Findings: Why int’l rights group found 2022 elections to have failed meeting standard ‘free, honest, fair’ polls

June 29, 2022 - 2:43 PM
Teachers and volunteers prepare the voting precinct for the national election, in Magarao, Camarines Sur, Philippines, May 9, 2022. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

Two days before the inauguration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a global rights group said that the 2022 elections “failed to meet the international standard of a free, honest and fair election” due to high incidences of vote-counting machine breakdowns, as well as vote-buying and harassment.

These findings are based on the account of 60 observers deployed to various regions in the country by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), according to the final report by the Philippine Election 2022 International Observer Mission (IOM).

ICHRP Chairperson Peter Murphy said during a press conference on June 27 that the outcome of the elections – where Marcos and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte won by a majority – was “perplexing to the international community and Filipinos alike.”

Faulty vote-counting process

Neither transparent nor reliable — this was how ICHRP described the vote-counting system for the 2022 elections. The 2022 elections saw at least an 87% increase in vote-counting machine (VCM) breakdowns compared to last year, with 1,800 VCM breakdowns than last year’s 961, according to Kontra Daya’s data.

The IOM report highlighted how the unexpected speed of transmission of election returns made the final vote count “dubious,” raising questions over the “extraordinary loss of almost 900,000 votes” by the Bayan Muna Partylist, which lost their re-election bid for the first time in 20 years, and the election of only one opposition senatorial candidate, Risa Hontiveros.

“How could that happen if the Robredo presidential vote was 30 percent?” the report said.

The report added that despite lapses in past Philippine elections, such as a delayed transmission of results to the transparency server, software provider Smartmatic still received the Commission on Elections’ nod to provide the VCMs in the 2022 elections.

Domestic forwarding company F2 Logistics, associated with the Uy family that boosted President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 presidential bid, also won the contracts for the delivery of all election paraphernalia, the report added.

The IOM noted that on election day itself, Filipino voters who could not drop their marked ballots themselves due to faulty machines lost the secrecy of their votes.

Intimidation on election day 

The IOM observed military personnel in undisclosed areas in Eastern Visayas on election day “intimidating people not to vote for Bayan Muna and other progressive party-lists.”

“People were really scared, campaigners were very careful. The barangay captain said that if he wanted he could convince the whole barangay to vote for a progressive party list, but then the whole barangay would get targeted by the military,” the report stated.

The IOM also reported instances of youth organizations and local officials being threatened by stationed military men. One barangay captain was forced to sign a persona non-grata declaration against progressive party-lists, and another barangay councilor was tailed by two persons on a motorcycle.

“Throughout the election campaign, the Duterte government continued its orchestrated campaign of state terror. As part of its war on dissent, the government marshaled the entire machinery of government, including the judiciary, the military and police; and government departments of education, social services, and local governments,” said Danilo Arao of anti-election fraud watchdog Kontra Daya, which is also ICHRP’s local partner.

Results may be challenged but not overturned

Citing the “electoral fraud and irregularities” that marred the 2022 elections, Arao said that there may be no chance for the results to be overturned, “but there is more than enough reason for the results to be challenged or doubted.”

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), a church-based poll watcher organization, upheld the fairness of the 2022 elections on June 25 based on their verification of election returns, with only 257 ERs or 0.295% still to be verified.

William Yu, co-Information Technology (IT) director of PPCRV, said during Kamuning Bakery Cafe’s Pandesal Forum on Monday that they found no anomalies in the election returns.

Arao said that it came as no surprise that the PPCRV would find no anomalies in their verification of the election returns where they compared the printout with what was transmitted.

“The automated election system has not been transparent in the first place. […] The doubt in the process has been there prior to the day of the elections,” Arao added.

Moving forward

Lee Rhiannon, IOM commissioner and former Australian senator, said that an independent, non-partisan electoral institution is urgently needed: “Comelec is currently not that body. It needs a major overhaul.”

Aside from a more independent electoral body, the IOM report also recommended a reform of the party-list system, the addition of independent election observers from other countries and tighter enforcement of laws against vote-buying.

The IOM likewise recommended a shift to the manual counting of votes.

“It is not possible to independently audit and verify the vote under the current system of voting. Vote Counting Machines are too unreliable and should be replaced by manual counting, with votes cast being published at the voting centers before results are transmitted to the provincial and national counting centers. The vote counting algorithm must be independently verified as accurate prior to the election,” said the IOM.

Rhiannon added that the international community should continue to monitor and scrutinize the incoming Marcos administration and its human rights record, as well as attempts to rewrite or distort history during the Martial Law rule of Marcos’ father.

“[We must] lobby our communities and our governments, so when they go to these international fora, everything from the ICC to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, they become a voice for the people of the Philippines,” Rhiannon said.

“This is going to be a long struggle, and we need to be building up that awareness,” she added.

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