International Observers Rebut AFP Excuse for Delaying Them

May 17, 2007 – 11:14 p.m.

“How can we harass them when they have the guns?”

“They delayed our trip and hindered us from reaching the areas where we want to observe the elections. Instead of aiding us in this undertaking, which is even welcomed by the Philippine government, they were harassing us and even blaming us for it.”

This is the reaction of Minerva Gutierrez, a Canadian delegate to the People’s International Observers Mission (People’s IOM) in Cebu in response to the statement of the AFP regarding the conduct of the checkpoint in Brgy. Guinabasan , Asturias , Cebu .

In his statement in a local newspaper, Lt. Col. Jefferson Omandam, spokesperson of the Central Command spokesperson, said that foreign observers should understand that in conducting checkpoints, as part of the security measures during elections, delays in their trips are expected. He stressed it was not meant to harass them.

He also added that foreign observers were the first to take pictures of the soldiers.

“Of course, we took their pictures; it is part of our documentation. What have they got against that?” Gutierrez asked.

Elizabeth Hendrickson, an American delegate also to the IOM refutes Omandam’s statement.

“They (the military) overstepped the bounds of what they are authorized to do in a checkpoint. They did not even present any document or memo from the COMELEC authorizing them to conduct a checkpoint in that manner. We have nothing against them conducting checkpoints, we are not asking for special treatment. But the method they conducted it, reeked of harassment,” Hendrickson explained.

According to the IOM team the soldiers manning the checkpoint led by Sgt. Ronald Pastrana flagged their vehicles twice at around 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm last May 14, 2007. The soldiers held the delegates for 10-15 minutes as they were listing the names and taking the pictures of the delegation. They also took down the plate numbers of the vehicles.

When they asked what the pictures are for, the soldiers replied: “Kay nag picture man sad mo namo. Mao man ni ang sugo gikan sa taas.” (Because you were also taking pictures of us. We are only following orders from our superiors.)

Omandam said they are going to use the pictures as documentation of after-checkpoint activities.

“If so, they should have taken down the names and the pictures of all the passengers and vehicles which were passing through. Why were we treated differently?” Hendrickson said.

According to the IOM team, as they were being held, other vehicles were passing through the said checkpoint but they were not stopped by the military.

The IOM team was able to witness the voting and canvassing in the areas of Tuburan, Toledo City , Aloguinsan and Cordova last May 14-15, 2007. The findings and observations of the team will be compiled together with the reports from the teams in other places of the Philippines.(

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