By CIELO EUNICE FLORES
A group of international observers who monitored the May 10 elections presented its findings and recommendations to the Philippine government in a meeting with Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, co-chairperson of the Congressional committee on automated polls, May 18.
The 12 delegates who sought audience with Escudero were among the 86 foreigners who attended the People’s International Observer’s Mission (People’s IOM).
“So much chaos”, Rathika Sitsabaiesan from the New Democratic Party of Canada said of the last elections. “We, international observers consistently saw a lot of anomalies. Schools and precincts were over-crowded, and voters’ education seminars were not done or were not enough, even the training of teachers as Board of Electoral Inspectors or BEIs were insufficient. Voters were also confused on the lists and their precincts,” Sitsabaiesan said.
Sitsabaiesan went to Bicol during the elections. The other 11 were spread out to Abra, National Capital Region, Marawi, Iloilo and Surigao.
The foreign observers also noticed that there were a lot of precincts that lacked teachers, and technicians.
Not only did the observers notice the lack of staff in the precincts, they also saw the different mistakes committed by the BEIs, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting or PPCRV volunteers and poll watchers. Sitsabaiesan said they saw teachers, volunteers, and watchers scanning the completed ballots of voters before feeding it to the PCOS machines. They also ballots being exchanged through the window, which they called as “window voting.”
“In theory or by law, the COMELEC is legally responsible for the problems encountered in the elections, it is not controlled by the governor of an area or even the government,” Escudero said.
Escudero asked the international observers what actions were done by COMELEC officials and poll watchers when confronted by these problems and anomalies. Sitsabaiesan replied, “The precincts were too crowded that they could not monitor what was happening inside.”
“There are over 200,000 precincts, and it is difficult to put warm bodies in all precincts. The Comelec (Commission on Election) was not ready and they lacked time in preparing for the national automated elections,” Escudero said.
The foreign observers also said they saw the already short secrecy folders being cut because these were too few thereby resulting in the lack of secrecy in the voting process. “That is why the media was able to capture former president Estrada’s vote”, Escudero commented.
The foreign observers also told Escudero about the incidences of vote buying that they witnessed. Observers saw people lining up in politicians’ houses, people distributing campaign materials with money stapled on it, children being paid to vote, and there was one voter in Surigao who claimed that not one politician did not offer him/her money.
The international observers monitored cases of election-related violence such as gunfights. There were also cases of intimidation and harassment coming from the military, landlords and armed groups of candidates resulting in the infringement on the voter’s free will.
Some of the delegates of the People’s IOM also reported that they themselves experienced being harassed by the military.
Asked for comment, Major Enrico Ileto, assistant chief of the public affairs office of Armed Forces of the Philippines, said, “We have coordinated with the Philippine National Police or PNP and Comelec in order to ensure the success of the elections. We have also coordinated with the religious such as bishops, priests and the PPCRV.”
“We will investigate the cases they are reporting. The foreign observers can give the names of the officers involved. The appropriate punishment shall be meted on them,” Ileto said in a phone interview.
“This year’s election is more peaceful compared to the past (referring to the 2004 and 2007 elections)”, Ileto said.
Call for a Thorough Review
“We will conduct reviews, and we will gather data and turn it over to the secretariat of the committee. We will act on these problems…” Escudero told the international observers.
When Sitsabaiesan was asked about the over-all rating of the automated elections, she immediately answered, “Over-all these are our observations. It is proper for the Filipinos to evaluate their national elections.”
The Peoples’ IOM presented the following recommendations to Sen. Escudero.
For the Comelec
– to review the systems, processes, and procedures to come up with measures to address the irregularities in the voting process, and implement recommendations a year or six months before the next elections.
– Rewrite its guidelines, and reinstitute the safeguards in the automated system that the Comelec disabled for expediency.
– to fulfill certain requirements before the institutionalization of automation: adopt a system more attuned to and employing Filipinos while complying with international human rights standards on the right to political participation, and to ensure the security of the voting process without the presence of armed men.
For the new government,
– enforce laws on private armies, and political dynasties,
– stop militarization of villages, and the military violations of the sanctity of the people’s homes,
– end impunity and investigate political crimes,
– put an end to intimidation and harassment of independent candidates, and
– promote peace negotiations to address the problems confronting the Filipino people. (Bulatlat.com)