Fraud causes Filipinos lose faith in polls–foreign watchers

By Joel Guinto

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.