Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010

TEAM REPORT: Iloilo

In Iloilo, the People’s International Observers Mission has designated Iloilo City and Estancia as areas to observe being election “hot spots”. In both areas, fraud, corruption and election related violence are rampant affecting the people’s democratic rights. PIOM assigned a team to both areas to observe the elections and report their findings.

The political climate in Iloilo City was intensifying as election day approached.  In Iloilo City, Raul Gonzales Sr., former Secretary of the Department of Justice, one of the brains of Oplan Bantay Laya, was running for Mayor against Undersecretary Larry Jamora.  Gonzales Sr.’s son Raul Gonzales Jr. was running for Congress. Two bombing incidents occurred when campaign season started in March, targeting Mayor Jerry Trenas.  In addition, Vice Mayor Jed Mabilog was stoned during his series of sorties by unidentified people. Military personnel were deployed to Iloilo City prior to the elections.  Cause-oriented groups opposed the plan to deploy military to Iloilo City, as they believed this would cause more violence and harassment against the people and especially the progressive sectors.

In Estancia, Boy Mosqueda was running for re-election as Mayor against Rene Cordero.  Mosqueda is a retired police general who had formerly implemented counter-insurgency witchhunts in Bicol and currently is known to have the local Philippine National Police (PNP) at his command.  In 2005, he was publicly investigated by the Senate for receiving money from jueteng from First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.  Cordero was formerly mayor right before Mosqueda was elected in 2007.  Issues of corruption and extortion activities and political violence marred Mayor Mosqueda’s three years in office.

Violence and Harassment

In both Iloilo City and Estancia there were several accounts of violence and harassment at several voting centers and targeting of specific candidates. On May 9th, Vice Mayor Catedral of Lambunao requested that the Iloilo team conduct an interview of a recent shooting incident. He reported that the previous night his house had been strafed by gun fire and that the suspects were goons of Mayor Gonzales. He reported this to the local Chief of Police. After the media interviewed the Chief of Police in the morning, he reported that no shootings or acts of violence had occurred. However by the late afternoon, a radio announced that there was gun fire at the Vice Mayor’s house. The evening after our team left Lambunao, three houses of the Vice Mayor’s supporters were burned down.

In Estancia, the employee of the incumbent mayor, Boy Mosqueda, shot one campaigner for the mayoral candidate of the opposition, R Cordero.  Also, a Cordero candidate suffered a grenade attack at his home. In addition, a known supporter of the opposition was clubbed by a PNP police officer. None of these crimes have been resolved by local police, and the victims expressed frustration with police indifference to politically motivated crimes against the opposition.

In direct violation of voting regulations, the Estancia team observed police about 10 meters from the polling place (and inside the school grounds) at Poblacion.  We saw the PNP from in front of the Daculan polling center rush in and enter the grounds up to the door of the precinct. They were armed with M16 armalites and billy clubs and surrounded the precinct.  When questioned, the PNP said that they were there to “pacify” the voters who were agitated about the long line. However, the Estancia’s team assessment noted that the voters were not particularly agitated and did not need to be “pacified”. We also witnessed the personal security guards of both mayoral candidates in Estancia enter the school grounds where the voting booths were located, with guns visible.

When interviewed, the COMELEC official of Estancia (Connie Jaranilla) mentioned that she had been having difficulties with Mayor Mosqueda’s influence on the PNP and as a result asked certain police officers to be removed.  She called in the RMG (Regional Mobile Group) for the elections and Estancia was named an “Area of Concern.”  She also called in the 47th infantry battalion.  This army regiment of 12 was brought into the Municipal Hall on May 10th to remain until a winner was declared.  However the regiment was still in the Municipal Hall on May 12th, more than 24 hours after the winner of the election had been called.

Automated Election System

Both teams observed several accounts of PCOS failures that caused long lines and waiting periods to vote. On May 9th, the Iloilo team observed a dry run of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines. The PCOS appeared to be working and accepting and reading ballots. The testers (teachers) appeared to be well trained and easily handled the technology.

On May 10th, the Iloilo team arrived at the voting center at SPED Elementary at 6:45 am. One precinct had the wrong ballots delivered and the PCOS machine did not accept them. Voting in this precinct was delayed one hour as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) waited for COMELEC to deliver the correct ballots.

By 12 pm it became clear in all the precincts that the voting process was backing up, lines began to lengthen, and voters had to wait for several hours. This was due partly to failures in the PCOS machines. In one case a machine had a paper jam and the relevant technician was not available, as he himself had left to vote. This precinct had over 900 voters and by 2.00pm only 350 voters had cast their votes.

In Estancia an average of 1% of ballots were counted as invalid at the precincts with determination of the reason for invalidity unclear. Some precincts saw “power downs”, loss of electricity, and significant trouble transmitting the results when voting had finished. In San Roque, voting finished around 7pm but the BEIs were subsequently facing a number of failed transmissions for at least an hour. We witnessed broken seals on at least 5 PCOS machines; the yellow loop was broken or absent with tape in place to hold the compartment closed.  We understand that this calls into question the integrity of the results. One PCOS machine was left unattended and unsecured over night, prior to the election at The National School, Estancia. We received reports that only 11/50 ballots at Lumbia were accepted as of 9:10 am. The rest were rejected by the AES machine.

Voting Process

Overall, the logistics of the process were ineffective causing extremely prolonged waiting periods for voting. Training prior to the election did not focus on the logistics of the voting process outside of the automated machines and thus procedures varied from precinct to precinct with vastly different outcomes.

In Estancia, BEIs did not have enough training or support in order to facilitate the volume of voters.  During the testing and sealing of the machines, the start up on the morning of May 10th, and the transmission of the results the BEIs were seen to be unsure of the process, arguing over what was to be done as well as referring to the manual repeatedly.

In both Estancia and Iloilo, there was no regulated method for admitting the voters to the precinct. For example, letting groups of ten into the precinct at a time and not calling for the next ten until all voters had completed their ballots. Working on this ‘convey principle’ further lengthened voting lines.  Other BEIs worked on the principle of one voter in, one voter out which was far more efficient.

In still other cases wait list numbers were given and called out later.  In Pa On priority entrance was given to seniors and those with children, resulting in wait times for others of upwards of 10 hours.  In at least one location (Zone 1, Estancia) voters were allowed to wait within the precinct amidst those voting.

In addition, the ballots were made more confusing by the fact that most instructions were only written in English.  For example, “Vote for no more than 12 Senators” would be difficult to understand for someone who speaks no English. This caused some voters to vote for more candidates than is allowed, and subsequently the section of ballot to be declared invalid

Overall voters in both Iloilo City and Estancia reported that the electronic system took far longer than the manual system and compared to previous occasions when they had voted.  Voters seemed to be determined to vote and be prepared to put up with a high degree of physical discomfort whilst doing so, i.e. heat, hunger and lack of seats. Many also had children with them who had to be cared for. The location of the polling precincts in the schools caused many to line up under the direct sun with no shade while waiting.  There was no water or food available within some polling centers, whilst others were well served by vendors. We received a report that someone died from heatstroke in Malbog, Estancia, while waiting to vote.

By 4 pm the majority of voters in Iloilo City and Estancia had been waiting for 4 to 5 hours. The longest waiting periods we encountered in Iloilo City were 10 hours and in Estancia 11.5 hours. Some voters in the morning left in hopes of returning in the afternoon to fall back in shorter lines. However, as the day wore on the voting lines got increasingly longer.  As lines got longer, voters got increasingly angry and some went home and/or noted that they would not be voting again if the automated system stayed in place.

In Estancia specifically, lines had begun to form at all polling places when voting commenced. A majority of the precincts saw lines of 50-150 for the entirety of the morning. Logistical problems surrounding the voting process kept average voting time from 7-15 minutes. Many of those that had queued up before polls opened had not voted until well into the afternoon. We interviewed Precious Pagayunan at Precinct 37 A + B, 38 A +B, 39 A, 40 A and 41A (Botongon School).  She had been waiting non-stop since 7 am, and had still not voted at 7 pm.  She witnessed many people leave the polls in frustration with the long waiting time.  As of 7 pm, 316 out of 912 voters had successfully cast ballots at this precinct.  We documented waiting time of 1:15 minutes at Northern Polytechnic State College as of 8:15 am (Gilda Daguna).  We also documented waiting time of 4 hours at Lumbia.  Significant lines were still seen at almost all precincts upon the official close of the voting period at 7pm. Approximately 150 people were still lined up In one precinct, Daculan. Final poll results were ready for transmission starting around 8pm, with other precincts not ready to transmit for several more hours.

Poll Irregularities

The Iloilo City and Estancia teams observed electioneering materials present within the precinct areas on the day of election. These included sample ballot papers with the relevant candidates name shaded in and fans and umbrellas with candidate’s names on. Children were being used to hand out the sample ballot papers. The locals also informed us of vote buying going on outside the gates of one school. While in Estancia COMELEC officials confiscated campaign materials, in Iloilo City BEI, COMELEC officials and police failed to stop obvious signs of fraud.

The Estancia team observed candidate supporters passing out campaign materials and food and drinks on election day.  This occurred in the presence of the Region Mobile group (RMG) and the Regional COMELEC official (Coloso) in Pa-On. Interviews also revealed some voters who were given bags of groceries voters in exchange for their vote for the incumbent mayor in Estancia.

CONCLUSION

    • Overly large clusters of voters meant that the technological system struggled to be fit for its purpose.
    • It was only because of the high tolerance level of voters, and determination to vote, that the system did not collapse.
    • Voter turn out is likely to have gone down as a result of long waiting time.
    • Harassment, vote buying and illegal electioneering were in evidence.
    • Other facilitators could be deployed apart from the police. Vendors can be allowed in polling stations to provide food and water to the voters.
    • Politically motivated crimes were evident and should be addressed.
    • More technical support should be available in the precincts and more machines available per capita.
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