Notes from the Field

From the Philippines: Local Monitoring Groups Play Crucial Role in Village Elections

October 27, 2010

On Oct. 21, 2010, four days before the scheduled synchronized barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (youth council) elections, 297 villages in eastern Visayas were placed on the “election watchlist” by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Monitoring barangay elections in the Philippines

Maribel Buenaobra (left), The Asia Foundation's director of Elections Programs, and Sister Lydia Collado, head of the secretariat of Northern Samar for Peace and Development Forum, help monitor barangay elections in Northern Samar, one of the election hotspots.

According to the PNP, the areas, 122 of which were located in Northern Samar province, were identified as “hotspots” because of the following factors:  presence of the communist New People’s Army, existence of partisan armed groups, and presence of intense political rivalry in the area.

Northern Samar, one of 3 provinces located on Samar island, is also one of the poorest provinces in terms of poverty incidence among families. Aside from its stark poverty, it has consistently been placed on the election watchlist during previous national and local elections because of unresolved cases of extra legal killings and human rights violations.

The most recent incident was the killing of eight PNP members and a barangay councilman on Aug. 21, 2010. The incident happened barely a year after a parish priest was killed in October 2009.

In the May 2010 national elections, the Northern Samar Peace and Development Forum (NSPDF), a multi-sectoral organization made up of representatives from the church, government, civil society, academe, and other sectors, organized its Joint Election Monitoring Team with the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). For the past five years, the NSDF has worked to address peace and security and environmental concerns in the province. For this week’s barangay elections, the NSPDF reactivated the joint monitoring team to monitor elections. Needless to say, such initiatives play a crucial role in politically charged environments such as Northern Samar.

On election day, the teams monitored and reported on various election irregularities such as widespread detention of Sangguniang Kabataan voters, vote buying, and massive delays in the delivery of election paraphernalia throughout the province.

For the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, groups of monitoring teams covered 24 municipalities and more than 500 barangays in Northern Samar. On election day, the teams monitored and reported on various election irregularities such as widespread detention of Sangguniang Kabataan voters, vote buying, and massive delays in the delivery of election paraphernalia throughout the province. Because of such delays – a common concern throughout the country – 35 barangays from three municipalities postponed their elections to the following day, October 26. Meanwhile, the local Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has also declared a failure of elections in barangay Langub in Northern Samar’s municipality of Laoang due to cases of ballot snatching.

The monitoring teams helped facilitate the communication and coordination among various groups such as local Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), COMELEC, and civil society to be able to respond to security threats, logistical problems, and numerous setbacks that confronted the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election.

Elections in the Philippines will remain flawed until we build systems and processes that can withstand threats of election fraud, violence, and other irregularities, and until policies and legislation are in place to encourage long-term reforms. In the meantime, a vibrant civil society and dynamic multi-sectoral organizations remain a saving grace in this democratic process. They are the ones who continue to be unfazed by whatever problems and challenges that come their way.

Jerryll Reyes is The Asia Foundation’s assistant program officer in the Philippines. She can be reached at jreyes@asiafound.org.

View all posts by Jerryll Reyes

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