By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
Published: May 14, 2007
MANILA: Voters went to the polls in the Philippines on Monday to elect their senators, congressmen and local officials, amid reports of election-related violence and allegations of fraud.
The results of the elections will not be known for at least several days because the counting of the votes will be done by hand, a cumbersome process during which more cheating and bloodshed are expected to occur, according to the police.
Violence is common during elections here. On Monday, it ranged from the shooting of candidates and voters to grenade attacks. Several of these incidents took place in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, where rivalry among local politicians is much more intense and where fraud in elections is particularly widespread.
According to the police, 116 people have died and 121 have been wounded in election-related violence since Jan. 14, the beginning of the campaign. On Monday, a grenade explosion in Mindanao killed one man and wounded two more. In Basilan, also in the south, a gunman strafed a school were voting was taking place, killing one person. In the northern province of Abra, a village official was shot and killed.
Despite these incidents, the police described the elections as “generally peaceful,” although there were concerns raised by election monitors that the violence could escalate in the next few days.
“Over all, the situation was generally peaceful except for some untoward incidents,” said Avelino Razon Jr., the deputy director of the national police. “The election process has been proceeding smoothly.”
Thousands of teachers will manually count and tabulate the ballots.
The task is expected to continue for days. In past elections, the snatching of ballots and the switching of so-called election returns, in which the votes by precinct are tabulated, have been common during this process. In some cases, blackouts occur in precincts prior to the snatching or switching.
The political opposition alleged that ballot boxes containing completed election returns had been discovered in several provinces. Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a key opposition figure, said the election returns already had the names of administration candidates. The governing party denied the charge.
Several reports, some of them coming from volunteer groups that are monitoring the conduct of the elections, indicated that frauds involved vote-buying as well as the delisting of candidates and voters in several precincts across the country. “Flying voters,” or the busing in of voters from one area to another in order to vote, were also reported.
The police confirmed that the number of vote-buying incidents had increased. In Davao City, reports indicated that some voters were paid 50 pesos to 150 pesos, or $1 to $3, by candidates in exchange for their votes. Kawagib, a nongovernmental Muslim group, alleged Monday that election returns were being sold in some parts of Mindanao for as much as 60,000 pesos.
Freda Guttman, a Canadian who is one of the dozens of foreign observers monitoring the polls, said Monday that her group had come across a vote-buying operation in Manila, where people lined up toward a parked vehicle to allegedly receive money.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in a statement released after she voted in her province of Pampanga, north of Manila, said the country “is at a crossroads as we wait for the proclamation of winners.” She urged candidates to have a “gracious heart, win or lose.”
Arroyo seeks to maintain control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which would allow her to prevent another impeachment attempt over allegations that she cheated in the 2004 elections. She has denied the charges.