Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010



On May 10, our nine-person delegation, which includes members from Canada, the United States, Hong Kong and the Philippines, observed elections in the province of Davao del Sur.  We were dismayed at the many examples of voter fraud, voter intimidation, and a variety of irregularities that prevented a free and fair election.

We witnessed blatant disregard for election day protocol on behalf of the military, poll workers and party poll watchers.  We were alarmed to witness group voting, poll watchers instructing people how to vote, and the overall chaotic and inconsistent nature of the whole process.  Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) appeared to be overwhelmed by the number of voters and insufficiently trained in the new voting technology.

Though people were clearly excited to exercise their democratic rights on election day, we witnessed how the system failed many of them. For example, despite the best efforts of the BEI, the sheer volume of eager and enthusiastic voters seemed to overtax them. The new voting machines also jammed, rejected ballots and malfunctioned a number times and the modem connection failed to transmit the ballot results at the end of the day.

We also witnessed that many of the problems that have historically plagued Philippine elections remained, despite the automation. For example, a large number of people reported that candidates engaged in vote buying, offering between 30 and 400 pesos and/or kilos of rice for a vote.

The military campaigned vigorously against party lists and senatorial candidates critical of the current Arroyo administration.  People reported that soldiers made community visits up until the eve of elections to distribute flyers urging people not to vote for such candidates. We also observed armed soldiers in the polling area.

As part of the People’s International Election Observer Mission with 85 participants from around the world, visiting nine regions in the country, we will be finalizing a report about what we witnessed in Davao del Sur and the Philippines. Upon returning to our home countries, we will publicize our findings in hopes that both the Filipino and international communities will use the information from our report to create more democratic processes in the future.

People International Observers’ Mission delegates in Davao include: Clarito Arrodonis (USA) Jerry Bolick (USA), Wendell Gumban (Philippines) Lindsey Kerr (USA), Bonnie Ruth Morton (Canada) Prof. Suresh Naidu (USA), Atty. Radhika Sainath (USA), Rogelio Soluta (Philippines) Kai Shing Wong (Hong Kong).


The 14 municipalities and two cities of the Philippine province of Davao del Sur have a total of 1,465,601 registered voters.  The municipality of Santa Cruz has 52,186.  Nationally the Davao provinces are renowned for their ethnic diversity, historically consisting of indigenous populations legally classified as a whole as “Lumad tribes.”  Since the closing years of Spanish colonial rule in the late 19th century, however, predominantly Roman Catholic people of the major Visayan islands have steadily migrated southward along eastern Mindanao island and established socio-economic political dominance in the region.  The minority ethnic groups in the Davao del Sur area include B’laan, Mandaya, Manobo, Tagakaolo, Tausug and T’Boli, alongside  substantial Christian Visayan (Cebuano, Ilonggo and Waray) presence.

The major products in Davao del Sur are rice, corn, coconut, banana, sugarcane, coffee, cacao, durian, mango, lansones and fish. In Santa Cruz in particular, the major products are banana, coconut and seaweed, while the town’s major investors include the San Miguel Corporation, Coco Davao Inc., Franklin Baker Co. and GSL Food Industries.

Many of people in Santa Cruz are landless tenant sharecroppers.  Chapters of national farmer movements have been organizing people in the area for years.  There is a history of military repression of farmer organizing activity in this region.  The military traditionally links labor organizing activity in the region to left-wing guerilla movements, encumbering farm workers’ ability to organize and bargain collectively.

Election-related violence led the Republic of the Philippines Commission on Elections (COMELECC) to resume control over Davao del Sur’s provincial elections. On May 1, 2010 members of the Philippine 39th Infantry Battalion fired at the convoy of a local candidate after the convoy allegedly ignored a checkpoint in the town of Malita.  This resulted in three injuries.  In Malalag supporters of a local candidate recently shot dead two supporters of the rival candidate.

On Election Day 2010 delegates of the People’s International Observers’ Mission delegates visited polling precincts in two barangays of Santa Cruz:  Brgy. Coronon and Brgy. Zone I. There were five clustered precincts in Brgy. Coronon, with a total of 4,395 registered voters.  In Brgy. Zone I there were three clustered precincts, with a total of 4, 385 registered voters.

People from a variety of sectors interviewed by People’s IOM observers consider Santa Cruz an “electoral hotspot.” People living in the area are being harassed, killed, and displaced in the armed conflict between the National People’s Army (NPA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which is supported by paramilitaries known as CAFGU. Voters  interviewed by the mission speculated that the AFP is in Santa Cruz to protect  the major mining and geothermal projects in the area.


Military Presence / Perceptions of Intimidation

The military’s presence both leading up to elections and on election day impacted the freeness and fairness of the elections by creating a climate of fear and intimidation.

For example, numerous residents of Barenguey Zone 1 reported that the military and paramilitaries harassed and discouraged voters from voting for certain candidates and party lists by conducting house-to-visits, scattering handbills along the main road in the area and personally distributing handbills instructing people not to vote for certain party lists.

During house-to-house visits by the military, residents of Zone 1 reported that the military came to their homes and asked how many people in the family were voters.  Another individual reported that on the day before the election, members of a paramilitary group known as Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), distributed handbills urging people not to vote for certain party lists. These paramilitaries wore masks covering their entire face, but were otherwise dressed as civilians. Likewise, community members reported seeing soldiers in 2 6-wheeled military vehicles throwing flyers the eve of election day. The flyers said don’t vote for a certain set of party lists, and connected them to the CPP/NPA.

On May 11, 2010, the team interviewed the Santa Cruz Seven, a group of party-list activists and politicians that has been harassed by the military since an “encounter” between the NPA and the AFP in January 2010. False frustrated murder charges were subsequently filed by the military against these seven.

We interviewed two of these seven, who reported long-term intense military harassment of progressive community and organization leaders and their families.

A party list member reported that soldiers told him not to vote for his party-list.  He further reported that soldiers wearing civilian clothes and refusing to identify themselves later issued his wife a thinly veiled death threat by promising to return on her birthday and extinguish her birthday candles. These soldiers were later seen in military uniforms.

Zone 1 residents additionally said that a Katribu (party list of indigenous peoples) party member who reportedly aided a wounded soldier was later accused of attempted murder. These party activists believe that an armed encounter between the military (AFP) and communist guerrillas (NPA) in the region on April 30th was given as a pretext for repression of party list organizer. They said the military continued to harass the chairperson of a local farmers’ organization, asking for a master list of organization members.

Numerous residents of Zone 1 also reported that the military extensively campaigned against Lisa Maza, Satur Ocampo and other progressive candidates and party list members by claiming these candidates had ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and NPA.  People’s IOM obtained a flyer distributed by the military which states, “Huwag iboto mga partylists ng NPA” (Do not vote for party lists of the NPA) and then listed 8 party lists including one disqualified two months before the elections.

People’s IOM observers also witnessed the presence of the military on election day in Barangay Zone 1. The incident took place at approximately, 10:30 a.m., when a small white truck filled with a number of soldiers was observed directly behind a building where polling was taking place.  Despite the prohibition of military presence within 50 meters of a polling station, soldiers armed with M-16 rifles were witnessed standing close to the school. When one observer attempted to approach a soldier, the soldier attempted to hide, and then left within five minutes.

Similarly, upon arrival at the precinct, PIOM observers immediately noticed the presence of one armed soldier on the voting grounds (who left upon seeing the observers), and there were two PNP (Philippine National Police) officers along the perimeter of the voting grounds the entire day.

Vote Buying

Vote buying has been historically pervasive and well-documented in the Philippines and involves the providing of a gift (such as cash or foodstuffs) in direct exchange for a requested vote.   The team received several first-hand reports of vote buying in both Coronon and Zone I.  When asked about vote buying one voter stated that, “Yes, vote-buying is happening right here in this election.”

Voters were often reluctant to talk about vote buying, often stating that it occurred in a neighboring area or that they had “heard about it.” These claims were often made with an air of tension and apprehension.  In separate instances, one bystander sidled up to a voter warning him about the consequences of relaying his personal experience with vote buying. “You will be killed,” said the bystander.  Another Coronen voter silently gestured to the PIOM observer that his throat would be cut if he were to affirm personal experience with the vote buying phenomenon.

One Zone I voter reported that representatives of a vice-mayoral candidate were giving out rice in exchange for votes.  Other Zone I voters reported that candidate representatives offered between 30 and 400 pesos (US $0.65 to $9.30), as well as rice, in exchange for a vote.

Voters in Coronon reported that representatives of candidates offered specific quantities of rice (one to three kilograms) in addition to money in exchange for votes. Such representatives approached our interviewees either on the street, or visited them at home by walking from house to house.  One voter received 100 pesos in an envelope with a sample ballot, indicating the specific vote desired.

In PIOM interviews conducted the day after the election, one emaciated woman with regional tribal ethnicity reported accepting two 3-kilogram packages of rice, each from the representatives of two separate candidates:  one for councilor and one for mayor. She confirmed that this influenced her vote.  She added that members of her barangay political organization followed up on her with a visit after she went to the polls to confirm that she indeed had voted in the desired fashion. In another post-election interview, a man initially acknowledged experience with vote buying, but denied this later in the interview.

Lastly, one candidate interviewed reported that she believed people were also being paid not to vote.

Anomalies in the Voters’ Lists

People’s IOM members also noted two broad categories: problems with the voter list such as the presence of dead people on the list, and the absence of names of people who believed they were eligible to vote.

One Coronon man reported that the names of his father and uncle, who had both died in the early 1990s, were on the list.  Similarly, one Coronon precinct election official acknowledged that the names of 12 dead people appeared on their voter list.

The team members also observed that many would-be voters could not find their names on the voter list in both polling locations. In Zone I, PIOM came across at least 35 cases of people who were not able to find themselves on the initial voters’ list (although there was a backup list available).   In Coronon, three women went to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) head, and reported that their names were not on the list. These individuals were told that nothing could be done.

One resident of Coronen was involved in an altercation with election officials after finding out that his entire family of three could not vote despite appropriately following poll procedures (obtaining their priority numbers, with the expectation of having their voting processed in the order received), as their respective priority numbers had already been used by other voters.

All these voter list issues were confirmed in post-election interviews conducted in Zone I.  Many Election Day interviewees ventured that such voter list problems might have been attributable to the 2010 approach of consolidating multiple precincts into new administrative “clusters.”

Problems with the Automated Electoral System

People’s IOM members witnessed a number of problems with the Automated Electoral System (AES) machines or PCOS, which resulted in voting delays, uncounted ballots, and compromises with the security of the ballot. Such problems included delays in initialization, machine breakdowns, ballot rejections, insufficient technical support, paper jams, failure in transmission, memory card failure, and inadequate training of staff.

In Zone I, one PCOS machine broke down for 45 minutes. The PCOS also rejected nearly 3% of ballots.  BEI staff on site dealt with these invalid ballots inconsistently; ranging from placing rejected ballots in a plastic bag to strewing them about the polling site.

In one Zone 1 precinct station, election officials’ unfamiliarity with technical issues delayed the opening of the polls for approximately 45 minutes.  In Coronon, two machines broke down, with one breaking down twice in one precinct, causing lengthy delays. BEI staff also appeared severely undertrained: some forgot to enter PINs into the machine, whereas others read the wrong instructions (which, incidentally, were all in English), when attempting to troubleshoot.

Ballots often took up to 20 minutes to fill out, and many voters, particularly farmers, complained that they had trouble filling out the bubbles because of the small sizes.  These voters were particularly concerned that their votes might not be counted because their shaky hands from years of manual labor made it difficult to stay within the lines.

While all precinct stations were supposed to be equipped with ultraviolet lamps to check the validity of the ballots, no PIOM observer reported seeing one being employed for this purpose.

The Sta. Cruz municipal canvassing board chairman Cacsasa R. Casar told PIOM that all of the modems in Zone 1 failed to transmit at the close of election day.   In Coronen, PIOM team members observed two out of five AES machines failed to electronically transmit. According to the Chairman, 26 out of 62 modems in Santa Cruz failed to transmit.  These memory cards had to be physically transported to the municipal canvassing board, compromising the security of the electoral returns.

Polling Place Irregularities

The PIOM team found a large number of irregularities and disturbing practices with respect to precinct area logistics and ballot security.

In Coronon, BEI did not permit PIOM observers to be present in the voting rooms, relegating them to observe from windows and doorways once the polls opened at 7:00 AM. However, in Zone 1, PIOM watchers were allowed inside the voting area itself.   Thus in Coronen, official partisan poll watchers (i.e., observers of major formal political parties in the Philippines), unlike PIOM observers, were allowed inside the rooms where the voting took place.

Nonetheless, PIOM team members in both Coronen and Zone 1 observed that partisan poll watchers routinely performed tasks that should have been conducted by BEI staff, such as helping voters fill out their ballots and distributing voters’ priority numbers.

In addition, these partisan watchers would help voters get to the front of the line, often pushing them forward in front of other voters, and then watched how “their people” voted.  Partisan watchers were routinely shouting out the names of voters’ chosen candidates aloud and in some instances actually filled out voters’ ballots, and loaded these ballots into the AES machines.

In Coronon, a PIOM team member observed BEI staff putting two ballots into a single folder before handing them to the voter. After voting was finished, staff would insert both simultaneously into the AES machine. The same PIOM team member in Coronon also observed that the worker designated to mark the fingers of the voters (with ink to verify their having voted) was not consistently performing his task and was often not even present.

PIOM also observed a number of other irregularities. In Coronon, one PIOM team member observed an instance of ballots being put through a machine even after the memory card had been taken out, so that the ballot would not be electronically registered. Another PIOM member observed that pregnant women had difficulties voting in Zone 1, due to the long lines, overcrowding and often pushing evident at the polling station.

Our post-election interviewees noted unfairness in the distribution/handling of priority numbers, resulting in some voters not being processed in the order in which they physically arrived at the precinct. One voter complained of having her priority number buried below others, and then being subjected to further delays when she complained.  Another one said she just memorized a sample ballot provided by a party leader without knowing who any of the candidates were.

By far the most common complaint was the long waiting time, from two to five hours in some cases. Long and unclear lines, overcrowding, and insufficient staff resulted in an absence of ballot privacy and even occasional fights and scuffles. PIOM observers also observed that all instructions were in English and Tagalog, but not in the local Visayan or local indigenous dialects/languages.   In addition, PIOM found that illiterate voters were not treated in a consistent fashion by BEI staff, in that some were helped by party poll watchers, why others were helped by BEI workers.

While some interviewees reported no problem at all with their election experience, others verified the precinct issues noted in this section, suggesting that some of these issues were attributable to the reported quintupling of the ratio of voters to poll workers from the last election period. PIOM observers were also concerned that the behavior of these official partisan poll watchers creates a large potential for fraud.


The PIOM observer team found a variety of problematic issues at Santa Cruz voter polling stations in Zone I and Coronon on Election Day 2010, including voter intimidation (before and during Election Day, either at the hands of the police or military), vote buying, defective voter lists, complications due to crowding, and the potentially fraudulent behavior of official poll watchers.

With the exception of technical, personnel or systematic issues related to the newly-introduced AES in the 2010 Philippine elections, indeed, such issues have already been noted and responded to in the People’s IOM’s report regarding the Philippines’ 2007 elections. The political and economic conditions we observed, such as political dynasties, inequality in land ownership, military intimidation and vote-buying make electoral reforms alone merely cosmetic. The combination of inequality and politically-motivated counterinsurgency in the area compromises electoral and human rights. Unless the new administration takes steps to fix these more fundamental issues, even a 100% efficiency-proven AES cannot ensure the protection of democratic processes.

Not-for-profit public interest organizations of the Philippines have independently requested international exposure of human rights violations and for outside observers to ask their respective governments to cut military funding to armies that neither comply with human rights laws nor respect the political will of the people.  In the case of the People’s IOM in 2010, such parties asked us to inform others that civilians are the ones who suffer the most when the military and armed rebel groups engage in combat.  These Philippine citizens also protest the exploitation of land by large-scale mining companies and the development of environmentally dangerous plantations.


The above-mentioned observations were not isolated events and indicate that the Philippine government is not committed to holding free and fair elections. The overall nature of our findings are consistent with those of our colleagues in other parts of the country as well as with PIOM’s comprehensive 2007 report. The Philippine government must address the following issues:

  • International best practices must be considered, including preserving secrecy of the ballot, ensuring all eligible voters are on the voting list, and devoting adequate resources to ensure speedy and efficient voting.
  • Ballots, memory cards and voting machines must be kept secure at all times, but without creating an atmosphere that leads to voter intimidation.
  • Legal action must be taken against politicians and military officials who are complicit in electoral and human rights violations.
  • The Philippine government at the national level must take concrete steps toward meaningful economic improvement for the country’s poor (who comprise the majority of the Philippine population) in order to end the ease with which politicians and candidates buy votes and manipulate elections.#

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