DAVAO CITY— “I had certain expectations (of the presence of election irregularities) but I was blown away by the level of irregularities I’ve seen,” said American civil rights lawyer Radhika Sainath after observing the conduct of the recently-concluded May 10 elections in a village of Santa Cruz town in Davao del Sur.
She said she had seen similar cases of fraud and intimidation in other third world countries like Mexico and Pakistan but she was “blown away” by the extent they occurred in the Philippines.
“The military has been visiting people and going from house-to- house, telling people who not to vote for,” she said, “These conditions deter voters.”
She said that for elections to be free and fair and for votes to be “un-coerced,” the military should maintain its distance.
Sainath and eight other foreign observers were in Southern Mindanao to observe the recent polls. They were part of the 80-member People’s International Observers’ Mission (PIOM) from 12 countries to monitor the conduct of the Philippine elections.
“We witnessed blatant disregard for election day protocol on behalf of the military, poll workers and party poll watchers,” said the PIOM statement released on May 12.
The PIOM also reported incidents of vote buying – in cash and in kind – and the military’s vigorous vilification campaign against partylists and senatorial candidates critical of the Arroyo administration.
Divided into two groups, the foreign delegates observed the voting in barangays of Zone One and Coronon in Santa Cruz town of Davao del Sur, a two-hour ride from downtown Davao City.
Canadian Bonnie Ruth Morton also witnessed group voting in Coronon Elementary School. Morton said she saw voters seated close together while filling in their ballots. She also observed voters and poll watchers shading ballots other than their own. “I saw this woman reach over and shade her seatmate’s ballot but they just laughed about it, nobody seemed to care,” Morton said in a Wednesday press conference in Davao City.