other emerging concerns which, she said, include external developments over which the Philippines would have little or no control. These include the impact of climate change, a lingering global financial crisis, volatile oil crisis and pandemics.