Int’l observers: May 9 PH vote falls short of free, fair election standards | Inquirer News

Int’l observers: May 9 PH vote falls short of free, fair election standards

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 03:52 PM May 20, 2022
overseas voting

IMAGE: Daniella Marie Agacer

MANILA, Philippines—The election was “not free and fair”.

Séverine De Laveleye, a Belgian parliamentarian, said this as she presented the interim report of the International Observer Mission (IOM) on the May 9 elections.

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The IOM, which was launched by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines on Feb. 7 as a response to InvestigatePH’s recommendation last year, had observed the 2022 elections.

READ: International observer mission launched to monitor 2022 polls

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De Laveleye, who is an IOM commissioner, said the election was “marred by a higher level of failure of the electronic voting system than ever before,” saying that these were likewise observed:

• Rampant vote-buying
• Disturbing levels of state and military-orchestrated red-tagging
• Incidents of deadly violence

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

The IOM had monitored the election since February, the start of the 90-day campaign period. It was in the first week of April when the IOM placed observers “on the ground” to document the election, especially in these regions and island:

• Central Luzon
• Metro Manila
• Southern Luzon
• Central Visayas
• Western Visayas
• Mindanao

The report, which was released on Thursday (May 19), were based on six IOM Bulletins issued since March, compiled from documentations made by international observers, reports from overseas Filipinos, background from IOM’s local partner—Kontra Daya—and the team of writers which monitored the mainstream media and credible online output which could be verified.

The findings

The IOM said the election “did not meet the standard of free and fair [election] because of these prevailing conditions that robbed the voters of access to reliable information, access to the voting places without intimidation, and a credible vote counting system”.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

De Laveleye said the widespread irregularities and violence undermined the democratic process that “took place in the most repressive context since the time of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos”.

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GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

• Vote-buying

The IOM said that in Central Luzon and Metro Manila, two local candidates expressed their conviction that “corruption was widespread and systematic,” saying that vote-buying has been a “common practice”.

A local candidate in Metro Manila, for instance, shared that “never in the history of the city has vote-buying been so rampant as in 2022 wherein one candidate was spending P5 to P7 million a day”.

In a community of Aetas, vote-buying and coercion took place, however, the acceptance even without the intent to actually vote for the candidate who provided the cash has been a common practice in the community.

The IOM said that in Calabarzon, a local alternative media described vote-buying as a “last-minute activity” on the evening of May 8, saying that 80 to 90 percent of people took part in it—the amount distributed has increased from P200 (for the local election) some years ago to P2,000 to P4,000 in the last election.

• Red-tagging

Still in the region, as red-tagging intensified, many teacher-leaders have resigned from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers while local candidates who have previously expressed their support have done so quietly.

The IOM shared that an activist, who was visited by Vice President Leni Robredo, was “red-tagged and harassed”. Likewise, fishermen who were expressing their problems on displacement because of infrastructure projects were vilified and presented as surrendered rebels.

A local candidate recognized that red-tagging and killing took place all over the province and was really bad in one of the towns that was visited by the IOM. The locals did not want to be visited and most local candidates were also scared even if the main targets were the leaders of the Makabayan partylist groups.

RELATED STORY: Makabayan party list groups targeted by dirty tricks, again

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) offers P5,000 to the locals who, upon accepting, will be marked as a New People’s Army (NPA) member. Partylist members who refuse the money are threatened with torture or killing,” the IOM said.

Last March 25, red-tagging posters from the “Patriotic Filipinos of Baguio City” against Kabataan and Gabriela partylist groups were seen at Barangay St. Joseph Village despite the existence of a directive from Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong which prohibited red-tagging posters.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

Even Robredo and Magalong, a former top intelligence police officer, were red-tagged by National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict spokesperson Lorraine Badoy, for alleged links or sympathy for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Last March 28, as Robredo’s campaign event started, signs linking her to the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front (NDF) were seen near the government center in Palo, Leyte.

• Military and police presence

The IOM said that on Election Day, it personally witnessed and received reports regarding the massive military presence at voting places in two different cities in Mindanao.

“Military and police presence was heavily visible in one of the visited areas. It was the site of a five-month bombing and artillery campaign by the AFP. This heavy military presence did not succeed in the stated aim of ensuring a safe voting process,” it said.

Likewise, in one of the cities visited, the borders were heavily guarded and closed because of fears of “fly-in” voters. Military units were at all polling centers. Observers even noticed members of the military scuba diving unit deployed to guard polling stations. Multiple tanks were seen throughout the city and at primary polling centers. Military helicopters were heard overhead.

“International humanitarian law requires clear distinctions between military combatants and non-combatants. At the polling sites throughout the region, police appeared wearing highly militarized combat gear, including camouflage uniforms and helmets, combat boots, and carrying large semi-automatic weapons,” the IOM said.

“While police serve as civilian non-combatants, in this attire, police at polling sites were hardly distinguishable from the military. Further, tanks were present at polling places in and around the city. The presence of tanks makes such sites potential targets of war, violating basic international humanitarian law,” it said.

• Last-minute staffing changes

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) made last-minute staffing changes to local electoral boards, which are tasked with operating the vote-counting machines (VCMs) on Election Day and are often staffed by teachers.

Once assigned, local teachers receive specialized advance training to complete this task. Less than a week before the election, the Comelec told teachers in one of the visited cities in Mindanao that their roles would be shifted, sparking protests that replacement VCM operators would be insufficiently trained.

• Election fraud

The IOM said that in Calabarzon, teachers, despite the suspension of classes from May 2 to 13 because of the elections, were being forced to report to the offices.

Because there were already voting machines in the rooms, they were afraid that they would be charged with manipulating these machines. Some local politicians insinuated that the teachers would do this, and wanted to use this to declare an election failure.

Interviewed elementary school teachers said there is no signal or internet connection. In the transmission of journal actions for the electronic election machines, they don’t know where the voting machines are being located during the election and there is no internet connection or signal in the area.

In terms of manpower, unlike in the past where all teachers serve during the elections, this time it’s only the 5th and 6th grade teachers, depending on how the Comelec sets up the election.

• Violence against local officials

The IOM said that four barangay officials who were interviewed on their experiences of election violence said there were police coming en masse into the community harassing them, planting weapons in homes, and checkpoints set up outside communities.

“Party officials and members having their homes strafed by automatic weapons; having vehicles set on fire; and in one case the murder of a husband and wife in front of their children. Sometimes police appear to have been drafted into the area from other provinces,” it said.

This violence in 2019 has had a serious impact on their ability to campaign in the 2022 elections: “A climate of fear already existed and many officials had gone into hiding or become inactive.”

• Election-related violence

The IOM has reported election-related violations of human rights since early March, noting the first political killings related to the elections took place in Sorsogon on Jan. 15.

Last April 19, in Barangay San Jose in Quezon, Bukidnon, five farmers were shot and injured as they gathered to claim their ancestral lands. Presidential candidate Leody de Guzman was there when the incident took place.

In General Santos City, Bayan Muna partylist coordinator Larry Villegas was shot while cleaning his tricycle outside his home last March 13.

Problem with AES

Dr. Maria Lourdes Jarabe, a convenor of Kontra Daya, IOM’s local partner, said “it is actually difficult for voters to be confident in election proceedings marred by machine errors and breakdowns as these cast doubt on the capacity of the machine to count their votes”.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

Kontra Daya, together with VoteReportPH, gathered reports involving machine errors, illegal campaigning, vote-buying and red-tagging. Jarabe said they received more than 9,000 reports and they were able to verify 2,927.

• Election-related: 2,683

1. VCM & SD Card errors: 52.3%
2. Electioneering: 14%
3. Election process-related: 11.2%

• Campaign-related: 224

1. Vote-buying: 29%
2. Red-tagging: 24.1%
3. Disinformation: 17%

“The machine failures make up a significant percentage of the election incidents–machines rejecting the ballots, failure to issue receipts, or breaking down completely, resulting in long lines and significant delays in voting,” she said.

De Laveleye said it was widely reported that more than 1,800 VCMs malfunctioned, affecting 1.1 million voters.

RELATED STORY: Kontra Daya: It’s voters’ right to make sure their choices count

Jarabe, who is a professor at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and a former official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said “Kontra Daya has remained critical of the conduct of automated elections in the country for its lack of transparency and accountability”.

“The proprietary source codes of the VCMs and the lack of genuine source code review process cast more doubt on the accuracy of election results,” she said, stressing that with the fact that “ we were not given access to understand how the VCMs work”.

Comelec response

Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco responded to most of the issues raised by the IOM, however, he did not discuss the issue on red-tagging.

He said there were only 915 VCMs that malfunctioned on May 9, noting that they were “readily replaced with contingency or were pulled out for repair and it accounts only for 0.8 percent of the total.”

But on Election Day, the Comelec said some 1,800 VCMs have malfunctioned “but the issues have already been resolved”:

• Paper jam: 940
• Rejected ballots: 606
• VCM scanner: 158
• VCM printer not printing: 87
• Not printing properly: 76

READ: Some 1,800 vote counting machines malfunctioned – Comelec

As to election-related violence, he said there were 27 confirmed reports which have been validated by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

He said this is significantly lower compared to the past automated elections.

“It’s really significantly lower that’s why the AFP and the PNP were really confident in stating that the elections were generally peaceful, and these 27 were isolated,” Laudiangco said.

“In fact, those 27 did not occur on Election Day, it stretches from Jan. 9 up to the period of election, that’s how low it is,” Laudiangco said, speaking partly in Filipino.

As to the reports of vote-buying, he said the Comelec created Task Force Kontra Bigay to address vote-buying and vote-selling activities. “Our information drive on this is massive, that’s why we brought it closer to the people to solve this problem that the VCM cannot solve.”

He asked people who have reported the vote-buying incidents to “please, help us,” saying they are really determined and that they really have the intention to go after the vote-buyers.

“You can give us the report but ultimately, we need the evidence for the prosecution and eventually, conviction in court,” he said.

Likewise, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) earlier said that there were no discrepancies in the unofficial count of election returns in the presidential race.

RELATED STORY: PPCRV finds 1.6% mismatch in election returns

PPCRV chair Myla Villanueva disputed allegations of the supposed “fixed gap” between the leading presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his closest rival Vice President Leni Robredo which became a viral topic on social media.

READ: PPCRV finds no anomalies in presidential race count

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TAGS: 2022 elections, Commission on Elections, INQFocus, International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines, international observer mission, Kontra Daya, Maria Lourdes Jarabe, PPCRV, Séverine De Laveleye
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