VOTE-BUYING, intimidation and minors casting their votes were among the “serious irregularities” witnessed by members of the 2013 International Observers’ Mission organized by the Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections (Compact).
The group’s report covered the six areas it monitored during the conduct of the midterm elections on May 13.
“Based on the six areas we monitored, the elections were conducted in a relatively fair and orderly manner. Nevertheless, the problems we saw and documented, unless properly addressed by concerned government agencies and stakeholders, will undermine an electoral process reasonably credible by international standards,” said Compact National Coordinator Arnold Tarrobago.
Although the foreign observers noted that the 2013 election was generally peaceful and orderly, they were quick to qualify that its orderly conduct cannot hide the serious irregularities and other problems that they have observed.
Tarrobago said the observers from 30 countries divided themselves into six groups, with each group monitoring Pampanga, Cagayan, Camarines Sur and Masbate, Cebu, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Vote buying, underage voting
The foreign observers also reported vote-buying incidents in the areas that they monitored.
“Although they did not personally or directly witness vote-buying, majority of those interviewed openly admitted that vote buying is happening, including paying people not to cast their votes in the areas controlled by the incumbent candidates and political clans,” Tarrobago said.
“In Masbate, during the election day, there were reported incidents of voters being paid so as not to cast their votes or for them not to vote the opponents of the incumbent,” he added.
“In ARMM, the presence of minors casting their votes was also noted,” Tarrobago said.
Compact also reported that the high presence of police and military personnel in the areas observed, particularly in Masbate and ARMM, failed to address the climate of fear in the voting areas.
“While police and military presence in some areas could be justified, the people’s lack of trust in the security forces is still an issue,” Tarrobago said.
Foreign observers witnessed military and police presence near and even inside polling areas in the ARMM. Compact also documented an incident where three grenades were found in Bogo City in Cebu, which added to the tension.
Likewise, the election observers said one big issue that hounded the six areas they monitored concerned ballot secrecy.
“One common but extremely disturbing issue our foreign observers witnessed concerned the voting public’s right to ballot secrecy. In many polling precincts, there was a deficiency of ballot secrecy folders. Voters were also inserting their ballots to the PCOS machines without any attempt at concealment or advice from election officers to conceal their votes,” the Compact official stressed.
The aim of ballot secrecy, Tarrobago explained, is to guarantee that the public voted free from intimidation and bribery. It also ensures that political views are not known to any other entity.
“It is practically universal in modern electoral processes. That this important aspect is wantonly disregarded both by the voters and election officers in our country is a major cause of concern raised by election observers which they believed undermines political privacy,” he pointed out.
The group also said long queues were also observed in several areas. The voting process was difficult in some areas due to problematic voters lists and clustering of precincts.
“The observers monitored that some polling precincts in Naga City were too small and could only accommodate 8-10 seats, which resulted to long lines and dampened the mood of some voters to cast their votes. The same observation was seen in Cebu where voters were asked to wait in line for 2-3 hours to cast a vote that takes about 10 minutes,” Tarrobago said.
He said several PCOS machines stopped working.
In Pampanga, one PCOS machine printed no text during zero sum printing. Others just failed to function as expected. Unsealed PCOS machines were also found in polling precincts in Cagayan and Pampanga.