Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010

TEAM REPORT: Southern Tagalog

The People’s International Observers’ Mission conducted in Cavite and Quezon province consisted of a team of three to five international observers/team, a team leader, a documentation team, a media team (Southern Tagalog Exposure), and security.  The participants for Quezon Province consisted of Yoko Liriano-USA, Rev. Kathryn Schreiber-USA, Priscillia Lefebvre-Canada, as well as Pastors Eric Milambiling and Joram Calimutan-Philippines. The participants for Cavite were Johnna Mortenson-Denmark, Robert McCauley-USA, Margot Hoyte-Australia, Father Arturo Balagat-USA, and Naida Castro-USA.

FINDINGS

QUEZON

The Quezon team was able to participate in the testing of PCOS machines at Gulang Gulang Elementary School on the day before the elections.  On Election Day, the Quezon team observed the voting process in Lucban, Southern Luzon State University, Sua Elementary School in Mauban, Tayabas, and Quezon National High School.   The day after the elections, the team observed the canvassing at the municipal level in Pagbilao and Tayabas, as well as at the provincial level in Lucena City.  The PPCRV, or Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting was also met with the team to compare observations.

CAVITE

The Cavite team visited the following schools – Mambong Elementary, Molino 3 Elementary, Molino 1 Elementary, San Nicolas Elementary, Maliksi Elementary, Bacoor Central Elementary.  Election Day the team visited the Provincial Capital, Trese  Martires, to meet with the COMELEC  Supervisor; and revisited the Provincial Capital Council Chambers on May 11th.

Automated System

Testing:  In most areas of Quezon testing took place on May 9 the day before the elections.  At Gulang Gulang Elementary School testing began after 1pm.  Last minute testing day lacked fluency.  We observed teachers were not well-trained in PCOS assembly, nor were the BEI in troubleshooting.  Activities support was inadequate.  Inconsistent procedures included securing CF cards with different colour tabs.  Malfunctions included thermal paper not loading or running out and automatic shutdown of the PCOS machines for no apparent reason.  Security concerns included the location of PCOS machines the night before elections.

Technical Failures During Voting: We witnessed many rejected ballots with no obvious or consistent consensus on what happens once a vote was rejected.  Some failed ballots were placed on the side of the PCOS machine, in the open.  Some BEIs issued new ballots. We observed a rejected ballot being filled or shaded for the voter by a teacher.  (see  Ayuti Failed Ballot Incident below)

We also observed failures of PCOS machines.  IT persons were extremely unprepared to respond.  Calls and texts were made with COMELEC or Smartmatic for instructions.  At least one precinct’s backup battery failed 3 times.  Seals on the CF cards in some precincts were missing.  Taking fingerprints at registration caused voters to have an ink-smeared thumb that might create extra markings on their ballots before they were submitted for scanning.  Also of note, one brown- out occurred.  (see Mauban Technical Failure Incident below)

Voting Process

Getting to Polls: Sometimes there were checkpoints.  Some voters had to travel to new location due to consolidation of precincts.

Registration: Only at one school did we find a map, clearly posted, which included instructions on obtaining a voter order number.  Often, there was confusion over finding precinct and obtaining voter order numbers.  Many voters were unaware they should get voter numbers.  We noticed different distribution practices in different precincts.  Much time was spent finding names on precinct lists, as lists were numerical by voter number, or alphabetical but separated by precinct and many voters could not identify their precinct.  We noticed the PPCRV provided information tables at many of schools.

Length of Time to Vote:  Frequently, we found long lines.  At one site, people were in a line only to discover the line was not actually leading anywhere.  It was not uncommon to find people standing in line for over three hours.  At some schools, huge crowds were hot, sweaty and unhappy with the process stating a preference for manual voting which was easier and faster.  In others, despite waiting several hours, progress went well.  Most sites were overcrowded during part, if not all, of the day.

Confidentially:  Secrecy folders were not found in all precincts, and not used in many where they did exist – sometimes used as a cushion for writing upon, not for voting confidentiality.  Some locations did use them to guard voter privacy.  However, those who attempted to use the folders noticed the inadequacy of the folders due to their size in comparison to the ballot or either had to leave them on the desk or their folders were taken from them when joining the line to insert their ballot into the PCOS machine, at which time the congestion due to registration morphed with the voting line and destroyed any chance at voting privacy. In some schools windows were open for all onlookers outside to peer inside.

Canvassing: Election Day, May 10, as of 8:00pm no election returns had been submitted to the provincial capital of Cavite.  By May 12th one Barangay had yet to transmit or deliver returns.  At the Provincial Capital in Quezon on May 11that 3:44pm 16 out of 41 Barangays had not yet transmitted or delivered election data.

Violence and Harassment

Armed Forces: We noticed police and military presence on Election Day and the day after.  At Southern Luzon State University, at a checkpoint across from the school, we observed armed elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP).  At the gate where there was one armed PNP a voter has to pass before entering the school, and a tent of several armed and unarmed PNP personnel inside the school.  Frequently, Barangay police were also seen inside the school.

Vote-Buying:  We received verbal reports of vote buying by the Revilla campaign personnel (Revilla is a senatorial candidate and gathered the most number of votes nationwide).  Later reports stated that 2 – 5 Abaya campaigners were reported arrested in the morning of May 10 for vote buying at this school.

After lunch, we attempted to visit Talaba 4, however a nearby shooting incident made it impossible to access (see: Talaba Shooting Incident below)

Inappropriate Campaigning/Poll Watcher Activities: We noticed campaign materials in a number of classrooms and polling sites.  Most were “sample ballots” that had candidates of a specific party listed, but others were more direct.  Many persons wearing the same colored shirt (a party colour) with the word “watchman” or “security” on their backs were seen by the team to be a form of campaign material or an intimidation tactic.  At one school, vehicles with candidate’s paraphernalia drove through the grounds and distributed food for the poll watchers.

Many party observers were observed behaving inappropriately.  Some party list poll watchers were seen walking in between desks as if to assist in the process.  Some stood too close to the PCOS machine as voters inserted their ballot.  Poll watchers often assist voters in how to insert ballots, and sometimes did so themselves. At Quezon National High School, party list poll watchers took command of the entrance, deciding who got in and out of the precinct.  Barangay officers responded to the commotion that broke out due to this poll watcher’s activity.  Another party observer was found handing out voter order numbers.  There seemed to be an inconsistency between the verbal and written guidelines of the COMELEC regarding where a party list poll watchers can observe—in their own precinct or another precinct.  We were also concerned that the poor use of secrecy folders, combined with the close proximity of party poll watchers, intimidated voters.

Harassment of People’s IOM Team: At Bacoor Central Elementary poll watcher Nasher F. Ambrocio was observed taking pictures of the People’s IOM group.  Upon being approached, he said he needed photos for his report.  He had 3 different IDs, one for Presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro.  At Quezon National High School the previously mentioned poll watcher harassed our media team.  At Tayabas, there was one AFP personnel, Almencion, and one PNP personnel, Pagtilan, who were in the canvassing room.  After speaking with one of the observers, Almencion began texting.  After a while, a PNP personnel, Ursolino, stood behind two of the international observers to view what they were writing in their notebooks.   A man who identified himself as Guilo, part of the mayoral office, asked the international observers to record their names and addresses in a registry of guests for the upcoming festival.

HIGHLIGHTED CASES

Ayuti Failed Ballot Incident:

In the precinct for Barangay Ayuti in Lucban, one of the voters’ ballot was rejected once, after which the BEI took the ballot, examined it closely, took the marker and shaded some of the circles for the voter.  Then, the BEI proceeded to process the ballot through the PCOS machine but it was rejected three more times and put to the side.  During an interview with this specific voter, he said that the reason his ballot was rejected might have been the fact that he had forgotten his glasses at home and could not read what was written.  The BEI said there were extra markings—this led to the disenfranchisement of this voter.

Mauban Technical Failure Incident

At Mauban, a PCOS machine stopped functioning.  It took an hour and a half to resolve the procedure.  BEI and IT were on standby for some time awaiting  further instructions from Smartmatic, as COMELEC had referred them to Smartmatic.  During this time, voters became restless, freely left their seats and ballots.   Voters talked among themselves, some compared ballots.  Finally, BEI and poll watchers decided to have voters fill out their ballots and to leave it up to BEIs, with the supervision of the poll watchers (most of whom were from the same group), later inserting ballots into a functional PCOS machine.

Talaba Shooting Incident

On the way to Talaba 4 School, while attempting to turn left onto the main road (Aguinaldo Highway), the Cavite team noticed a large number of people running in the team’s direction.  Asking those who were apparently running away, we were advised that a shooting incident had just occurred at the PNP Station.  Consequently, we turned right on the highway, away from the scene.   We began interviewing witnesses, as they streamed past our vehicle.  Confusing and conflicting stories ensued.  It appeared that the military, PNP and some civilians, perhaps from a private army, may have been involved.  We drove further up the street to pull off the Highway.  We received a phone report from the scene that there 2 persons were killed during the incident.

The PIOM team interviewed Acting Chief of Police, Colonel Abrenica, who said that the previous Chief had been suspended the night before.  We received a verbal and written report (PNP Press Release, transmitted 10:51am 11 May, attached).  It appears an armed dispute between the PNP and Jun Abaya (a candidate for a local position) and employees of the Abaya campaign engaged in a gunfight.  2 Abaya supporters were killed, 1 wounded, 1 PNP officer wounded, 2 Abaya supporters detained and Former Congressman Plaridel Abaya detained by the PNP.

RECOMMENDATIONS

There needs to be more PCOS machines available for each precinct both as a way to relieve backlogging of voters and in terms of a spare machine in case of a malfunction. We recommend that the number of PCOS machines are at least doubled. There is currently a maximum of 1000 voters per PCOS machine, thus we recommend 500 voters.  Improve machine quality, increase the number of available technicians, enable a voter confirmation screen.

There needs to be consistent voting procedures in each precinct (written instructions for voter number, precinct location, voter order ticketing). The registration directory would be more efficient if the clustered precincts were listed in one consolidated alphabetical list. We recommend that the registration process take place in a separate room to allow more flow and privacy in the voting room.

Improve accuracy of voter lists and establish a procedure for the elderly and disabled that does not cause other voters extended waiting times.

We recommend more substantial and additional training be provided for the BEIs, the Smartmatic technicians, the partylist poll watchers, the COMELEC officials and the voters themselves. In terms of the partylist poll watchers, the boundaries and responsibilities of their job should be made clear and more immediate reprimand for infractions.

All voters should have access to instructions on how to fill out ballots, how the PCOS machines work in terms of reading ballots as well as what happens when a ballot is rejected. Rules regarding the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in the voting room need to be clearly indicated and enforced.

Enforce laws regarding campaign materials, campaigners and presence of PNP/AFP and Baranguay police within voting areas.

Mock elections and the testing of the PCOS machines need to be conducted in advance and more than once, such as 3 months, one month, a week and the day before elections. An independent body (not government appointed) should be responsible for conducting and resolving (or at least recommending resolutions to) recorded failures with special attention to the rejection of ballots.

When a PCOS machine malfunctions and voting becomes a problem on the day of the elections, we recommend that the COMELEC, not Smartmatic, be responsible with procedural decisions. Additionally, the COMELEC needs to conduct its duties in a clear and transparent manner following prewritten and agreed upon guidelines.

COMELEC should conduct a review and implement recommendations well before the next election. COMELEC guidelines should be rewritten based on new findings in this first automated election in order to reflect problems that seem to have been widespread.  There also needs to be more transparency in the sense that voters should be allowed to verify that the vote was read correctly – for example, the vote could be shown on the PCOS machine screen, an option that was disabled by the COMELEC. We recommend that this feature is reinstalled.

We recommend that measures be put into place to ensure voter confidentiality. Simple measures such as cubicles could be used as well as a shield that would hide the ballot as it is being fed into the PCOS machine.

Ensure transparency of data transfer.

Employ sufficient number of personnel to conduct elections.  It should not be the job of teachers to administer elections.  Every election has reports of violence against teachers, who are actually education professionals – not electoral officers.

All voters should have adequate access to voting stations, especially those in remote areas in order to ensure voter security as well as proper representation. In areas where the use of PCOS machines are especially problematic, reverting to manual voting should be enacted.

Each precinct’s election returns should be broadcasted online as they develop to increase transparency and allow the public to make sure that there is no vote padding/vote shaving  (dagdag bawas) during canvassing or counting of votes.

Vote buying and possible selective enforcement of the law may have contributed to the ensuing gun fight that left 2 people dead.  Further possible factors contributing to this incident should be investigated.

Conclusions

Was this an election free of violence?  Media reports have been cited as reporting that an ‘International observer mission said the elections in Cavite were violence free.’  We were there and we say clearly: “two dead men does not equal a violence-free election.”  Further, that by international standards, any death, injury or other violence, means that the election is not violence free.

Did the automated system fulfill the objectives that it was supposed to fulfill? That is, to introduce an election process that was fast, clean, efficient and free of corruption, intimidation, violence and other forms of election fraud.  The question can only be answered by considering all aspects of the electoral process.  That is, we must look not only at the automated system, but also the presence of vote buying, intimidation and other irregularities in the voting process. Our conclusion is that since intimidation, vote buying and other activities of corruption continue to be documented, the use of an electronic ballot system can solve only part of the problem.#


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