Two Norwegian Carmen Nestad and Marcel Ingles are part of 27 delegates from the People’s International Observers’ Mission (People’s IOM), representing 12 countries from throughout the world. They were dispatch from May 14 to 16, 2007, in order to observe, document and report on the midterm national elections from the ground in seven key voting regions throughout the Philippines.
There are 56,608 registered voters listed in 278 precincts in Guimba’s 64 villages. Three candidates are running against mayoral candidate Jose Francis Dizon, brother of the incumbent Mayor Bopet Dizon. The Dizon are aligned with the powerful Joson Family who has dominated Nueva Ecija politics for the past four decades.
No Tally Board
After a day of visits to polling places and interviews with voters, poll watchers, village officials, teacher and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials, Rev. Larry Emery, a Presbyterian pastor from the United States who came with the two Norwegians and a spokesperson of the 18-man team, had some definite conclusions.
“It is almost impossible to expect credible elections with the procedures that we have seen. Election laws are deliberately violated.” Emery says.
For example at the canvassing room, the first thing they saw was that there was no tally board for public viewing where the votes from the precincts were to be entered as they were canvassed. Only the Comelec officials and teachers could see how the votes were tallied. Watchers had to look over the shoulders of the officials to check the minute numbers and letters written on the tally sheets.
Open Ballot Boxes
On the night of May 14, the team observed that most of the ballot boxes being brought to the Comelec office from the villages were opened. The padlocks of most of the ballot boxes were not latched shut.
Election returns, used and unused ballots were taken out of the ballot boxes with no poll watchers present to observe and complain. Only three Comelec officials were on hand to receive and process the election materials as they came.
On May 15, Leonardo Navarro, Guimba Comelec board of canvassers’ chairperson, wrote an order to “AFP personnel or military to secure the canvassing hall.” The handwritten order was made upon “verbal instruction” of Comelec director Emmanuel Ignacio, it was learned. Team members took a snapshot of the order.
Nine people have been killed in election-related violence in Nueva Ecija since the campaign period started in February. Two of the killings occurred in Guimba.
At about 9 p.m. on May 15, the canvassing was suspended and resumed shortly before 8 a.m. the following day. The reason given was that the board of canvassers was too tired to work. The suspension of the canvassing allowed for all sorts of anomalies to happen, the team noted.
As the team was about to leave after lunch on May 16, members learned that the three mayoral candidates in Guimba who ran against the incumbent mayor Jose Francis Dizon had joined forces and would lead a protest at the town hall.
At 2 p.m., hundreds of people began massing up in front of the Guimba town hall. They climbed over walls and rushed through the gates to defy a barricade put up by soldiers and police.
Angel Santos, one of the mayoral candidates, told the team that they would file a petition for failure of elections because of massive poll irregularities that occurred to ensure the victory of Dizon. A press conference was held later in the afternoon by the protesting candidates who described the alleged poll anomalies and called on the people “to end dynastic rule” in the province.
The team left before dusk with the demonstration still in full swing. The team later learned that during the night, the army and the police tried to disperse the protesters.