PHILIPPINES: What Comelec Needs Is A Woman

Monday, April 18, 2011
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

A senior commissioner has urged President Benigno Aquino III to appoint a woman to the remaining vacancy in the Commision on Elections (Comelec).

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said he attended in Gaborone, Botswana, last month a conference of the Global Electoral Organization—an organization of the world's election management bodies (EMBs)—where the participants called for greater attention to empowering women in the conduct and administration of elections.

“Aiming for gender balance has been observed in many countries in the appointment of a chairperson or president and commissioners of EMBs,” Sarmiento told reporters in an interview.

He recalled that the current heads of EMBs in South Africa, Angola, Ecuador, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone and Guatemala were all women. He noted that Cambodia and Latvia had five female election managers each and while Jamaica, South Africa and Palestine had two each.

“It would be worthwhile if we could have a female commissioner, especially since we just marked International Women's Month in March. Six of us here are all men,” he said.

Gender imbalance

The Comelec, he said, seemed to have a gender imbalance. Only one of the 16 regional election directors is a woman—Helen Flores of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region.

The Comelec, he said, seemed to have a gender imbalance. Only one of the 16 regional election directors is a woman—Helen Flores of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region.

Asked what the advantages of having a woman commissioner would be, Sarmiento said women could bring “fresh insights” to the commission and help members appreciate and resolve gender-sensitive issues.

Women more assertive

“There are findings that a woman who is serving in an EMB is good at networking, connecting and educating. Female election managers also tend to be assertive,” he said.

He noted that the Comelec's last female commissioner was Luzviminda Tancangco, who retired in 2004 after a six-year tenure.

Tancangco, who was also the Comelec's first non-lawyer member, was outspoken and became controversial when impeachment complaints were filed against her on the House of Representatives on two occasions.

Harriet Demetriou was the first permanent Comelec chair, serving from 1999 to 2001. The other past female commissioners were Haydee Yorac, Remedios Salazar-Fernando, Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores, Evalyn Fetalino and Graduacion Claravall.

In February, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano called for the appointment of women to the Comelec in compliance with gender equality provisions in various international agreements.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President was “aware” of the imbalance and was considering a few names to the then two vacancies in the Comelec.

Among the women nominees of civil society groups and election watchdogs were University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance Dean Edna Estefania Co and Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines former president Dr. Grace Gorospe-Jamon.

One other female nominee, information technology expert Ma. Caridad Manarang, was recently appointed deputy customs commissioner.