A Guardian of Electoral Transparency

While the entire world was eagerly watching the US presidential elections this week, a most noteworthy event was also happening in America.

From November 4-7,  the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) US Election Program, brought together over 300 election officials, parliamentarians and diplomats from over 50 countries to observe and learn about the US electoral system, as well as to discuss elections and voting from comparative international perspectives.

As the global leader in democracy promotion, IFES advances good governance and democratic rights by providing technical assistance to election officials; empowering the underrepresented to participate in the political process; and applying field-based research to improve the electoral cycle. Since 1987, IFES has worked in over 135 countries, from developing democracies, to mature democracies.

The 2012 IFES gathering was especially significant to the Filipino community, because our very own kababayan was honored and recognized as the 2012 Recipient of the Joe C. Baxter Award, which is presented annually to a professional committed to the principles of local ownership, transparency and sustainability of electoral administration.

Former Chairman of the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC),  Christian S. Monsod, received the award on November 5 at a reception in Washington, D.C. Besides being former COMELEC Chairman, Christian Monsod is also the founder and honorary chairman of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) and pioneer of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL).

IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney said, “This year’s Baxter Award is of special significance as IFES celebrates 25 years of success and recognizes Monsod’s lifetime achievements in the field of election administration. We couldn’t be honoring a more fitting and deserving individual who fully epitomizes our mission of democracy building and passionate dedication to giving a voice to the underrepresented in the way they are governed.”

Monsod  is widely recognized for reshaping election administration in the Philippines. He has built a track record for upholding rule of law and claiming social justice for Philippine’s marginalized sectors.

The Baxter Award is given in memory of longtime IFES employee Joe C. Baxter, who directed IFES’ work in Ghana and was respected internationally for his expertise and commitment to promoting democratic rights.

“I am deeply honored at being the 2012 recipient of the Joe C. Baxter Award of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. I consider it an affirmation by an acknowledged international expert institution of the pioneering efforts taken by the Philippines to modernize its election system. We look forward to a continuing association with IFES in the ongoing reforms to further strengthen and broaden the choices of the voters by addressing such problems as dysfunctional political parties, the improper use of money including government resources, and of warlordism and political dynasties in a number of constituencies,” said Monsod.

In his acceptance speech, Monsod gave tribute to the “spirit of volunteerism” that continues to be “the moving force” for change in the county.

“In the battle for change, legal activism and intelligent advocacy are more effective than sloganeering and street action. Hence, the continuing dialogue with the COMELEC on electoral reforms, and civil society’s support for the COMELEC’s efforts to overhaul the seriously flawed implementation of the party-list system in the House of Representatives,” he said.

Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr, who attended the awarding ceremonies and also worked with Monsod in NAMFREL said: “This award is well-deserved because I am personally aware of the significant contributions of Chairman Monsod to the Philippine electoral system starting in his days as a NAMFREL volunteer to the time he assumed as Chair of the COMELEC.”

The IFES acclaimed Monsod in its website, saying: “Monsod has reshaped electoral administration in the Philippines, focusing on building transparent processes and ensuring greater participation of traditionally marginalized populations. His leadership, vision, managerial competence and independence were instrumental in rebuilding integrity and public confidence in the COMELEC. As the founding chairman of LENTE, he continues to be a moving force shaping the organization’s direction and inspiring young recruits to improve the state of Philippine democracy.”

Career

In 1986-1987, Monsod was the secretary general and national chairman of NAMFREL ,which was formerly accredited by the COMELEC as a poll watchdog, and played a key role during the 1986 presidential elections, releasing “quick counts” to the public. NAMFREL poll watchers accused then President Ferdinand Marcos of rigging election results, which sparked the People Power Revolution that catapulted Corazon Aquino to the presidency.

In 1991, Christian Monsod was appointed by President Aquino as Chairman of  the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) wherein he served until he retired on February 15, 1995. He  instituted electoral reforms which paved the way for a clean, honest and orderly 1992 presidential elections. During his last days as COMELEC chairman, he strongly advocated the modernization of the electoral process to preserve the country’s democracy.

The husband of former Socio-Economic Planning Secretary, popular economist and media personality Solita “Winnie” Monsod, Christian Monsod has been a member of the Philippine Bar since 1960. After passing the bar, he worked in the law office of his father. From 1963-1970, he worked in the World Bank Group as operations officer in Costa Rica and Panama. In 1970, he joined the Meralco Group as CEO of investment banking.

He  served civic, business, and professional organizations in various capacities: as member of the Fact-Finding Commission on the Coup Attempts; national co-chairman of the Bishop-Businessmen’s Conference on Human Development; executive director of the National Coalition for Transparency; chairman of the Evelio B. Javier Foundation, Inc.; secretary-general and later, national chairman of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, or NAMFREL.

In 1986, he was appointed as member of the Philippine Constitutional Commission serving as chairman of the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and over-all chairman of the Constitution Education Committee for Plebiscite.

Awards and accolades

Some of the awards given to Monsod include the following: 1975, one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardees; Man of the Year in 1993 by the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines; Special Citation for Exemplary Performance in Government Service in 1995 by the Joaquin “Chino” Roces Foundation; and a Special Citation for Leadership and Invaluable Contribution to Democracy, Development and Peace by the Aurora Aragon Quezon/Concerned Women of the Philippines in 1995;  The Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL) Awardee for Government Service in 1995.

In a TOFIL column written by Karen Plata, Monsod shared how COMELEC truly impressed him. “When I arrived at the COMELEC, I had some negative pre-conceived ideas about the bureaucracy. I went in there thinking, well, this is going to be hard. And I was so pleasantly surprised that there was so much competence and integrity in an institution that is supposed to be one of the most corrupt. These people in COMELEC have all the competence and wanted so much to be honest in the elections, but they had the problem of dysfunctional leadership. I remember when I went around the country, I talked to COMELEC people, and there was this election officer who mustered the courage to stand up and tell the chairman of the COMELEC, you know, I want to tell you that we are like tributaries of a river. Our waters are clean if the source of the water is clean. And I know that they really wanted to see their leaders practice it. And frankly, I left COMELEC a great believer of bureaucracy,” he said.

Personal and family life

Christian and Winnie Monsod, who have been married for over 50 years, are the proud parents of five children holding different careers: Solita Noemi, Melissa, Teresa Patricia, Christian Enrique, and Katrina Diane Noelle.

Christian’s wit and sense of humor was displayed recently during an interview on KrisTV over ABS-CBN. Speaking about the secret to their long marriage he said: “We were best friends first for a long time. We were confidants to each other. She even chaperoned some of my dates. She did not know she was in love with me, until I told her. I spoke to her for 3 or 4 hours one time and then I convinced her that she was really in love with me.” Christian said convincing Winnie to admit that she was in love with him is “the first and only argument I’ve won in our marriage.”

(LA Weekend November 10-13, 2012 Sec. A pg.10)

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