Why are there election observers in the Philippines?

Press conf 050810 There are a number of reasons why international election observers are present in the Philippines for the May 10 election (and May 10 is less than an hour away in the Philippines as this is written).

One is that this election will involve the first ever use of an automated election system (AES) in the Philippines. An article on Philstar.com quotes Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Jose Melo about why the country is moving toward this system:

"We are finally moving away from the known flaws and weaknesses of the old ways of doing things and toward an automated election system that promises a speedy and accurate count, a highly efficient reporting mechanism that democratizes the count and canvass of election results, and most importantly, the extinction of dagdagbawas (vote padding and vote shaving)," Melo said.

Concerns have been expressed over the automated election system. A recent editorial on Inquirer.net surveys some of the issues with the system that result in these being "days of unease" for the people of the Philippines.

Out of concern for democracy, concern for how past elections have happened, concern for the AES, and concern for events in the Philippines under the administration of President Arroyo, a number of groups, have come together to create the People's International Observers' Mission (PIOM). The United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are among them.

Reporting on the press conference held to welcome the observers, the Philippine Online Chronicle notes that the objectives of the PIOM are:

1) to monitor and document electoral fraud and violence; 2) to monitor the implementation of the automated electoral system; 3) to support the people's efforts in protecting their votes; and 4) to call the attention of the international community to the situation and practice of democratic processes in the Philippines.

At that press conference, gratitude was expressed for the presence of the international election observers. It was noted that the solidarity and advocacy of international partners has directly saved lives in the Philippines. The story of Berlin Guerrero is but one example.

One of the questions at the press conference was how the PIOM would provide for the safety of the observers, especially those who were going to areas of conflict. It was interesting in that it was Filipinos asking Filipinos this question. Security teams will be present with the observers. It is believed that being internationals will contribute to the observers' safety. The media that will be present will also play a role.

More importantly, the media attention will provide a way for the global community to see what is happening in these areas. The Filipino people are very grateful for those who come and see and experience and who can then share stories and provide the context of the situation so that others may understand more fully the immense corruption and sacrifice of human life in the Philippines as well as the deep commitment to justice.

We join the churches of the Philippines in praying for the election and the people.

Nancy Eng MacNeill of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program provided information for this posting and took the photo of the press conference. Links to several of the articles are posted on the Philippine Election Observation Team page on Facebook.

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