Ballot-snatching, fraud reports rush in as canvassing starts

By TJ Burgonio

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.