Outside the room in the narrow corridor, soldiers armed with M-16s watched as people peered through the glass window. An armored personnel carrier (APC), its machine guns aimed skyward, was parked at a corner facing the hall inside the compound.
BY ABNER BOLOS
Gitnang Luzon News Service (GLNS)
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 15 May 20-26, 2007
GUIMBA, Nueva Ecija – About 30 people were huddled around the canvassing table in a small room about 6 m x 12 m at the municipal hall of Guimba, Nueva Ecija, some 153 kms. north of Manila. Outside the room in the narrow corridor, soldiers armed with M-16s watched as people peered through the glass window.
More soldiers with rifles at ready stood at the entrance of the white two-story building. An armored personnel carrier (APC), its machine guns aimed skyward, was parked at a corner facing the hall inside the compound.
It was early morning of May 15, 2007, the day after the midterm elections in the Philippines. The People’s International Observers’ Mission (P-IOM)-Nueva Ecija Team arrived here two nights earlier from Manila to observe the election in the province declared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as an “area of concern.”
After a day of visits to polling places and interviews with voters, poll watchers, village officials, teachers and Comelec officials, Rev. Larry Emery, a Presbyterian pastor from the United States and spokesperson of the 18-man team, had some definite conclusions.
“It is almost impossible to expect credible elections with the procedures that we have seen. Election laws are deliberately violated,” Emery told GLNS.
Carmen Nestad and Marcel Ingles, both from Norway, came with Pastor Emery to the town as part of the international contingent of 27 foreigners from 12 countries that fanned out to seven regions nationwide for the election monitor.
No tally board
At the canvassing room, the first thing the team saw was that there was no tally board for public viewing where the votes from the precincts were to be entered as they were canvassed.
Only the Comelec officials and teachers could see how the votes were tallied. Watchers had to look over the shoulders of the officials to check the minute numbers and letters written on the tally sheets.
There are 56,608 registered voters listed in 278 precincts in Guimba’s 64 barangays (villages). Three candidates are running against mayoral candidate Jose Francis Dizon, brother of the incumbent Mayor Bopet Dizon. The Dizons are aligned with the powerful Joson family who has dominated Nueva Ecija politics for the past four decades.
Open ballot boxes
On the night of May 14, the team observed that most of the ballot boxes being brought to the Comelec office from the barangays were open. The padlocks of most of the ballot boxes were not latched shut.
Election returns, used and unused ballots were taken out of the ballot boxes with no poll watchers present to observe and complain. Only three Comelec officials were on hand to receive and process the election materials as they came. By dawn, long rows of ballot boxes along with teachers tired of working nearly 24 hours were assembled under the trees outside the Comelec office.
On May 15, Leonardo Navarro, Guimba Comelec board of canvassers chairperson, wrote an order to “AFP personnel or military to secure the canvassing hall.” The handwritten order was made upon “verbal instruction” of Comelec director Emmanuel Ignacio, it was learned. Team members took a snapshot of the order.
Nine people have been killed in election-related violence in Nueva Ecija since the campaign period started in February. Two of the killings occurred in Guimba.
The deployment of troops at the Guimba town hall contradicted claims from local officials and the police that the election was “peaceful and orderly.” Asked why troops were deployed at the town hall, P/Supt. Danilo Fernando said “I don’t know. It was the Comelec who issued the order.”
But Emery viewed the deployment of troops as part of the pattern to “intimidate and undermine the electoral process.”
At about 9 p.m. on May 15, the canvassing was suspended and resumed shortly before 8 a.m. the following day. The reason given was that the board of canvassers was too tired to work. The suspension of the canvassing allowed for all sorts of anomalies to happen, the team noted.
Barangay Defense Sytem (BDS) checkpoints were set up along the road in all the barangays the IOM mission visited. In Barangay Yuzon, the mission interviewed voters who narrated sad experiences arising from the deployment of troops in their village since 2005 that resulted in a “new type of disenfranchisement.”
Tessa Gado, 55, told the mission that her son, John, was killed allegedly by soldiers inside their home in Yuson on July 4 last year. John was a Bayan Muna (BM) poll watcher in the 2004 elections.
All the men in her village have been physically and verbally abused by the military. Fear reigns in the village to this day, Gado said.
She said soldiers accused her son of being an NPA member. All the men in her village were beaten up or verbally abused by the military, she also said. Because of the atrocities, many residents could not vote freely for the party list of their choice.