With the theme: "Strengthening People's Participation for Electoral Reform," the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) - International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc. (Citizens CARE) organized the meeting held at the Garden Orchid Hotel.
The gathering was aimed at expanding the Citizens CARE membership, electing new set of Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, finalizing and approving the Citizens CARE Constitution and By-Laws, including its operational policies, and orienting the general membership on election monitoring in preparation for the forthcoming elections.
In an interview, Ms. Beverly Hagerdon-Thakur, chief of party from IFES, told reporters they gathered here in the city to conduct a general assembly and election monitoring training for the new members of Citizens CARE.
Thakur, who came to the Philippines in 2004 as a part of small delegation from IFES, which assessed the election process in the country, said she found out that there was a need to support civil society here to advance election reforms.
Currently, the USAID-IFES is working with Comelec in the ARMM on developing training program for the commission staff and civil society organizations such as the Citizens CARE in the Muslim autonomous region.
It is also working to develop internal training capacity within the Comelec on better education, legal reform and looking at automation trying to provide technical assistance and trainings.
It is also offering information about various international standards and election administration and management from around the world as well as offering lessons learned from other countries that have similar growing pains in their own democracy.
"So this is something that as some of the speakers were saying earlier, there were always be a need for election reforms. This is always something that every country has to look at and see is the current system serving the citizens or there is something that we could be doing better," she said.
Citing Unite States as a very good example, she said right now the states are going to implement the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which establishes voting systems standards that address standards for voting machines, voter registration and polling place accessibility, among other voting issues.
"This means that they (Americans) should be automating all their election process and from that experience there are a lot of lessons learned that could be possibly applied in the Philippines that might be looking at automating the election," she added.
"So we just try to bring some of that information into the debate here in the Philippines to raise a level of information and discussion so that the best decision can be made by decision makers for the Filipino people and to ensure that as many stakeholders are involved as possible."
Mr. Gerry Porta, USAID-Philippines senior civic participation specialist; Atty. Paisal Padate, Basilan provincial Comelec supervisor; Col, Andre Mark Costales, chief of staff of WesMinCom; Mr. Abdulhabil Saudi, ARMM DILG director; Brig. Gen. Bensali Jabarani, PNP-ARMM deputy regional director; and Mr. Hamid Ladja Kahal, DepEd-ARMM secondary director graced yesterday's assembly.