Despite technical glitches and incidents of election-related violence, this year’s national elections in the Philippines were “largely peaceful,” according to a group of independent international observers.
In a statement released on May 11, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) noted that the transmission of preliminary results of the elections has been “timely and seemingly representative of the will of the Filipino people.”
The group, however, added that there were “concerns” about the system’s trustworthiness “that need to be urgently addressed.”
ANFREL expressed particular concern over the failure of at least 1,867 vote counting machines on Election Day that resulted in long queues with some voters having to wait over 12 hours to cast their ballots.
Rohana Hettiarachchie, the organization’s chairperson, lauded the voters who waited for hours to make sure they can personally feed their ballots to the machine.
The group stressed that automating parts of the election process “comes with a great impetus of transparency and reliability.”
“Any failure to deliver these will surely damage the perception of the process among voters and stakeholders, and result in protests and calls for actions like those we have seen since Election Day,” read ANFREL’s statement.
The poll observers fielded 15 international monitors who visited 197 clustered precincts across the Philippines on May 9 to watch the opening, voting, and counting processes. During the campaign period, ANFREL observers visited 14 regions to cover rallies and interview election stakeholders.
On Election Day, the observers noted that voters were eager to cast their ballots, forming long queues early in the morning “and in many cases remained throughout the day.”
“The process was generally smooth and transparent,” read the organization’s report. “All precincts observed opened at 6:00 a.m. as planned or shortly after,” it added.
They also noted that in almost all polling precincts, poll watchers from political parties or observers from the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting were present and “ensured scrutiny of the voting process.”
The group noted that the elections “saw a vibrant campaign environment, as streets across the country were covered with multi-colored posters, banners, and other propaganda.”
“Small and large campaign activities were conducted by political hopefuls across the country, and thousands of volunteers mobilized for their preferred candidates,” said the group.
ANFREL, however, added that while polling precincts observed by the group “were peaceful and free of poll violence,” there were 21 “significant incidents” suspected to be poll-related violence on Election Day.
The Philippine National Police has earlier reported 16 confirmed cases of election-related violence since the beginning of the election period on January 9.
“The Philippines has not provided the same level of protection to voters as some other Asian countries that have held elections in the past two years,” said ANFREL election analyst Sara Naneem.
Among the key observations noted by the group are the rampant “vote-buying,” candidates using government resources to campaign, unsecured ballot boxes, poor communication between the Commission on Elections office and its personnel in the field, and the delay in response from the poll body to address problems.