According to the organizers, the International Observer Mission (IOM) intends, among others, to pressure the government against committing electoral fraud and violence, especially against the opposition and party-list groups, and call international attention to the worsening human rights situation in the country.The organizers said that the incidents of pre-election violence “portend an even worse scenario of Philippine elections.
“While records from the Philippine National Police [PNP] show that the number of election-related killings, 89 as of the last count, is still lower than the 189 recorded in 2004, the boldness of the attacks targeting local candidates themselves reveals a heightened state of violence,” they said.
I see. So it appears that these IOM folks who have recently been in the news, accusing the COMELEC of deliberate mismanagement and all sorts of skullduggery came into the country with the preconceived notion that government was out to screw with the electoral process – “especially against the opposition and party-list groups.” Doesn’t make them too objective, does it?
In fact, their intentions seem to fly in the face of the Code of Conduct for Ethical and Professional Observation of Elections, as formulated by International IDEA. More specifically, the Code of Conduct says”election observers must be non-partisan and neutral [Code (12-3), p.11].”
Observers must also “give the election management body copies of of any written information or statement produced by the observer [Code (viii), p.15].” The Code in fact comments:
Even if the observation agreement permits an observer to issue statements about the electoral process, or statements critical of the election management body, during the electoral process, observers should do that with great discretion, bearing in mind the harm that a public statement can cause to the credibility of the process. However, even during the process, observers should not create a false impression of the credibility of the election management body, if it is undeserved, and an observer should not suppress evidence of bad faith on the part of the election management body.
So, the question is, did these IOM folks have enough justification to wreak harm on the credibility of the process? If so, where is that justification? This is especially relevant since ethical observation requires that the observer “report to the relevant authority any criminal activity concerning the election and any violation of of the electoral laws [Code (xiii), p.17].
Also, the Code exhorts observers to “consider all relevant factors that affect different aspects of the process.” If the observers can’t do that, as when they are able to see only a small fraction of the process, or observe only a very limited number of places where the process unfolds, “the observers should bear in mind the limitations imposed on the work and qualify their comments and reports appropriately.”
And, most importantly, the Code calls on observers to be transparent. They should adhere to “scientific methodology [Code, p.22]” which includes identifying the exact information they have gathered and used as their basis for their assessment of the electoral process; identifying all assumptions they have used, and provide evidence and argument to support all their assumptions and judgements.
More than that, the Code reminds observers to be prepared to communicate to the election management body a final collective assessment of the observation process, and to inform the body of alleged shortcomings in the electoral process so that the body can take remedial action if it wishes.
Which, of course, begs the question: has the IOM done all this? To date, it has not.
Having said all that, let me point out that the Commission is not in a state of denial. Far from it. We have acknowledged repeatedly that we’ve had problems with violence, except that we insist on putting the problem in the proper context: that the levels of violence we’ve experienced so far are lower than those in previous polls. This does not make violence any more acceptable to us, naturally. As we’ve always said, even one incident is one incident too many.
We have also acknowledged the problem we experienced with the lists of voters. As a matter of fact, we were one of the very first to point it out, and immediately formed a committee to investigate why the problems occurred. That committee is performing it’s task even as I write this.
We have also acknowledged many times that the problem of vote-buying exists. But then again, it is not the COMELEC who makes the decision to sell or buy votes – the responsibility for those choices rests squarely on the shoulders of the political players and the electorate.
And since turn-about is fair play, if the COMELEC can be asked “will you ever acknowledge any of the points raised by the observers?” then we can ask, will anybody ever acknowledge the points we raise? That in a majority of places nationwide, the elections went off without a hitch? That precincts functioned and functioned well, without threat of violence? That the violence took place almost exclusively in those areas where we all know violence constantly simmers just beneath the surface of things? That, to date, all serious allegations of fraud have been or are being investigated – and in some cases fully resolved? That this is proof that the systems of checks and balances are in place and working?