Poll observers want US to reconsider aid to Philippines

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at May 22 2010 12:38 PM | Updated as of May 22 2010 08:53 PM

WALNUT GROVE, California – The Philippine Election Observers Team will ask members of the US Congress to “reconsider” the amount of financial aid it grants to the Philippines.

“We will ask that (Congress) look carefully at the amount of money it gives to the Philippine government,” said Reverend Larry Emery, head of the US poll observer team.

Emery said that based on what his team witnessed in the Philippines many voters’ rights were violated. The team reported instances of harassment of voters, notably by members of the Philippine military.

“We give $30 million to the Philippine military every year. This money should not be used to intimidate voters,” said Emery in an interview with Balitang America.

In 2007, US senators held back $2 million in military assistance to the Philippines, because of its poor human rights record. Senators insisted that the money was not to be released unless the Philippine government followed recommendations of the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Emery and 50 other United States citizens embarked on a 10-day mission to the Philippines during the election. His team observed about 900 precincts all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Emery said about 40% of the precincts his team observed had military presence inside polling precincts. Some of the voters his team talked to confessed that the military told them not to vote for progressive party-list groups, those that the military have tagged as members of the New People’s Army.

Emery says because of the military’s involvement in intimidating voters during the election, the US government needs to reconsider the amount of aid to the Philippines.

Disappointed with Comelec

Emery says he is disheartened by the Philippine Commission on Election’s downplay of his team’s observations.

He said: “The automation of election does not solve the problems of vote buying and intimidation and it is something the Comelec needs to pay attention to.”

Emery said the least Comelec can do is investigate the precincts where there was evidence of fraud.

“The Comelec should seek the extent to which the cheating took place and see if it would actually impact the outcome in those areas,” he said.

A Comelec spokesperson reacted to the US observer team by citing other foreign observers who described the Philippine elections as successful.

“Let’s just say they cancel each other out,” spokesperson James Jimenez said.