May 2007


So, I’ve been debating with myself for a while regarding how to break this news…and I’m taking the bitch way out and letting you all read this to explain myself. There are a lot more reasons that I’ve been fighting with to make my final decision. Yeah, I’m expecting amillion comments and messages in response to this, but so be it. I love you all and miss you sooooooo much. And I miss my city.

http://services.inquirer.net/mobile/07/05/19/html_output/xmlhtml/20070519-66890-xml.html

Fil-Am poll observer tarries in RP

May 19, 2007
Editor’s Note: Published on page A1 of the June 14, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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MANILA, Philippines — Among the foreign observers of the May 14 elections, one young Filipino-American has yet to book a return flight, believing her work here is far from over.

Cecilia Pe Lero, born and raised in the United States and a political science magna cum laude graduate from New York University, has actually spent the last eight months in Manila with her Filipino relatives.

What began as a vacation from the Big Apple turned into an eye-opening lesson in Philippine politics that could shape the promising career of this 21-year-old.

Lero extended her stay so she could join the International Observers Mission (IOM) 2007, a civil society initiative to monitor the balloting and draw global attention to signs of fraud. The lone Fil-Am was also the youngest of the 16 IOM delegates from nine countries.

“It was very important for me to come back and work here,” Lero told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, on Wednesday at her uncle’s house in Quezon City. (Her Filipino parents last brought the younger of their two children to the Philippines in 1989, when she was only four years old.)

Her special area of research is democracy development and institute building, especially in the Third World, and after finishing college in May 2006, she “definitely considered traveling and choosing among several community-building and development programs [abroad].”

“But in the end I chose to come here because if I’m going to help develop a country, it should be my own,” Lero said, her voice often lost in the cacophony of tricycles and trucks plying the street outside — a reminder of how far she had wandered away from her Brooklyn apartment.

Lero managed in January to land an internship with the Institute for Popular Democracy, a reform advocacy center also based in Quezon City. As an IPD fellow, she got a chance to put her training to use as a lecturer or project facilitator.

Her original travel plans specified returning to New York in March to resume her job hunting. (She has actually kept in touch with non-government organizations in the United States and was interviewed on the phone by up to three prospective employers.)

“But all these opportunities and emotions came up,” she said, referring to the election fever beginning to peak at the time.

Lero easily got a slot in the IOM, especially because the mission included IPD among its organizers. Her scheduled flight home had to wait.

But her parents based in North Carolina were not pleased.

“They were not supportive at all,” Lero admitted, referring to her folks, both Visayans, who migrated to the United States for “common — economic — reasons” in the 1970s.

“Huwag! Bakit mo gusto pumunta doon? Delikado doon! Magulo doon! [Don’t! Why do you want to go there? It’s dangerous there!]” she recalled her parents saying on the phone.

“Knowing that they had worked so hard to live in America, to give up what they knew here, I’m sure they definitely had a lot of fear about my getting involved in politics here,” she said.

At this point, Lero appeared to struggle to get the words out: “But my feeling is that I can do something, it is my duty, because people who have the opportunity should help those who cannot help themselves. That’s my belief.”

“So while it may be a little, you know, hokey and mushy, I did not feel that I was losing anything by coming here. Because if I decided it would be useless, I could always just go back.”

Lero was part of a three-member IOM team that monitored the elections in Pampanga, touring the capital city San Fernando and at least six more towns, on May 12-15.

Her parents’ “fears for my safety” seemed to have been validated during her team’s road trip.

Consistent with what other IOM members have reported, Lero said her team encountered crowds curiously gathered in one place where either a town mayor or barangay (village) chair was holding court, distributing sample ballots and “envelopes” on the eve of the elections.

It particularly “disturbed” her team, she said, to see “children being used” to distribute campaign materials.

The team also caught parts of a mass being celebrated to “bless” independent poll watchers before they were deployed. And at the very moment the priest was warning in his homily about blackouts mysteriously occurring on election day, the power did go out suddenly in the neighborhood.

And based on ”reports” reaching her team, the going rate for alleged vote-buying operations in Pampanga were P500 each for members of drivers associations, P300 to P500 each for members of senior citizens groups, and P3,000 each for school teachers who were to man the polling precincts.

Lero said the IOM team sent to Negros Occidental reported encountering ”five different election returns with the same penmanship. It can become so obvious and outrageous that all they could do was just laugh.”

But seriously, she said, ”the overall feeling [of IOM delegates] is that the world is watching and that the world cares.”

”Our general belief is that Filipinos deserve better than a deficient democracy – or democracy that is nominal only,” she added.

”It’s been quite offensive and quite depressing to see how much immoral action has occurred. Before I came here, when I told people that I was going back to hopefully work on reforming the Philippine political system, a lot of people laughed at me. They said it was beyond hope, they said it was too far gone.”

”But I think [otherwise], seeing especially the outpouring of interest from civil society, seeing especially the group gathered in San Fernando who were private citizens with no organization, the multitude of volunteers of my age and younger, barangay captains who refuse to be afraid. These are stories that inspire me personally.”

They have gone “with no sleep, no food, looking over the shoulders” of their election officers and “very alert to the mechanisms of dagdag-bawas [vote-padding and -shaving],” Lero noted.

Professing no interest in entering politics in the future, Lero said she saw herself staying in academe, perhaps earning a PhD, and doing NGO work “designing institutions” and “understanding their failures.”

“People want to study things, to understand them, and so a responsible government would seek the advice of these academic experts in order to better formulate their policies and institutions. And so I hope to be someone who could offer advice to people or policymakers who are dedicated to reform,” she said.

Perhaps, she said, unlike the other IOM members who saw her “home” country in such a state these days, “my desire for reform tends to come from a lot more emotional place.”

But before she gets carried away, isn’t she supposed to be calling her airline now, or at least following up her job applications in New York?

Said Lero: “It has gotten me thinking: There are so many qualified applicants there. It’s not that I’m scared I won’t get the position, but it’s obvious that there is a lot more need here.”

©2007 http://www.inquirer.net all rights reserved

I was grossly misquoted in this article – I never said anything specifically about President Macapagal-Arroyo or Rep. Mikey Arroyo. Furthermore, it would be stupid to imply Macapagal-Arroyo was going to great lengths to commit fraud to assure Mikey’s victory in Pampanga when he had no opponent who posed a great threat. Furthermore, I was a member of the Compact IOM, not the People’s IOM. Sigh, a 1-hour interview and this is what was taken from it.

SCMP.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 Filipinos face long wait as votes are counted by hand

RAISSA ROBLES in Manila

Filipinos will have to wait until next month to find out who most of the mid-term poll winners are because votes are laboriously counted by hand, a system that is prone to manipulation and has caused concern among business groups.

“My God,” Eastern Samar governor-elect Benjamin Evardone exclaimed yesterday over the snail-paced counting, now being further delayed by charges of fraud and incidents of violence.

“Whenever counting slows down, there is … the opportunity to somehow alter the results of the elections,” said Mr Evardone, the media campaign strategist for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Team Unity.

Three major business groups were worried enough to issue a joint statement yesterday. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Philippines Exporters Confederation and the Federation of Philippine Industries urged “the speedy and transparent conclusion of the canvassing of votes to finally determine our duly elected set of national and local leaders”.

Nine days after 75 per cent of 43 million registered voters cast their ballots, winners have been proclaimed in a little more than half of the roughly 17,000 local and national races, including those for 255 seats in the Lower House of Congress.

No winner has been announced in any of the 12 Senate races.

Mr Evardone envies India for its speedy polls: “I marvel at them”.

India’s poll exercise to elect a 500-member Lower House of Parliament is a gigantic one, involving over 668 million voters trooping to 800,000 polling stations. However, the results are known within three days because the country has electronic voting, an Indian diplomat in Manila said.

The diplomat said that while India still has incidents of armed men barring voters from precincts or snatching ballot boxes, “once voters reach the polling station and cast their votes, then there is very little scope for rigging [and] elections are quite fair”.

That was not the case in the Philippines, according to Cecilia Lero of the 27-member People’s International Observer Mission.

After witnessing how Pampanga province associates of President Arroyo counted the votes for her son, Congressman Juan Miguel Arroyo, and other officials, Ms Lero concluded: “I have a strong suspicion the [vote counting] is deliberately kept manual”.

She noted that thousands of electronic vote-counting machines were sitting in a Manila warehouse as a law on automated polls awaited action.

“The process is so arduous,” she said of the manual system. “The ballots are read out loud. The votes have to be manually tallied by two different people, the process is repeated from [village] level to municipal, [then] provincial and [finally] national levels.”

She agreed with the mission’s observation that the exercise was open to manipulation.

Surprisingly, the head of an election watchdog group said yesterday that counting was generally faster this time than in previous polls. However, Henrietta de Villa of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting added: “We have more reports now of quite a number of other irregularities” which also delay results.

Violence was another reason for delay. In Basilan yesterday, teachers inside a school in Lamitan town stopped collating votes when twin explosions hit the premises. Three were injured.

Canvassing in the northern town of Tineg, Abra, has stopped after a shooting incident last weekend. The ballot boxes are now chained together inside a locked room awaiting a new set of poll officials.


International observers say allegations of fraud a cause of concern
Written by Jojo C. Due
Friday, 18 May 2007

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO —- Members of a team of international observers deployed in Pampanga said they are in the province to observe the elections as they cited that allegations of fraud in Philippine elections are a cause of concern and something to worry about.

This was the statement issued at a press conference by the International Observers Mission for the 2007 mid-term elections organized by Compact for Peaceful Elections (Compact).

The three-member team in Pampanga includes Olle Thorell, a member of the Swedish Parliament belonging to the Social Democratic Party; independent researcher Cecilia Lero of the US; and documentary video and radio producer, educator and community and international organizer Jim Heddle.

Compact organizer Arnold Tarrobago said the team in Pampanga is part of the 16-member team of international observers from nine countries to monitor the elections in five area sin the country: Bicol, Cotabato City, Nueva Ecija, Bacolod and Pampanga.

Four towns in President Arroyo’s home-province have been identified as among the areas to be monitored by the team of international observers. These are the towns of Lubao, Mabalacat, Apalit and Floridablanca which according to Compact have histories of incidents.

“These allegations are something to worry about. We are here merely to observe because of rumors of fraud and violence,” Lero said.

“We have been briefed on the various mechanisms for fraud. If we do find fraud, it would be a great opportunity for President Arroyo to take initiatives to institute reforms. This would strike a chord to eliminate these cases in the future,” Lero said.

She added that the elections here should not only be seen as a black and white issue but as a more complicated situation between candidates and the voting public, citing that the dire economic situation of some voters contribute to vote-buying and fraud.

Thorell said they are here to monitor the election proper and the canvassing which they said has so many manual steps.

“We have no preconceptions but there are many ways to cheat. We are aware of allegations of cheating in the past elections,” he said.

“We want the people here as well as those in our countries and around the world that the situation here is being watched and the world cares. We are making people aware of the situation here. People here as well as internationally have a right to be safe and not be cheated and be given a fair chance to choose their leaders,” he said.

Heddle said he will be making a documentary on the differences in the election process in the country.

“We will try to visit as many areas as possible and stay for the canvassing. We will take note of what we see here but will not interfere,” Heddle said.

Pampanga Provincial Police Director Sr. Supt. Keith Singian said the international observers will be given police escorts.

Their report will be presented to the media and the Diplomatic Corps on May 18 in Manila where the five groups will meet and consolidate their reports from the various areas they observed.

Apart from observing elections in the five areas in Pampanga, the international group will also observe the gubernatorial race which Lero said is interesting because of the personalities involved two dominant families against an outsider.

They also noted the more personal touch in the campaign in the Philippines compared to other countries and are surprised by the more open mudslinging, black propaganda and negative ads.

 

Fraud causes Filipinos lose faith in polls–foreign watchers

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net

Posted date: May 18, 2007

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Violence and fraud marred last Monday’s mid-term vote, which were held under a “climate of fear, unease and mistrust” of the electoral system, foreign observers said Friday.

But there is a “glimmer of hope,” the International Observers Mission of the Compact for Peaceful and Honest Elections noted the “vigilance and volunteerism” of Filipinos, especially the youth, who showed their “desire for a clean and honest elections.”

At the same time, the group recommended several reforms including legislation against political dynasties and implementing the automation of the elections before the 2010 presidential vote during a news conference in Quezon City.

“Violence is commonly used as a means to achieve victory. Violence is used to intimidate or coerce voters in order to win the elections,” said Las Granberg, a member of the Swedish parliament.

“There is a general feeling among voters that their votes would not be counted, a sentiment provoked by the lack of order in the process, inefficiency of the Comelec, and the reported acts of fraud and violence allegedly committed by politicians, election officials, and armed groups,” he added.

The team was deployed to the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Negros Occidental, Pampanga, Maguindanao, Cotabato City, and the Bicol region.

An observer from the United States who was sent to Pampanga province, Cecilia Lero, said “mechanisms for vote-buying” were in place in the province, involving village officials.

Asked to reveal which candidate in Pampanga was buying votes, Lero said: “I’d rather not comment for my own security.”

“There are people who expressed their fears. They came to us and the media. The general consensus was if we go to Comelec [Commission on Elections], they’ll laugh at us,” Lero said.

An Australian observer, Jason Bray, said in Jaen town, Nueva Ecija province, they responded to a shooting incident that left two “goons” of rival politicians wounded.

“They [police] found two unregistered weapons and P600,000, and some documents for poll checkers and poll watchers. I’m not sure how many poll watchers,” Bray said.

Given the large amount, Bray said, “There are definitely some indications of vote-buying.”

German Philippie Bueck noted voters’ lists in Bacolod City that allegedly included names of dead persons.

“There were many irregularities particularly the voters lists…We found there was a lot of room for fraud regarding these,” Bueck said.

Bueck claimed that 964 first-time voters were not allowed to vote, despite being allowed to do so by a court. He said this constituted “massive disenfranchisement.” He did not explain why the 964 needed a court order to vote.

“We found that these incidents are fraudulent, not simply irregularities,” he said.

Canadian Lesly Clarke, who read the team’s recommendations, said political dynasties only serve to perpetuate “politics based on personalities.”

“There must be significant changes to political institutions. These changes are fundamental,” she said.

She noted that there have been “abuses” in the party-list system and the government should look at other models for representation in Congress.

Clarke also noted that “the amount of money spent on the elections is enormous.”

Compact secretary general Josel Gonzales said the observers’ recommendations will be forwarded to the Comelec and that the diplomatic corps had been briefed on their findings earlier Friday.

Polls in parts of South still hang

SPECIAL ELECTIONS NEEDED IN 12 A.R.M.M. PLACES AS NUMBER OF VOTERS CAN SWING SENATE RACE

By Cher Jimenez

Reporter

SOME 100,000 voters were disfranchised as elections in some areas, mostly in Mindanao, were either postponed or declared a failure.

The figure does not include voters who failed to exercise their right of suffrage because they did not find their names on the certified voters’ list.

Public school teachers manning the polling precincts in parts of Mindanao and in Biñan, Laguna did not want to report due to security threats, said Commission on Election (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos.

Still, the verdict from most agencies was simply this: the elections were “generally orderly” and one of the most peaceful because, for all the violence in the runup to Monday’s polls, election day itself had relatively little violence.

The Comelec said some members of the boards of election inspectors (BEIs) refused to man their respective precincts for fear of their own safety.

In Lanao del Sur, 10 towns failed to hold elections as BEI members were threatened by contending local politicians, according to poll commissioner Rene Sarmiento who is the commissioner-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“There were some firefights among supporters of candidates. . .the BEIs were afraid to serve,” Sarmiento said in a briefing Monday afternoon.

The ARMM election officer, Teofisto Elnas, also declared a failure of elections in two towns in Basilan—Akbar and Sumisip—owing to violence. Mayoral candidate Hajarun Jamiri survived an ambush early Monday morning in Akbar, while unidentified men burned down an elementary school in barangay Bakung in Sumisip.

Three registered voters, including a relative of Anak Mindanao Party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman were also wounded in an ambush allegedly staged by men identified with Hataman’s rivals.

Elnas considered the situation in the two towns “uncontrollable,” according to the Regional Election Monitoring Center (Remac).

Commissioner Sarmiento, meanwhile, added that the Comelec still had to determine if it will declare a failure of election in the towns of Bayang, Lumbata, Madalum, Binidayan, Puales, Sultan Dumalondong, Lumba-Bayabao, Masiu, Kapai and Lumbayanague.

But Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said special elections will be held in these areas “soonest” because of the number of people who failed to cast their votes.

Sarmiento said the 10 towns have between 60,000 and 70,000 registered voters.

Abalos said special elections were mandatory because the number of registered voters there “will definitely affect the ranking of senatorial candidates.”

Sarmiento also reported that elections in two barangays in Basilan, covering a total of six precincts, also did not push through as the BEIs did not show up in their precincts. The same thing happened in two barangays in Zamboanga del Norte, as teachers were scared by the presence of some Abu Sayyaf bandits 50 kilometers away from the poblacion.

Elections in Barira in Shariff Kabunsuan were also postponed as women supporters of Mayor Alex Tumais sat on ballot boxes containing election paraphernalia, preventing the holding of the polls in his area.

Sarmiento said Tumais is a Gawad Kalinga awardee.

PARANG, Shariff Kabunsuan—A civilian and a soldier were killed and eight others were wounded when fighting broke out between supporters of two local politicians in Tubaran, Lanao del Sur, the Office of Civil Defense in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OCD-ARMM) said.

OCD-ARMM chief Leo Alicias said the fighting happened shortly before 11 a.m. after a group of armed men arrived in barangay Poblacion.

Chief Supt. Joel Goltiao, ARMM police commander, confirmed the incident but said only one was killed and two were wounded. Rosa May de Guzman Maitem

In Biñan, Laguna, some members of the BEIs also refused to man polling areas because they were not registered voters of those precincts.

Elections commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr. said the polls in 17 precincts in Biñan were extended until 6 p.m. Monday after members of the BEIs there were replaced.

Each polling precinct in the country has a maximum of 200 registered voters.

Tuazon, who is also in charge of the province of Masbate, enforced a “no-fly zone” to stop candidates from using helicopters in transporting flying voters and illegal election paraphernalia.

“That is being enforced up to now,” he added.

In Lanao del Norte, elections did not push through in two barangays in Kauswagan as armed groups tried to steal election paraphernalia from members of the BEI, Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said.

The Comelec estimates that voters’ turnout was about 75 percent.

The Comelec postponed the polls in Pantar, Lanao del Norte, because of the discovery of about 2,000 voters whose registrations were not approved by the poll body.

Abalos said the Comelec will hold a special election in Pantar within 30 days.

In Pantao town, also in Lanao del Norte, the Comelec declared as “lost” a total of 3,702 official blank ballots that were duly received by its city treasurer.

Elections commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, who is the commissioner in charge of Northern Mindanao, said two batches of official ballots were discovered missing, although the city treasurer has received them.

“The treasurer said they were properly deposited and duly guarded but she can’t explain why the two batches of ballots were missing,” Ferrer told reporters.

At the Comelec central office in Manila, most of the initial 300 complaints logged by the poll body’s hotlines center dealt with vote buying, according to director Marlene Rito.

In Dipolog City, Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the few hours of the election was generally peaceful except for one “minor” explosion. In Sulu, a firefight between followers of local politicians was reported.

Sarmiento said one precinct in Basilan got burned but the election continued. In Shariff Kabunsuan, a mayor asked the Comelec to declare a failure of elections following reports that BEI members were “sitting” on ballot boxes.

The Comelec ordered the BEIs to go on with the election.

There are no reported untoward incidents in Western and Central Visayas, Elections commissioner Resurreccion Borra, the poll official in charge of these areas, said.

Cases of voters’ disfranchisement, electioneering, and vote-buying comprise majority of the complaints received by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

Bro. Clifford Sorita, PPCRV secretary-general, said a total of 33 cases were reported to the group’s hotline on Monday. At least 15 involved election fraud, he said.

These include vote-buying, misinformation, electioneering, presence of flying voters, and disfranchisement. Sorita added the PPCRV, the poll watchdog of the Roman Catholic Church, is still in the process of determining how many of the 45 million registered voters were not able to cast their ballots because some precincts were clustered.

Even government officials were not spared from disfranchisement in Monday’s elections.

Chairman Feliciano Salonga of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) traveled all the way from the Subic Bay Free Port in Zambales to San Juan, Metro Manila, to vote, but failed as his name was missing from the voters list.

The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday said the elections were generally peaceful and orderly.

Lawyer Franklin Sunga, undersecretary for legal affairs and head of DepEd Election Task Force stressed that the assessment was only as far as the polling places and precincts are concerned. Although there are some reports of the usual chaos in some polling precincts, “most of these are isolated cases.”

Asked why he had to limit his assessment to polling precincts, Sunga said “because we [DepEd] are not the proper agency to give the general assessment of the conduct of election and we don’t have the expertise for it.”

The elections in Pampanga were generally peaceful and orderly despite reports of power outages in several parts of the province and allegations of vote-buying.

International Observer Mission 2007 member Cecilia Lero expressed concern over the quantity of reports of vote-buying and power outages their team has been receiving.

Swedish member of Parliament Olle Thorell, who is among the three international observers deployed to Pampanga, said the elections were generally peaceful, although vote-buying reports persist.

On Sunday, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto issued a pastoral statement expressing “serious alarm” following reports of alleged vote-buying which parishioners from various barangays have brought to his attention.

–With E. Torres, J. Cunanan, C. Mocon and B. Garcia

Ballot-snatching, fraud reports rush in as canvassing starts

By TJ Burgonio
Inquirer

Posted date: May 15, 2007

MANILA, Philippines — Complaints about ballot-snatching and other forms of fraud mounted on Tuesday, as election officers started canvassing in municipal halls the votes cast for candidates across the country.

Foreign observers monitoring the conduct of elections in several towns in Pampanga, a province north of Manila, have been told that teachers were caught carrying open ballot boxes out of polling precincts in Porac town last Monday.

“Poll watchers accosted these teachers, but the teachers smugly told them that they should lock up the boxes themselves,” Arnold Tarrabago, team leader of the three-man team of foreign observers, said in a phone interview.

The observers deployed in the province were American political researcher Cecilia Lero, American videographer Jim Heddle and Swedish member of the parliament Olle Orrel.

The team also received unverified reports from their local colleagues at the People’s International Observers Mission (People’s IOM) that armed, masked men seized ballot boxes and dumped them in a river in Arayat town.

“But this is just a third-hand information,” Tarrabago said.

Several other three-member teams of observers were deployed in Bicol, Nueva Ecija, Bacolod, and Cotabato City to monitor the conduct of elections in these areas from May 9 to 19, and prepare a report.

The watchdog group Kontra Daya, for its part, urged the public to exercise “greater vigilance” in the next few days.

“The elections have been marred by violence, confusion and chaos. These are precisely the conditions favorable for wholesale electoral fraud. Kontra Daya is particularly worried about cases of ballot snatching and failure of elections that have happened in several provinces throughout the country,” said Kontra Daya convenor Fr. Joe Dizon.

These, he said, were reminiscent of the 1986 snap elections called by then president Ferdinand Marcos.

Dizon said they received reports of failure of election in at least 14 towns in Lanao del Sur because of violence, or threats of violence.

“The last thing we want to see now is a repeat of the 2004 fraud operations in Mindanao which would be crucial in influencing the outcome of the national elections,” he said.

Kontra Daya also cautioned other election watchdogs from prematurely absolving the Commission on Elections and the Arroyo administration of any liability in poll fraud.

“We cannot just be giving our government agencies pats on the back. As expected, the government refuses to accept the gravity of the problems on election day. The PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) and Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections) should also be circumspect in giving the elections their seal of approval,” Dizon said.

Int’l observers take notice of Pampanga

By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk

Posted date: May 15, 2007


CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The international community has taken notice of elections in Pampanga, President Macapagal-Arroyo’s home province, where a priest, an incumbent governor linked to graft and a board member linked to illegal gambling are seeking the province’s highest post.

The group of international observers Olle Thorell, Cecilia Lero and Jim Heddle, all members of the Compact International Observers Mission, started its work on the day Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto issued a pastoral statement expressing “serious alarm” about the reported incidents of vote-buying and vote-selling two weeks ahead of May 14.

Aniceto urged voters to “express this option [of rejecting evil and choosing the good] more concretely by rejecting vote buyers and their money.”

Aniceto’s pastoral letter was read in Roman Catholic churches in Pampanga on Sunday. A Kapampangan version has been distributed in communities.

Swedish parliament member Thorell, University of New York law center researcher Lero, and documentary producer Heddle got a glimpse of the final campaign activities of candidates. May 12 was the last day of the 45-day local campaign period.

They were scheduled to monitor the Pampanga elections until May 16.

Compact said the mission was organized to “exert political pressures on the parties and candidates to refrain from resorting to violence and fraud during the elections and to get international support for the agenda of reforming the Philippine electoral system.”

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