MANILA - The 2016 automated elections marked a significant improvement from previous polls, but vote-buying and election-related violence especially in Mindanao remain substantial and growing problems, according to a US-based non-government organization.
These were among the key findings of Atlanta-based NGO Carter Center in its limited election Observation Mission during the 2016 elections.
"For basic 'retail' vote buying in local campaigns, interlocutors claim that in the days before the polling day, local candidates, businesses and supporters distribute substantial amounts of money to local leaders within barangays to use at the ground level for vote buying," part of the 21-page initial report read.
It noted that even within its limited scale of operations, claims that vote buying has taken place in barangays in Davao Del Norte and Cagayan De Oro were received by the mission. The report said attempts to influence the electorate through vote buying "appeared considerably likely to be related to the local-level competition."
The report also noted that election-related violence in Mindanao and other areas of the country were predominantly linked to the local contests. It noted that the ARMM saw "comparatively limited violence in the run-up of the elections but suffered a spike in violence on or around election day."
Despite this, the observation mission noted as 'generally satisfactory' the conduct of polling, counting and tabulation processes in the May 9 polls, but this however "does not guarantee a level-playing field in a wider electoral environment."
Other areas of improvement included a full implementation of legislation to encourage more political involvement particularly among women and minority groups.
In a press release, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista welcomed the results of the initial report.
The observation teams were deployed to Davao City, Cotabato, and Cagayan de Oro for the 2016 polls. The Carter Center is set to issue a final report in the next months.