Foreign Observers to Monitor Philippines Elections
Concerned international groups evaluate electoral process
Sianturi Dinah Roma (DinahRS)

Despite the continuing reports on electoral violations, the Philippines’ civic sector has further fortified its efforts to protect democracy’s basic principles. The People’s International Observers Mission (IOM), a group established by concerned Filipinos in alliance with various electoral monitoring groups, welcomed foreign observers as they participate in the nationwide struggle to ensure a clean election. Countries participating in this venture are Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the U.S., Indonesia, India, Netherlands, Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Venezuela and Scotland.

The foreign delegates of varying professions would be accompanied by a local documentation team of independent audio-visual practitioners, people’s organizations, and human rights advocates. They would head to areas expected to have a high incidence of fraud, particularly those places identified in the 2004 elections. Although COMELEC resolution 7802 ensures non-intervention on the part of the foreign observers, they are expected however to document their observations as well as their suggestions for electoral reforms.

Foreign governments and organizations given proper accreditation by the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) have also dispatched their representatives to observe the May 14 polls. The statements issued by the representatives express a common concern over the level of fraud and violence that have been reported so far. Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, the head of the delegation of the European Commission (EC) to the Philippines, while admitting that this year’s election is not at all different from earlier ones, stressed nonetheless the need to show concern over the violations.

Asia Foundation, well known for its collaborative research projects on civil society, economic reforms and policies, has also sent 21 election observers specifically to the six provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The foreign observers, who participated in a forum on May 13 titled “Islam, Elections and Democracy,” come from six Muslim countries in Asia. Noticing the prevalent efforts of the civic groups in protecting the ballots, a Malaysian academic stated that “the active role of civil society in the Philippines is an inspiring testimonial to the longing for democratic processes to work.”

Steven Rood, Asia Foundation’s country representative and regional adviser for local governance, felt that the country had not yet recovered from the many issues left unresolved after the 2004 elections. This year’s elections, according to Rood, can be seen as an important exercise through which the country can regain its credibility.

Despite the shared perceptions of the majority of the 219 foreign observers regarding the elections, two views emerge as representative of the sentiments that refuse to be weakened amidst numerous incidents of killings and election-related violations. Gill Boehringer, a professor of history and philosophy at Macquarie University in Sydney, and his team were assigned to closely watch the elections in Compostela Valley province, a hotspot where 1,400 troops had been deployed. When asked about his opinion regarding the elections, Boehringer felt that the people could have learned from problems of the 2004 elections had they been fully investigated. Moreover, the Australian professor could not help note how the Filipino leaders themselves admitted that the ways of cheating in the previous elections remain entrenched.

Boehringer does not credit his presence in the Philippines, however, as a major contribution to alleviating the problems but only to uphold a collective dream of preserving democratic principles: “I think most of us came here because we believe in justice and we believe that people deserve democracy and in many countries around the world, they are losing it.” It is in this regard that he said, “all of us together have a duty to speak out and to do what we can carry on our struggle.”

It is this duty to carry on the struggle that drove Cecilia Lero, a concerned Filipino-American, to participate in the IOM. She calls on the youth to be politically active in safeguarding the people’s voice. According to Lero, her keen interest originates from her indignation over the massive fraud in elections that has influenced many people’s choice to become “voluntary exiles” out of fear for their future.

Lero’s message comes out strong and clear–a message that Filipinos live by everyday of their lives. As the counting of the votes continues, the people once more long for a better life. Filipinos like Lero has chosen to pursue the dream elsewhere while deeply knowing that she cannot give up on her country.