Observing the 2010 Philippine Elections
A few weeks ago, I attended a report back by members of the United States delegation to the Philippine International Observer’s Mission to watch the 2010 Philipine Elections. The evening was filled with cultural performances, poster art from the FACTSHEET exhibit, and a very moving recount of what the delegation saw, learned, and experienced while on their trip. I was moved to tears at the end, and it really helped give me some new inspiration to keep organizing.
A friend of mine, Roseli Ilano, was one of the delegates to the observer’s mission and I’m happy to host her as a guest blogger today! Her first hand account of the corruption, violence, and widespread failure of the election really sheds light on a process that many of us are unfamiliar with, but should be really concerned about.
About the Peoples’ International Observers’ Mission:
86 delegates from 11 countries of the People’s International Observers’ Mission went to the Philippines to monitor, observe and document the elections on May 10 in an attempt to support the Filipino people’s right to fair elections. What they witnessed included widespread fraud, bribery, violence and intimidation by state elements and private armies, extremely long lines, confusion and disorganization–and millions of courageous individual voters, who braved 110-degree heat, death threats, and 12-hour waiting times in order to cast their votes in the Philippines’ first automated election. Local Bay Area delegates of the People’s International Observers’ Mission will share eye-witness accounts, video, photos, and their analysis of Election Day 2010 in the Philippines.
Observing the 2010 Philippine ElectionsRoseli Ilano
On May 10, the Philippines participated in the country’s first automated elections. The morning after the elections, as more information was still surfacing on radio and television regarding the shootings at polling precincts in the areas of Cavite and Mindanao, the US embassy issued a statement lauding the Philippine Government for “achieving another milestone in their nation’s democratic history.” The US embassy sent 120 observers to monitor the elections; did they observe what I did?
I was on the ground for the election as part of an independent and non-partisan international observation team called the People’s International Observation Mission. Our mission included 86 volunteers from 11 countries: academics, church workers and clergy, lawyers and human rights advocates all bound to the declaration of principles outlined by the United Nations for international election observation.
What we witnessed included widespread fraud, bribery, violence and intimidation by state elements and private armies, extremely long lines, confusion and disorganization–and millions of courageous individual voters, who braved 110-degree heat, death threats, and 12-hour waiting times in order to cast their votes in the Philippines’ first electronic elections.
Why Observe Elections?
I felt a commitment to observe the elections as someone committed to working for democracy in my own country. I remember The United States’ first foray into automated voting in 2000 and the numerous concerns raised by IT technicians, computer programmers and privacy advocates regarding the vulnerability to fraud. Many raised questions about the privatization of a major feature of the electoral process. In the Philippines, similar concerns of transparency were raised regarding the testing of voting machines produced by the multinational company Smartmatic. Just a few days before the slated May 10 elections, more than 76,000 memory chips from the voting machines were recalled.
I was compelled to monitor the elections as a human rights advocate. I have been deeply disturbed by the recent violence leading up to the Philippine elections. The Ampatuan Massacre in Mindanao created shock waves around the world as 57 unarmed civilians, many of them women, were ambushed and gunned down in a caravan headed to file a bid for candidacy in a contested race. Thirty of those murdered were journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, an international organization committed to freedom of the press, the massacre marks the most loss of life for journalists in a single day.
Most importantly, I participated as an international observer because I believe the ability of one to cast his or her vote freely through a fair, transparent, and democratic process is a human right. I observed many irregularities on May 10 that make me question that this human right was upheld.
Voter Disenfranchisement, Faulty Automation and Violence
In Abra, one of the most militarized provinces of the country, I witnessed voter disenfranchisement and intimidation by private armies, the breakdown and overheating of machines that forced voters to wait in lines for up to six hours in 100 degree heat. My colleagues conducted interviews with voters who admitted to selling their vote for as small as 500 pesos (a little more than $11), or some who told of being pressured not to vote at all. The lack of privacy was glaring as poll watchers representing the different political parties often intervened, pointing at candidates’ names on ballots and showing voters who to vote for.
Our colleagues that observed elections in Mindanao were caught in the middle of a gunfight in Lanao Del Sur, forced to hide face down as armed men fired inside the polling precinct. They were able to capture the harrowing event on video, you can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/user/kodaophil#p/u/4/yufgKrUwjas
By all international standards the violence and intimidation surrounding the Philippine elections cannot be ignored. As those who believe to work for democracy in our own country, we must challenge this level of violence and intimidation abroad.