(Editor's note: Ruth was one of NAMFREL's 8 interns from UP Manila for the 2013 elections. She was joined by Via Cabatu, Kristine Cardona, Joana Castro, Eliana Cortes, Fatima del Rosario, Karel Galang, and Roma Monzon.)
There is no greater volunteerism than that of
protecting democracy itself.
As Political Science students, the main objective of the practicum was for us to see the dynamics of theory and practice. Our usual curriculum allowed 200 hours spent in either a government or non-government office, if not in a far-flung area for immersion trips.
Since it was election season, the Department of Social Sciences (DSS) of UP Manila preferred to have us spend the full 200 hours in a nongovernment organization or in an immersion. In the past academic years, the students were given a hundred hours for both government and nongovernment organizations. The feedback we received from the upper batch, however, was usually of warning rather than encouragement. We feared having to succumb into clerical work, or worse, being told to make coffee instead of reports.
Ruth (second row, first from right), with the
other trainees and volunteers)
From Principles to Dynamics
We knew the basic principle of election: voting for people who will be vested with enormous powers to lead the country. By virtue of the elections, our political leaders become accountable to the populace. As such, it becomes the greatest foundation for good governance. The principles were very clear; the dynamics, however, were yet to be identified.
We knew how the elections worked in face value. Whatever happens beyond the surface are mere accounts that we could read or hear elsewhere. But to verify information and to be in contact with NAMFREL’s local chapters enabled us to have a clearer image of what really happens during elections. It is to our utmost dismay to find that the very foundation of our democracy can no longer be relied upon. But this does not mean that we should lose faith in the system. Rather, it is NAMFREL’s duty to ensure that it will be improved.
Vote buying, electoral violence, use of government
resources, threat and intimidation, biased media
reports, private armies – we can learn all these
through the news. But what would it feel like if you
talked to someone from Mindanao, reporting to the
National Headquarters, in the middle of a
cross-fire? What would it feel like if you talked to
someone who is reporting about vote buying
activities, but reminds you to keep his/her
anonymity for safety reasons? What if you learned
that field volunteers already fear for their safety
because candidates can identify if they are members
The volunteers knew the risks that their job entailed. They knew the sacrifices they were about to make. But as Mr. Lester Toribio, chair of NAMFREL Manila chapter said in one of our meetings, “Kung hindi tayo, sino?”
The election was both important and vulnerable, and it always will be – that is why election watchdogs exist.
The 2013 Elections was the best stage to observe the interplay of civil society, government, and COMELEC. NAMFREL may have exposed truths about the unreliability of PCOS machines, but it was never our intention to defame the elections. In fact, it was our intention to make them more transparent and reliable. We may have exposed realities of vote buying activities in almost every part of the Philippines, but it was never out intention to dispense the importance of voting.
NAMFREL may have exposed many truths and realities to the point of risking its accreditation, but never did it waver from its mandate.
As UP students, we have always been reminded to give back to the country. When and in what manner was up to our discretion. NAMFREL provided us that opportunity. It was an office, with a network of field volunteers that we gradually learned to treat as our family.
To the local chapters who may have wondered who we were in the beginning, we have offered you our time and dedication, and it would be more than an honor to know if we have done justice to your sacrifices.
To the National Headquarters, we express our gratitude for accommodating us, for treating us as a real staff, and for trusting us in handling the big responsibility of monitoring the projects and communicating with the local chapters. Although you may repeatedly tell us that we have been a big help, I believe that the favor is still ours to return. We owe you our experience, our knowledge, and our newfound opportunities.
We may have sacrificed sleep, and we may have acquired deeper eye bags for that matter. We may have had arguments with some local chapters, and we may have faltered a little. We may have been drained of energy and we may have struggled. But we have stood our ground. All this, motivated by a simple question: “Kung hindi tayo, sino?”
Now, 2016 awaits.