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March 25th, 2016
Infrastructure • Technology • Justice

Combating electoral corruption and violence in the Philippines

The 2004 election campaign in the Philippines was one of extreme violence with nearly 300 deaths. At the same time, Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec) was tarnished by corruption. In 2008 a new election commissioner took over with the brief to clean up the organisation and control the electoral violence, with a focus on the next presidential elections in 2010.

The initiative

Jose A.R. Melo, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, joined the Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2008. At the time, “he pledged publicly ... to ‘conduct the elections to such an extent that the results of the next presidential election will not be questioned'.” [4]

After the initial review in late 2009, Comelec set up a technical working group to draft new electoral rules and amend existing ones. The overall aim of the revised rulebook was

  • To reduce deaths and incidents during election time.
  • To safeguard the election process and formulate laws to reduce the use of firearms in the Philippines.

The Comelec working group published resolutions to the effect that:

  • Called for a total gun ban and restrictions on the number of security personnel a candidate could employ. Private citizens were not allowed to carry firearms, and all previously issued permits to carry guns were suspended during five months of the election campaign.
  • All candidates for mayor, governor, congressman, senator and president could use only national police personnel as guards.
  • Governed the conduct of checkpoints throughout the country.

“Comelec, the national police and the army agreed to create and operate a network of command posts, known as Joint Security Control Centres (JSCCs), that would coordinate all election-related security efforts.” [5]

The regional JSCC deployed the armed forces to polling stations where there might be violence, such as confrontations with rebel groups of  communist guerrillas,

The challenge

Presidential elections in the Philippines have often involved significant levels of violence. “The familial nature of Philippine politics was one of several factors that fuelled fierce rivalries and … persistent violence during each electoral cycle.” [1] Many politicians created their own private armies by organising and arming their supporters in order to protect themselves or engage in violence. “Political violence is a recurring problem in the country, fuelled by lax enforcement of laws and entrenched political ‘dynasties', some of whom have their own private armies.” [2]

In 2005, the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation, a unit of the Department of Justice, “released wiretapped phone conversations that suggested illegal agreement between an election commissioner, Virgilio Garcillano, and the then president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo”. [3] In 2007, the electoral commission's chairman, Benjamin Abelos, resigned amid accusations of a corrupt use of political influence. There was clearly a need for the electoral process to be reformed and freed from violence and corruption.

The public impact

During the 2010 presidential election campaign, officials reported 45 deaths and 67 election-related violent incidents, as compared with 295 deaths and 152 election-related violent incidents during the 2004 election campaign. “Despite high security, voting was marred by the deaths of at least 12 people in political violence. The deaths came after a bloody campaign period in which more than 30 people died. … In the latest reported violence, the AFP news agency said communist insurgents had ambushed an election convoy in the south of the country, killing six people and wounding 12.” [6]

The level of violence was still extremely serious, but had shown a relative decline since the previous presidential election campaign. According to Comelec, the checkpoints set up during the election period led to the arrests of 2,424 individuals and the discovery of 2,113 firearms.

There were also a significant number of deaths in the May 2016 elections.

Stakeholder engagement

The main internal stakeholder was Comelec, while others were the Department of Justice and the national police and armed forces, who worked together to formulate and implement the laws to increase safety during elections. External stakeholders included the election monitoring groups such as Vote Peace and Bantay-Eleksyon.

Political commitment

This was a government initiative, and resolutions were passed to implement the policy, including wide-ranging powers accorded to Comelec. “The constitution granted Comelec the power to deputise national police and the armed forces personnel for election-related duties, and to draft resolutions that became law without legislative approval.” [7]

Public confidence

A survey was conducted in 2010 to assess public confidence in the initiative to safeguard the election. Three-quarters of respondents were satisfied in the conduct of elections. Social Weather Stations, the polling organisation, reported that 75% of respondents in its survey were satisfied with the general conduct of the elections in 2010. The poll indicated that Melo had made significant progress towards his goal of restoring trust and credibility in the electoral process.

Moreover, the polling group said that:

“74% of respondents were satisfied with the ‘terms of the peace and order situation' during the 2010 elections.

84% were satisfied with the performance of the national police during the elections.

82% were satisfied with the armed forces' performance." [8]

Clarity of objectives

The objectives were to restore trust and credibility in the electoral process and reduce electoral violence.

Strength of evidence

Comelec commissioners, along with armed forces and the national police carried out a study in 2009 to review and examine the existing regulations, laws and mechanisms to safeguard election campaigns. The study helped them understand the regulations’ shortcomings and the past difficulties, such as the security issues faced by the government during the 2004 presidential elections.


Several concerns and problems that arose from the existing regulations were addressed and evaluated for a better formulation of policy.

For example, it was found that there was a lack of reliable data on firearms, which meant that it would be difficult to set targets and measure results. Although Comelec had instituted a gun ban for previous elections, the ban had allowed individuals to apply for exemptions that were routinely approved. This exception was withdrawn during election campaigns. Comelec commissioners also found few rules relating to the management of JSCCs, a gap which they then filled.


Melo was a former associate justice of the Supreme Court before taking on the role of chairman of Comelec and was therefore an experienced lawyer. He set up a technical working group consisting of experienced staff: a senior official from the armed forces, a general from the national police, and three senior Comelec officers. There was a clear organisational structure and roles and responsibilities were clearly defined.

“To standardise training, the working group required that all protective agents undergo a 10-day “VIP training course.” [9] A team of trainers from the national police headquarters in Manila travelled to each region and conducted training at regional police offices.”


The impact of the initiatives at the 2010 presidential elections, was gauged by a poll researched and released by the research group, Social Weather Stations (see Political commitment above). However, there was no continuous and consistent measuring of the impact.


Comelec, armed forces and national police collaborated successfully to carry out the programme to enhance security during the elections. The armed forces provided additional personnel for checkpoint duty because the national police were already thinly stretched.

There was also strong coordination between regional and municipal JSCCs. Regional and municipal JSCCs jointly decided on the number and location of checkpoints needed to enforce the election rules. For example, in Iloilo, city election chief, G. Bert Arbis, worked with the heads of the armed forces and national police to formulate a plan for the city's checkpoints.

NGO's, too, partnered effectively with Comelec to control the abuse by monitoring the conduct of the election campaign.

To raise citizens' awareness of its resolutions, Comelec advertised in two national newspapers and published the full text of the resolutions.

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