By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Despite claims by the Comelec and the Arroyo government that the May 10 elections is successful and generally peaceful, foreign delegates of the People’s International Observer’s Mission (PIOM) saw otherwise. They added that if there was some degree of success in the elections, the credit should go to public school teachers and voters who endured the systematic flaws of the automated elections.
“Last May 10, teachers were scrambling to put together the vote in the face of a skeletal infrastructure provided by Smartmatic,” Stefan Cristoff said, adding that any attempt of the Smarmatic to claim credit for the success of the elections is offensive to public school teachers, who served as Board of Elections Inspectors, and to the people.
Cristoff and other delegates of the PIOM shared in a press conference Thursday May 13 their first-hand experiences when they observed the May 10 elections.
Radhika Sainath from United States said, “In 10 years of monitoring elections, I’ve never seen this level of irregularities and fraud that I witnessed on Monday.”
One of the most common forms of irregularity that they observed was vote-buying. Matthew Robert Lang, a clergy from the Presbyterian Church in the United States, said that the night before the elections, they saw people lining up in politician’s houses.
In Sorsogon, poll watchers were standing next to voters inside precincts dictating the names the voters would shade, said Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a labor relations specialist from Canada.
Aside from vote buying, cases of intimidation and violence were witnessed by the delegates. Randall Garrisson, a municipal councilor from Canada, said he saw a full range of irregularities in Lanao del Sur. He said in the press conference that he was even surprised that the Comelec did not declare fa ailure of elections in Tugaya.
Composed of academicians, lawyers, law students, journalists, social workers, union organizers, church workers, the PIOM foreign delegates documented specific cases of fraud and violence in some of the country’s hot spot areas. (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva / Kodao Productions / bulatlat.com)
“The PIOM team which visited Lanao del Sur witnessed the death of Aslia Panda in the election day violence in Tugaya,” Garrisson said, “We should also remember the 57 other people killed in pre-election violence in neighboring Ampatuan (town) last November 2009.
“The fact that two men died in a gunfight in Cavite shows that it was not a peaceful election. It is not peaceful by international standards,” Margot Hoyte from Australia said. Hoyte is a delegate of the PIOM, representing the Philippine-Australian Solidarity Association.
Aside from violence are cases of intimidation such as the presence of military and armed groups near election precincts. David Crotty of Australia said the military’s presence near election precincts is one experience that for him stood out.
Soldiers took pictures of Crotty while they were observing the polls in Abra. He told the soldiers that he only needed to google for his name or the PIOM’s for more information about them and their purpose in Abra.
Valerie Raoul, professor from the University of British Columbia, brought with her a poster she took from Abra. The poster warned the people not to vote for Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza of Makabayan who the military accuses of being members of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Sitsabaiesan said she also witnessed the same thing in Sorsogon, Bicol. In Lanao del Sur, Sainath said that the night before the elections, para-military groups were distributing leaflets admonishing the people not to vote for Ocampo, Maza and progressive party-list groups.
The Comelec concentrated on the machines and lost the people, Justine Kiwanuka said. “We came to observe a clean, democratic elections, but I cannot conclude that it was.”
The delegates of the PIOM would call another press conference on Friday May 14 to present their full report and recommendations to the government. (Bulatlat.com)