Canadian election observers go above and beyond
Some Canadians and other foreigners extended their stay in the Philippines to include a visit to the Canadian Embassy, a meeting with Sen. Francis Joseph ‘Chiz’ Escudero, and the Morong 43 in a Manila jail.
Delegates from the People’s International Observers’ Mission (PIOM) who witnessed and documented the May 10 National Elections as part of the largest ever independent foreign observers group to monitor a Philippine elections gave more time and resources to pursue advocacy and meetings beyond the daily PIOM activities from May 7 to May 15.
On May 17, a group of over a dozen Canadians met with Conseiller James R. Trottier and other staff at the Canadian Embassy in Makati, Metro Manila. In a report presented by photojournalist Kyle Hamilton and federal MP candidate Rathika Sitsabaiesan, the observers outlined findings on the elections. This included the lack of preparedness of the Commission on Elections (Comelec, the governing body responsible) and Smartmatic (the Venezuelan company who provided the machines and technical management), concerns over vote-buying, violence, lack of secrecy, political dynasties and how economic inequality feeds into these issues.
Trottier said the Embassy will “take seriously” the findings of the PIOM delegates. At the time no official statement on the elections has been issued. He said based on his own observing and other staff stationed around Metro Manila, “We think it was a positive process overall, but not without flaws.” They were “impressed by the voter turnout, dedication of teachers and volunteers who made the elections possible.” They will “follow-up with Comelec on lessons learned.”
Observers also questioned Trottier on actions regarding Canadian mining. He said, there is a “split in the community regarding the mining activities” in Mindanao and they are having “discussions, but it’s a complex, ongoing dialogue.” Also, he will be in contact with the new administration regarding the release of political prisoners such as the Morong 43.
The following day, nine Canadians met with Sen. Escudero at a press conference at the at the GSIS building where the Philippine Senate is located in Pasay City, Metro Manila prior to talking with the Morong 43 (see separate article on jail visit). The Canadian delegates, along with others from the UK and Australia outlined the same initial report of PIOM findings.
Escudero admitted Comelec and Smartmatic “offered [the electronic system] as a cure-all.” Comelec “under this new system, had no rules,” “didn’t meet any deadline,” and “practically outsourced the elections to Smartmatic.” Commenting on the military presence at the polling centers, he stated, “it’s a difficult balance” because without them, militias will take over the area.
Escudero said the elections were “an imperfect process at best. It was the first time we’re doing it.” He noted that the outcomes approximated closely with surveys. “There is a ray of hope” because some money candidates have lost. People have “learned, I am poor because of you” and voted them out.