In the Philippines, election as repression

May. 20, 2007

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
May 20, 2007

MANILA — President Gloria M. Arroyo and Benjamin Abalos, Sr., chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), this week praised the May 14 mid-term elections as “generally fair and peaceful,” with the latter dismissing reports of rampant cheating and other irregularities. The only hitch there is that both Mrs. Arroyo and Abalos have a very low trust rating among Filipinos.

Soon, Mrs. Arroyo and Abalos will have to account again for what is emerging to be the involvement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and local Comelec officials in what has been exposed as an unprecedented and systematic plot to rob the progressive Party-list bloc and candidates from the Genuine Opposition (GO) of their votes through physical intimidation, vote-shaving and other means of fraud.

“Progressive Party-list” (PPL) bloc is a term used by the media to refer to party lists Bayan Muna (BM), Anakpawis (AP), Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), Suara Bangsamoro (SB) and Kabataan (youth) Party. BM, along with AP and GWP, has consistently topped the party-list elections since 2001 showing a high preference for them by many Filipino voters over other groups.

Massive voters’ disenfranchisement, vote-shaving, vote-buying and other types of election fraud affected not only the progressive Party-lists but also many candidates of the anti-administration Genuine Opposition (GO). In the end, however, it was a big loss to a significant number of the electorate who saw their votes squelched or were denied their right to go to the precincts.

A news story of the Philippine Star daily (Star, May 13, 2007) quotes Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Obaniana, chief of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao command, as admitting that he had campaigned vigorously against the party-list groups because they were “fronts of the NPA rebels.” The general’s admission suggests that Oplan Bantay Laya, the AFP’s counter-insurgency program that has been denounced in the Philippines and abroad for the extra-judicial killings and other forms of human rights violations that were committed under its name, has taken inroads into the electoral process which is supposed to be free from partisan meddling by government and its machineries. Comelec has apparently been toothless over the partisan operations conducted by security forces or worse, its provincial officials appeared to be complicit or were at least remiss in their election duties.

Military election operations

Some of the many accounts of military and police interference before, during and after the May 14 elections, which have generally remained unreported by the commercial press, are the following:

In Negros Occidental, weeks before the elections troops from the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion held military operations in Kabankalan, Bacolod and other towns warning villagers not to vote for any of the progressive Party-list bloc. In a dialogue organized by local officials and attended by the CHR and representatives of the party-lists, Army officers denied they were involved in “election campaign” but only “to educate the people.” Not one Comelec official was present in the dialogue and the government poll body itself, a BM leader complained, showed no interest in looking into the complaint.

Soldiers from the Army’s 42nd IB called it “Information Caravan and Integrated Defense System” (ITDS-Alsa Masa), a series of seminars they and other provincial officials organized in several towns of Camarines Sur. The organizers, said a municipal councilor, campaigned against BM and its allied party-lists and told the participants to vote for Dato Arroyo, son of the President who was running for a House seat. “The military warned us that we would be branded as NPAs if Bayan Muna or Gabriela wins,” the councilor said. Similar cases were reported in Sorsogon, Albay and other provinces of the Bicol region.

comments powered by Disqus