Halalan 2022 'failed' Filipinos, global rights group says

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 28 2022 08:30 PM

Electoral board officers ABS-CBN News/file
Electoral board officers at the Tomas Morato Elementary Sschool in Quezon City set up and check the operation of a vote-counting machine during the national elections on May 9, 2022. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/file

ICHRP: Revamp Comelec, replace VCMs 

A global human rights group urged the Philippines on Monday to revamp its poll body and electronic vote counting system for future elections, among other recommendations based on its on-ground observation of the 2022 national elections that swept president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to power.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said the May polls “failed to meet the international standard of a free, honest, and fair election”, according to the final report of its Philippine election 2022 International Observer Mission (IOM) released online.

The report said the elections were marred by vote-buying, disinformation, and human rights violations, aside from problems in the actual vote counting.

“The evidence is just overwhelming the national Philippine election clearly failed the people of the Philippines. Marcos Jr. and [vice president-elect] Sara Duterte were not elected legitimately,” said Lee Rhiannon, IOM commissioner and former Australian senator at a live-streamed conference.

The IOM cited a “higher level of failure” in the electronic voting system, where many voters did not get to cast votes, and failures of multiple vote counting machines (VCMs) in other cases left it to election officials to cast their ballots.

It added that only less than a third or 480,000 out of 1.7 million registered voter overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were able to cast absentee votes.

“An independent, non-partisan, electoral institution is urgently needed. Comelec is currently not that body. It needs a major overhaul. The problems with it just go on and on,” Rhiannon said.

The ICHRP recommended an independent process for selecting Comelec commissioners as opposed to the current mode of presidential appointments.

The group also urged a review of the automated election system to make it more transparent and to replace VCMs with manual counting before transmission. 

CHRP’s local partner Kontra Daya is pushing for the blacklisting of polling provider Smartmatic and improving the election random manual audit via purposive sampling of the VCMs to be checked.

“Is there a chance for the results to be overturned? The answer is no. But there is more than enough reason for the results to be challenged and doubted,” said Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao. 

“If the automated election system has not been transparent in the first place, why would you have too much faith on 99.9 percent findings, where you just simply compared the printout with what was transmitted, when the doubt with regard to the process has been there prior to the day of the election?” he added. 

RAMPANT VOTE-BUYING

The 60 IOM observers from 11 countries who went to various areas of the Philippines over 5 months reported several instances of vote-buying, mostly by local candidates for both local and presidential races.

The report said voters were promised and given bribes ranging from P500 to P5,000, some being given via mobile cash transfer, with many accepting because of poverty and unemployment.

Opposing candidates in some areas also outbid each other.

The group called for the apprehension and sanctioning of vote-buyers to minimize the practice.

The IOM also flagged the spread of disinformation and red-tagging of certain groups.

“The fake news was really, really very effective. People really believed that Bongbong Marcos will be a good president and they really believe the story that says the Marcos period was the ‘golden era’ of the Philippines,” said Mieke Van den Broeck, one of the observers.

Based on official results, Marcos was elected by over 31 million voters and at 59 percent the first majority president since the 1960s.

The IOM joined other local groups in calling for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Anti-Terrorism Law.

They also called for regulation of social media companies to combat fake news and for harassment of journalists and media organizations to stop.

BUILD UP AWARENESS

Asked what to do with Marcos Jr.’s election already being recognized by foreign governments, Rhiannon said this can only be addressed by continuously bringing up these concerns.

“I think what’s very important is within our own countries that we build up awareness of these issues. The lack of coverage about what is happening in the Philippines is staggering. You would think there’s nothing that happened, there was an election and these people were elected. Nothing about all the crimes that were unearthed, the extraordinary aspects of it,” she said.

The IOM recommended for foreign countries to enact their own versions of the United States’ Magnitsky Act which would allow them to sanction government officials in other nations for human rights offenses.

The Philippine government has described such sanctions as meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state.

Rhiannon said the international community must intensify its focus on the incoming Marcos government, its human rights record, as well as attempts to rewrite or distort history, particularly on the dictatorship of Marcos’s late father Ferdinand Sr. 

“Lobbying our communities, lobbying our governments so when they go to these international fora, everything from the ICC to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, they are a voice for the people of the Philippines,” she said. 

“This is going to be a long struggle, and we need to be building up that awareness, absolutely is a huge part of what we have to do.”

Copies of the ICHRP’s report will be sent to the governments of the countries represented in the observer mission, as well as the European Union, United Nations bodies and the International Criminal Court.

Malacañang Palace had earlier dismissed the initial findings of the ICHRP, saying there was no irregularities in the polls.

The Comelec also maintained the election results were clean and fair despite the issues raised by observers.