Posted by: piom2010 | June 1, 2010

TEAM REPORT: Surigao

New Machines, Same Old Political Machinery

Nine of us chose to travel to Surigao del Norte where we divided into three smaller teams: one to Dapa, one to Ma-Init, and one to Tubod.  We arrived on the 9th and began our observations that night.  We want to express our gratefulness to the community members who opened their doors and answered our endless questions.  We also thank the Filipino people for sharing with us their stories, we interviewed hundreds of voters who opened up and shared their very personal details with us.

The Dapa team expected to ride a banca (small boat) they had reserved for 3 pm to the island of Siargao.  They were surprised to find that COMELEC requisitioned their banca to bring PCOS machines to Dapa.  It was a perfect example of how rushed and unprepared the elections were.  The voting machines arrived just 15 hours before the opening of the precincts.  The team redirected their observations to Surigao City.

The two other teams were assigned to Tubod and Ma-Init.  At clustered precincts, the observers conducted ethnographic interviews with voters from different generations, social classes and backgrounds and with various people involved in the electoral process.  They visited a total of 17 different cluster precincts, and documented every observation with photos and videos.

Based on our observations, we declare that the May 2010 election process was not credible due to fear, harassment, technical shortcomings, vote buying, a lack of secrecy at the polls and psychological violence. While the Automated Election System appeared to be a good start, the continued existence of an elitist political order based on wealth, influence and brute force has prevented the true voice of the people from being heard.

In all the COMELEC reports of peaceful elections, “peace” only referred to a lack of widespread, overt physical violence.  But this was not a peaceful election. We observed:

  1. Vote Buying and Voter Disenfranchisement
    1. We heard a case of a voter being threatened by the landowner with eviction from the land unless they voted in a certain way.  The voter ended up moving rather than vote in the way the landowner demanded.
    2. We obtained an affidavit from a man who admitted that, under duress, his finger was marked with indelible ink and he was paid not to vote.  He was visibly shaken and he looked broken as he told us his story.  When we asked how he felt, he began to cry and said he felt that a “nabaliw” (curse) had been cast on him and his family.
    3. We documented more than 44 cases of vote buying (Tili-tili).
      1. We obtained a variety of different sample ballots, some printed with ovals filled out, and some filled out by hand, and some with windows cut out next to the candidates’ names.  They were given to voters along with money.
      2. “There is not one candidate that has not offered me money”.
  1. Lack of Privacy and Secrecy in Voting
    1. There were open windows at every precinct with people videotaping and taking pictures from windows
    2. Unauthorized personnel, including political operatives,  in precincts
    3. Small rooms used for voting
    4. Ordinary folders were used in place of official COMELEC secrecy folder
  1. Intimidation of Voters
    1. Intimidation by elected Barangay Officers (Capitan, Counselor, Secretary)
    2. Barangay Police who were present in the polling centers
    3. Operatives for political parties in the compound and in precincts.  In some instances political operatives wearing t-shirts with “Roma” written on it were the ones who were controlling who entered and who exited the room
  1. Campaigning Inside the Polling Compound
    1. Exploitation of children who were made to hand out campaign materials within the voting area in direct violation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and against the campaign laws of the Philippines
    2. Campaigning paraphernalia (T-shirts, flyers, posters, personal billboards, stickers) inside the polling compounds
  1. Precinct Organization
    1. COMELEC and PNP officers were in some areas very disrespectful to people in line
    2. Distribution of priority numbers was not clear, effective, fair or consistent
    3. Layout of the election site did not facilitate a smooth and efficient flow for waiting voters
    4. Voting hours insufficient for the number of registered voters per precinct
    5. COMELEC officials, Smartmatic technicians and party poll watchers did not have visible identification
    6. The announcement that voting hours would be extended was not always communicated to the BEIs
  1. Technical Problems
    1. Machines rejected more than 80% of the ballots in Mat-I elementary school
    2. While the voting was not very secret, the canvassing was
      1. Because the feature on the machines that would validate and review the ballots was disabled, “Congratulations” did not necessarily mean a valid vote, or that the votes were counted properly
      2. The digital signature to validate the transmission to the canvassing center was disabled
    3. The manual random audit should be performed before the final results are finalized

We honor the spirit of the Filipino voters who waited standing in long lines: under the heavy rain, the sun, with no breakfast neither lunch, to cast their ballots in spite of the oppression and all the irregularities.  COMELEC betrayed the public trust by being indifferent to predicted problems even though they had the power, time and tools to prevent them. The political dynasties that constitute most of the candidates and control the parties ensured that the elections would follow the same formula of name recognition and vote buying.

Pervasive oppression and corruption built within the election system is still present despite the Automated Election System. Vote buying, privacy concerns, technical difficulties and precinct organization contributed to the violation of voter rights and the disenfranchisement of their free will.   Even without any evidence of physical violence or intimidation, there was a physiological fear embedded in the community.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Conduct an independent and transparent electoral audit to validate the results of the May 2010 elections.
  • Cease proclamations of election results until the random manual audit has been fully conducted.
  • Guarantee secrecy for voters.
  • Address, systematically and comprehensively, voter education and the training of all personnel involved in elections.
  • Address urgently the failure of safeguards put in place by COMELEC to ensure the safety of voters.
  • Investigate vote buying and disenfranchisement of voters by political parties.
  • Create an independent body to evaluate any and all vulnerabilities in the election system.
  • Require COMELEC to work with local CSO’s to ensure transparency
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