Int’l observers claim rampant vote-buying in RP polls

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at May 21 2010 12:42 PM | Updated as of May 22 2010 09:37 PM

SAN FRANCISCO - Members of the Philippine Election Observers Team returned to the United States exhausted from their 10-day mission to the Philippines.

About 50 US citizens from different sectors observed about 900 precincts in Abra, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bicol, Surigao, Lanao del Sur, Iloilo, Tondo and Davao during the Philippine elections.

Reverend Larry Emery, head of the team says the election was not as successful as the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) claims.

“They thought that by instituting an automated election that it would get rid of a lot of problems. It only gets rid of some but it does not solve the problems of vote-buying, of intimidation and other issues that come up during the Philippine elections,” said Emery.

The team said that in more than half of the precincts they observed, they found evidence of some form of cheating.

“Most of the cheating we discovered happened in the local level where local officials were involved…not so much in the national level where the presidential, vice-presidential and senatorial candidates were involved,” Emery said.

The observers claim barangay leaders were tapped by different political parties to convince people to sell their votes, offering at least P500 per voter.  

“Everyone was open about it. It was very evident. No one seemed to care that we knew,” says Justin Emery, a college student who took part in the mission.

Modus operandi: How a vote is bought

The observers tracked the poll cheaters’ modus operandi. Voters lining up outside a polling precinct would be approached by barangay leaders or other influential people in the local community. The voter would be offered money, usually about P500, in exchange for filling out their official ballots to favor certain candidates. The voter is given money and a sample ballot to copy.  

“They (barangay leaders) said these templates were for the illiterate voters. But it is illegal to use any templates during the voting process,” Emery said.

Observers also witnessed some barangay leaders escorting voters into the precincts.

Marcos Scauso, an Argentinian human rights activist who joined the team, says the barangay leaders used intimidation to talk to the voters outside and inside the precincts.

“There was a lot of vote-buying and disenfranchising of voters. We found 44 cases of community leaders who were hired by the parties to buy the people’s right to vote. Not only did they pay people to vote for candidates, they also paid people not to vote,” says Scauso.

No privacy, recommendations

Reverend Emery says there was also a lack of privacy among the voters. He says there were times when poll inspectors would hover while the voters were filling out their ballots.  

Even military and police officials were inside the precincts even when they were not needed.

“It’s illegal for them to be inside the precincts especially when there are no cases of fights or violence,” he said.

Christina Ostroff, another college student and a member of the team laments there was practically no privacy for the voters.

She says the Comelec was not able to provide the precincts they observed with enough secrecy folders.

“The Board of Elections Inspectors or the teachers manning the precincts ended up cutting the folders in half to supply to all the voters. But you could see through the window who the voters were voting for,” she says.

The Philippine Election Observers Team says they have turned over the information and evidence they gathered to the People’s International Observers Mission, the umbrella organization for all international observers in the Philippines.

They will present these findings to the members of US Congress that determine levels of American aid to the Philippines.

The Philippine government will also receive their findings to figure out ways to fix the problems.

The team says the automated elections in the Philippines will never work if there is lack of resources and lack of privacy.

Reverend Emery says, “They should not cluster the precincts if they are not going to add more manpower. What happened was that the Board of Elections Inspectors or the teachers became overwhelmed because they had to handle more voters. As a result, they were not able to monitor the situations within their precincts properly.”

The Philippine Election Observers Team says for now they have not discussed the possibility of calling for a recount in the precincts they observed, but says that would most likely come up in their future meetings. Balitang America