The United Front for Honest, Orderly, and Peaceful Elections (UF HOPE) stands as witness both to the general credibility and peaceful conduct of the 2013 elections held in Zamboanga City as well as to the glitches of the PCOS machines and isolated irregularities committed in some polling centers.
UF HOPE is a nonpartisan network of twenty four organizations including NAMFREL, LENTE, PPCRV, Western Mindanao Command, Task Force Zamboanga, Philippine National Police (Police Regional Office IX and City Police), academic institutions, and other multisectoral groups. During the election period, UF HOPE conducted citizenship education: Voices of Zamboanga (VOZ) seminars, peace covenant signing among partners and local candidates, candidates’ forum, Random Manual Audit, voters’ assistance in selected areas, and volunteers’ orientation. It is duly recognized by the COMELEC as a local citizens’ initiative dedicated to ensure a peaceful and credible elections in Zamboanga City and the region.
We base our initial assessment on our own ocular observations and the field incident reports submitted by about four hundred volunteers who were deployed in polling centers, from as far as Licomo in the East Coast to Limpapa and Latap in the West Coast. (Due to logistical limitations, we did not reach the island barangays.) We commend the professional conduct of many of the government agencies involved while we challenge, at the same time, all stakeholders to correct what went wrong and to learn all possible lessons from this experience in order to improve our collective practice of democratic processes. From the collated field incident reports, we would like to offer the following observations.
We gathered unconfirmed cases of vote-buying in a few areas. On the day of election itself, we received reports that there were people seen distributing sample ballots within the prohibited 30-meter radius, raffle tickets, and envelopes containing money or packed food items to those who were lining up to vote. Illegal electioneering by some local candidates also reached our desks. In addition, some of our volunteers actually spotted individuals providing assistance to more than three voters and in more than one polling center. All these things were happening in full view of the BEIs inside the polling center. A more detailed report on this matter will be submitted to the COMELEC, both local and national, as well as to the Department of Education.
As we have earlier said, these acts were probably isolated compared to the overall transparency that we observed and appreciated in most other centers. This is validated by the early concession by many of the losing candidates. We say this, however, without prejudice to those who would sincerely seek justice or expose irregularities for the sake of reform.
We really appreciate the fact that persons with disabilities, senior citizens and pregnant women were given priority on the day of election. Improvisations in some polling centers, such as offering seats to those who were on the waiting line, were received as signs of courtesy. We got only very few reports of disenfranchised voters.
We also note, however, several glitches in the whole electoral exercise. Almost every voting center experienced different sorts of malfunction of the PCOS machine. The malfunction ranged from difficulty of feeding the ballots to outright uselessness of the unit despite the desperate efforts of the technicians to remedy the situation. Some centers lacked modems. In some areas, the use of substandard marking pens delayed the casting of votes, causing even longer queues. When PCOS machines did not function well, BEIs had to open some units, using brooms or umbrellas, to rearrange the paper; this may be commended as resourcefulness on the part of the staff, it also raises doubts that some of these potential problems were not addressed during the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines. Technicians were either not available or they were half-trained to handle trouble-shooting. The initial intended back-up plans were not executed properly. Reports also implied that some BEIs were not sufficiently trained on proper voting procedures specifically on thumb marking, name listing, and on dealing with poll watchers.
We confirm that this 2013 election is generally peaceful, if we consider that there were no-election-related killings on the election day itself. The gentle presence and visibility of the Western Mindanao Command, Task Force Zamboanga, Police Regional Office IX, and the City Police provided a sense of security to the voting public, especially with their low key approach and courtesy. There were, however, some published reports of shooting during the election period.
In at least one area, poll watchers from some political parties were not allowed to enter. Even some UF HOPE volunteers also experienced intimidation of partisan poll watchers, BEIs, and community members in not a few areas covered. This calls on political parties, COMELEC personnel, and citizens volunteer groups to undergo proper orientation seminars on the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders. We strongly recommend that, in future elections, a more intimate partnership be forged between COMELEC and citizens’ groups, and form a working communication and action team that can quickly respond to the urgent needs on Election Day.
We thank the COMELEC of Zamboanga City for recognizing UF HOPE as partner in this democratic exercise.We also celebrate the spirit of generosity of our volunteers—most of them are young and even first time voters—as well as the industrial firms and academic institutions who gave us water and bread, ready transport, and moral support. We salute, too, those who offer themselves as candidates, and continue to challenge political parties to prepare intelligent and viable solutions to our social problems.
Finally, we thank the media for their critical role in expanding the constituency of conscientious voters through careful reporting, although we would wish that print and broadcast media would also offer good political analysis.
Let us then all continue to be vigilant, because our votes are sacred, because any form of corruption is unacceptable, and because our country is in dire need of leaders and citizens who are ready to go beyond self to save our future.