International foreign observers to monitor May 14 elections

Posted by: Luis Liberato on 12 May 2007 at 8:50 am

TWO groups of foreign observers will be monitoring the midterm elections this coming Monday.

Compact foreign observersSixteen of the foreign observers from nine countries were presented at a press conference held by the Compact for Clean and Honest Elections (Compact) at the Sulo Hotel the other day. They will participate in the International Observers Mission (IOM) to be deployed in various election hotspots to document and report election-related fraud and violence.

Meanwhile, a team of 30 observers from 13 different countries is also expected to arrive in the Philippines to take part in another IOM to contribute to local efforts to safeguard the votes. The mission, dubbed the International Mission Against Electoral Fraud and Violence, is convened by a group led by Bishop Elmer Bolocon of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines and will be visiting 13 areas in eight regions where the probability of electoral fraud is high.

The teams are comprised of parliamentarians, lawyers, church leaders, members of academe and the media, artists, civil libertarians, professionals, students, human rights defenders, and officials from political parties from the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, United States, and Venezuela.

Cecilia Lero, a Filipino-American participant of the Compact-organized IOM, expressed hope that the mission, in the tradition of other international observer missions in other democratically deficient countries, will be able to contribute to the success of fair and pure elections. “I believe it is possible to achieve,” she said.

At the same time, Lero encouraged the youth to participate actively in the upcoming polls. “Being a part of the Compact is also important to me on the personal level as a balikbayan. I hope to observe the elections from the point of view of the multitudes of Filipino youth in the diaspora who refuse to be complacent with the political and economic situation, which forces us into what we call a ‘voluntary exile.’ I hope here to represent those of us who refuse to give up on our country.”

To ensure that the upcoming elections will be conducted in an honest, orderly, and peaceful manner, the IOMs will give support and contribute to the Filipino people’s efforts at countering the cycle of election fraud and violence in the Philippines, with special attention to those that might be committed against pro-democracy and pro-people party-list organizations and opposition candidates, especially at the national level.

Aside from putting political pressure on the Arroyo government against committing fraud and violence in the May 2007 elections, especially against its most vocal opponents, the missions will give special attention to party-list and senatorial elections, investigate and expose election fraud and violence, and draw conclusions as to the state of the elections.

The missions will also call the international community’s attention to the continuing human rights violations and affront to democracy being perpetrated by the State in the Philippines.

Lesley Clark, an Australian, admitted however that the mission is not the entire answer in ending election-related problems.

“We know that we are not the solution to all ills. But, we do hope that we can be a strong deterrent wherever we are in the country. So that those places at the very least will be free of violence and cheating.”

Since the start of the election period last January, over a hundred people have so far been killed in election-related violence. Gun ban violations, according to the Philippine National Police, have reached 1,782, with 2,015 firearms and 320 deadly weapons confiscated.

Compact convenor Leah Navarro expects the rise of violent incidents as the day of elections is near.

“Acts of fraud, intimidation and, coercion are expected to intensify to influence the results of elections,” she said. “With the inability of Comelec to curb election-related violence, the number of election-related violence perpetuated by local bosses and their private armies, the military, and other armed groups is expected to rise.”

Joel Rocamora, also a convenor of the group, believed that such cases are reflections of the failure of the country’s political system.

“The power to dispense patronage is at stake, so the elite willingly resort to coercion and fraud to win at the local and national elections. At the same time, the weakness of the country’s political institutions, including the party system, makes it more difficult to curb violence and fraud,” Rocamora explained.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos emphasized that the observers are not allowed to interfere in the electoral process and are allowed at a certain distance.

“All they can do is look and listen. They cannot enter polling precincts; they are allowed a certain distance,” Abalos said.

The mission participants will be deployed in the following areas:

Compact for Clean and Honest Elections

  • Caloocan
  • Nueva Ecija
  • Pampanga
  • Quezon Province
  • Bicol
  • Negros Occidental
  • Cotabato City
  • Maguindanao
  • Sharif Kabungsuan

International Mission Against Electoral Fraud and Violence

  • Isabela and Quirino (Region II)
  • Guimba, Nueva Ecija and San Fernando, Pampanga (Region III)
  • Lian and Nasugbu in Batangas and Catanauan and Lucena in Quezon (Region IV)
  • Castilla, Sorsogon (Region V)
  • Tuburan, Aloginsan and Asturias towns in Cebu (Region VII)
  • Compostela Valley and Lanao del Sur ( Region XI and ARMM)
  • Urban poor communities in Quezon City, Makati City and Tondo, Manila (NCR).

Findings of the missions, including recommendations for electoral reforms, will be presented to the international community and the media.

Luis Liberato is a third year journalism student at the University of Sto. Tomas. He is presently doing his internship with the PCIJ.