Citizens CARE Press Conference and Debriefing at Anabelle's Resto Timog Avenue Q.C. (May 23, 2013)
ARMM: Election Monitor Citizens CARE, Inc. observed the absence of any declarations of a municipal-level failure of elections except for a single precinct in the entire region, while also noting reports of PCOS malfunction, election-related violence and incidents of electoral fraud in some areas.
The Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms, Inc. (Citizens CARE), a COMELEC- accredited citizen’s arm, deployed a total of 7,039 election monitors throughout ARMM, including the non-ARMM cities of Cotabato and Isabela, to observe the voting process in all 3,164 clustered precincts.
Monitors noted a substantial reduction of violence primarily due to the intensive collaborative security preparations of key stakeholders including the COMELEC, Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, various election watchdogs, and other COMELEC-deputized government agencies in the lead up to, and during, election day. As a result, no municipal-level failure of elections was declared except for one precinct in Maguing, Lanao del Sur.
Citizens CARE Chairman Salic B. Ibrahim remarked: “The recent elections were better than the previous ones. In spite of some isolated incidents reported by our monitors from the field and the media, no municipal-level failure of elections was declared in the region, which is especially significant in Lanao del Sur which has a long-standing history of violent and intense electoral contests. In 2010, COMELEC declared a failure of elections in seven municipalities of Lanao del Sur due to the fact that Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) members did not show up due to intimidation by local political candidates. The recent elections in the ARMM were a far-cry from the past elections and unprecedented in so far as declaration of failed elections due to peace and order problems is concerned.”
However, despite the marked progress in the electoral security situation in the region and the faster voting process and counting of votes, several issues still remain that need to be addressed to improve future elections. Citizens CARE monitors pointed out specifically:
· Vote-buying, harassment and coercion: Votes were being bought for as much as Php2,000 in Lanao del Sur as reported by Citizens CARE monitors. Some precincts were reported to have barangay officials serving as watchers and assistors—a clear violation of election laws. The presence of barangay officials inside the polling precinct resulted in intimidation among voters who were coerced to vote for those whom the local officials are supporting. A Citizens CARE monitor from Cotabato City reported that a barangay official pointed a gun at him after he was mistaken for being a supporter of a rival candidate.
· Technical glitches in the PCOS machine: There were polling centers that opened late or experienced an interrupted voting process due to malfunctioning PCOS machines. In Maguindanao where some PCOS machines bogged down secrecy of voting was compromised after poll workers had to collect accomplished ballots and personally feed them into the replacement PCOS.
· Poor transmission signal: Transmission speed was significantly slower as compared with the May 2010 elections process due to connectivity challenges. The transmission of election returns was postponed in many areas by an additional day due to poor connections. The delay in the transmission exposed the system to external risks.
· Electoral violence: Conduct of the voting was generally peaceful with isolated incidents as reported by Citizens CARE monitors. An hour before the opening of the polls, a bomb was found in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. Dynamite was lobbed at the back of a voting center in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi to prevent voters from voting, but no one was reported hurt and voting continued throughout the day. A grenade explosion was also reported in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. In Tongkil, Sulu a stabbing incident involving a candidate’s supporter was reported. Incidents involving guns were also reported in Sumisip, Basilan and in S.K. Pendatun, Maguindanao which resulted in death as well as in Malabang, Lanao del Sur due to rido (family feud).
· Missing names from the voter list: There were reported cases of missing names from the posted voter list outside of the polling precinct. Moreover, there were instances where posted voter list were not consistent with the poll worker’s copy of the voter list that contained the voter’s biometric data. Voters whose names were missing from the list were advised by the poll workers to seek clarification at the local COMELEC office.
· Collusion between poll workers politicians. Monitors in Maguindanao reported blatant manipulation of the election process between BEIs and political candidates. A chairperson of the BEIs personally inserted pre-filled ballots into the PCOS. There were instances when voters not on the list were allowed to vote.
Citizens CARE will start working immediately with COMELEC and other relevant authorities to improve the situation ahead of the next elections in the region.