Seven members of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) observed pre-electoral and election-day conditions during the Philippines’ historic election last week and found widespread irregularities, a high potential for fraud, voter machine breakdowns, military intimidation and a deadly gun battle inside the poll. NLG observers joined over 80 other observers from 12 different countries as members of the People International Observer Mission.
“Candidate representatives enforced the purchase of votes by personally filling out ballots on behalf of indigenous voters inside the polling station,” said Radhika Sainath, a civil rights attorney at Hadsell Stormer in Los Angeles. Sainath observed the elections in Southern Mindanao, an area rife with political dynasties, foreign plantations and mining interests, armed resistance movements and a strong military and paramilitary presence.
UCLA Law student Kyle Todd witnessed armed soldiers stationed outside of precincts on election day in Central Luzon, where seven picketing workers were killed in 2004 on the Hacienda Lucita plantation, which is owned by the Aquino family. “One officer even followed us into the polling place wielding an automatic assault rifle,” reported Todd.
NLG observers also visited the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Iloilo in Central Visayas. Throughout the country, delegates received firsthand reports of vote buying, with voters being offered kilograms of rice and as little as 40 pesos ($.90) a vote.
In ARMM, New Orleans-based delegate Jacques Morial witnessed a representative of a candidate thought to be losing the election open fire inside the polling station. Footage of the 90-minute gun battle, in which two people were killed and at least two others wounded, can be viewed here: http://www.kodao.org/video/second-footage-lanao-del-sur-election-violence-incident.
“This is probably the worst election I have monitored,” said Morial, who has served as an election monitor in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. “Lanao del Sur, where I observed the election, can best be described as a democratic disaster area with widespread violations of election laws, including intimidation and harassment of voters, illegal electioneering, vote buying and election-related violence.”
In 17 of the 39 municipalities of the province of Lanao del Sur, in Mindanao, a failure of election was proclaimed by the national electoral council, meaning no election was held.
Delegates also observed the systemic breakdown of new voter machines, delayed transmission of results, lines of up to 12 hours, and the disenfranchisement of voters who could not find their names on lists or were otherwise not permitted to vote. Voters also reported that the military and paramilitary had instructed them not to vote for progressive candidates or parties.
Despite the widespread irregularities, propensity for fraud and election violence, it is expected that Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, son of former president Cory Aquino, will be declared president on May 25, 2010. Incumbent Gloria Arroyo and Imelda Marcos, widow of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, also won seats in the House of Representatives.
The NLG delegates are in the process of drafting a report and multi-media presentation of their findings, which will be made available within the next few weeks.
The National Lawyers Guild, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.