Philippines face bloodiest elections – Caution visiting 2010

Its that time again in the Philippines where ambushes and shootings happen. Election time taking a seat in power even for one term is something that can set a family and relatives up financially for life and this year will be no different. I have posted a recent Sun and star article at the bottom of this post but just wanted to give another few facts before you read it.

2007 – mid term polls for Congressional and local positions has so far resulted in 75 election related murders.

“The PNP, as of May 1 the fatalities included two lawmakers (congressmen), a vice-governor, two mayors, three city councilors, 19 village chairmen and 16 village officials.” Senior Supt. Samuel Pagdilao Jr added that, “Another 32 casualties were supporters of the political candidates or civilians who happened to be in the area when the attacks took place.”

Police officials however are quick to point out that 75 election related murders however violent this may seem is actually an improvement over past elections. “The number of casualties is still low compared to the 189 reported killed and 279 wounded in the 2004 campaign period”. PNP Spokesman Gen. Pagdilao clarified; overall the situation has improved since the last election.

but lets bring it forward to this year. Already there have been 57 deaths and the elections are just starting to warm up. The other thing I have seen including in the trial of one of the people responsible for the massacre in which 57 people died in Maguindanao is that there is no remorse. Have even seen it in children throwing rocks at dogs for fun, if there is no feeling there then there is no remorse or even thought of being in the wrong. Its an accepted part of life and this is why I would advise people to stay away if planning a trip to the Philippines until later in the year once the dust settles. Most things will no doubt be safe and stable but I cant say “come to the Philippines” when I cannot assure people of being safe while visiting here. Especially as tourists as you are more likely to wander into something you shouldn’t it will still be here later in the year and would be a bit milder in weather in September – December and still hot. So if you can wait please do..

Sun and Star Newspaper :-

CEBU CITY — With a lot of uncertainties on the poll automation process and the integrity of its results, a human rights lawyer urged journalists and policemen to prepare for what could be the country’s bloodiest elections.

That, as some 35 community journalists from all over the country adopted a covenant and approved a set of guidelines that will help ensure a safe and balanced reporting of the May 10 polls.

Lawyer Harry Roque said it will be especially difficult for journalists to cover the first automated elections, since there is no guarantee that the government will keep them safe, as what happened in Maguindanao last November.

Roque is an assistant professor of the University of the Philippines College of Law, and is the legal counsel of the relatives of the Maguindanao massacre victims.

In a Philippine Press Institute (PPI) seminar last Wednesday, he noted several flaws in the country’s poll automation, which he said could result in violence.

He said since there is limited transparency in the counting of votes by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, candidates may claim they were cheated.

Roque said in manual elections where people saw how the counting was done, some candidates did not concede defeat, resulting in violence.

"More so where you have no way of verifying how the vote was conducted… So my warning to journalists is the same warning I gave the policemen. Beware, this is potentially, probably the bloodiest elections that we will have. Although you have the obligation to be where the news is, remember too what happened to your colleagues in Maguindanao," he told journalists.

And since the machines will do the counting, it cannot be ensured that all the votes were properly counted, he said.

Roque was one of the speakers in the PPI seminar-workshop on civic journalism "Ready for the Elections" held in this city from February 2 to 5.

Some 35 community journalists from all over the country attended the workshop.

"Filipino journalists should be aware that the Philippine government has always been in breach of its obligation to protect life. You should be aware that sometimes the practice of your profession is in fact coming in harm’s way without any protection from the State. Therefore, journalists should also give premium on their own lives, without necessarily compromising their obligations as professionals," he said.

Regional Election Director Ray Rene Buac, also a speaker in the seminar, reiterated the assurance given by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson and a Smartmatic-TIM representative that the machines will not have pre-encoded results.

Buac also told the participants that the machines will count only the votes for the corresponding candidate, unless the ballot is rejected or the votes are considered invalid due to over-voting or under-voting.

Another concern that threatens the safety of journalists, Roque said, is the absence of guidelines on how to file an election protest.

Without a legal remedy by which a losing candidate can protest election results in a peaceful manner, defeated candidates could resort to violence, he said.

While the remedies are provided for in the Omnibus Election Code, the code is intended for manual elections.

Meanwhile, barangay officials will help inform and gather Mabini and Bulacao residents identified by Comelec as participants in the mock elections on Saturday.

The barangays will also help secure the PCOS machines that will be sent to the two areas Friday.

Bulacao barangay captain Jose Gabiana said they will guard the machine, which will read the votes cast during the elections and electronically send the results to the canvassing center at the Cebu City Social Hall.

Cebu City south district Elections Officer Edwin Cadungog said the 50 participants from Bulacao are representatives of the various sectors of society, including the youth, women, senior citizens, and even those who are considered "illiterate" voters.

He will also ask members of the media who will cover the mock election in Bulacao to pick a representative to join in the exercise.

The PCOS machines for the elections would be transported Friday for Saturday’s elections that would start at 7 a.m. and end around 10 a.m.

Cebu-Citizens’ Involvement and Maturation in People’s Empowerment and Liberation (C-Cimpel) executive director Marilou Chiongbian, meantime, said the fears and doubts of voters about the automated polls are understandable and "very normal."

Although they are monitoring the preparations for the automated elections, they are also preparing for a possible shift to the manual elections.

On Saturday, they will send member-lawyers headed by Judge Gabriel Ingles to witness the conduct of the mock polls in Cebu City.

C-Cimpel, she said, has been conducting since September an orientation to prepare voters in the parish level all over Cebu for the automated polls. This is in addition to the ele
ction watchdog’s values education efforts. (LCR/With RHM/CYR/Sun.Star Cebu)