Protect Voters’ Rights by securing the Polling Rooms

In the writeshop that took place after the observers returned from their respective deployments, recommendations were made based on the different observations the teams made on the ground (view previous article).

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The core message that the observers wanted to get across, however, is that if we want to secure the voter’s right to suffrage, we have to secure the polling room.  Managing the polling rooms better, according to the observers, includes the following:

  • stricter enforcement of rules;
  • creating a better system for ballot secrecy;
  • having an accredited assistance desk for senior citizens and persons with disabilities;
  • providing clearer delineation of roles for individuals who are inside the precinct, and many more.

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Additionally, in order to address the perceived gap in COMELEC’s implementation of election rules, the mission recommends including Voter’s Education in school curriculums.  This should include a wide range of subjects ranging from the more technical “dos and don’ts for voters” to knowledge regarding the work of BEIs – the latter to raise people’s appreciation and respect towards them.

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The observers also put forward the inclusion of the option for an Abstention Vote.  Clearly, with the controversy caused by the camp of a defeated Vice-Presidential candidate putting forth the “undervote” issue, COMELEC can see the benefits of having an “Abstain” option for all electoral posts.

Lastly, the observers made a note on the possible redefinition of the term “Election-Related Violence,” including the expansion of the inclusion dates of the official election period.  The idea is to allow the inclusion of instances of violence that are currently not counted in PNP and COMELEC watchlists.

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It is in this kind of engagements that we recognize the importance of looking from the outside – foreign election observers are able to see a plethora of things about our elections that we insiders may not be able to see. They may not have a full grasp of the socio-political context wherein Philippine elections revolve around because they are more familiar with other kinds of electoral systems, but COMPACT sees the beauty in that.

Most of them are participants in more “mature” democracies, which means that they may have sound recommendations to effect electoral reform in our own system.  They point out details that we may overlook, or take for granted.  More importantly, perhaps, they do not dismiss so easily things that we Filipinos are used to and have already accepted as “normal.”

Whatever the outcome, COMPACT remains true to its mission of doing its part in the larger project of making Philippine “democracy” more peaceful, participatory and free.

 

Photo credits:  Lilli Breininger

What I learned as a foreign observer of PH elections

Article by Celi Tamayo-Lee, originally published at inquirer.net

http://globalnation.inquirer.net/139490/what-i-learned-as-a-foreign-observer-of-ph-elections

 

Lilli Breininger_16election5401International Observers interview Jerome Griliandas, Regional Director of COMELEC, Bohol. LILLI BREININGER

SAN FRANCISCO — It is common knowledge that only 46 percent of Americans are registered voters and typically only 55 percent of them turn out to vote. With such low turnout, questions can be raised about how truly representative elected officials are in the U.S.

No such doubt, it seems, can be said about Philippine elections, whose latest edition on May 9th elected a new president with an at least 80 percent turnout.

With this backdrop, my experience in the Philippines as part of an observers mission had even more significance for me as a young Filipino American. I was part of COMPACT International Observers Mission for a Peaceful and Democratic Elections, a project of the Active Citizenship Foundation.

COMPACT’s first mission was in 2004 and it has since received feedback that the presence of its foreign observers prevented election-related violence. Each mission is accredited by the COMELEC and completes a final report with recommendations to the COMELEC at the end of its work.

This was my first trip to the Philippines since I was two years old and I was excited to return to the motherland in a participatory manner. I am not new to electoral work having been part of a local effort to expand voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in San Francisco. My Philippine experience was a valuable opportunity to see how elections worked in the Philippines and what drew people’s engagement.

 

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Voters verifying their voting precinct, Barangay Tawala, Panglau, Bohol on Election Day, May 9. LILLI BREININGER

I was part of a group of 15 observers, from the US, Sweden, Japan and Germany. The four of us from the US were all Filipino Americans. Observers were sent to four destinations on the COMELEC’s list of Election “Hot Spots”: Dinagat, Isabela, Maguindanao and Bohol.

Upon my arrival on the island of Bohol, our local contacts confirmed that the island had been very peaceful, except for one killing a few weeks before of a party-list rally emcee. However, they claimed that the highest individual payments to illegally buy votes were transacted on their island.

Over the next two days we met with members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), candidates, leaders and voters. Everyone confirmed that Bohol had been peaceful leading up to the elections, but that vote-buying, the practice of passing out money with a name or sample ballot stapled to it, was rampant and considered normal.

On Bohol, vote-buying is referred to as inagayan, a “shower” that voters receive from candidates, usually distributed in three increments. The PNP claimed that they could not investigate without a formal complaint filed. Some candidates admitted to buying votes and remarked that a candidate could not win without it. This practice is sustained by local political dynasties that have relied on it for generations. We met only one incumbent candidate who prided herself on not buying votes and continuing to win year after year.

On election day we observed the delivery and setting up of the VCMs (Vote Counting Machines) and voting precincts The poll workers, or BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors), appeared to be well trained on how to set up the new VCMs.

By 6 a.m., dozens of voters were already lined up to vote. Throughout the day we visited a dozen other precincts, witnessing a few delays with the VCMs: paper jams and overheating and often the slow arrival of technicians.

Where VCMs were down, precincts acquired a pile of completed ballots that could only be inserted later once the machines were running again, putting the secrecy of each voter’s ballot at risk and increasing the possibility ballot-tampering.

In the afternoon we were approached by a local observer who received messages from an island-barangay that voters’ receipts were not listing the mayor they voted for. Another international observer and I ventured to the island, an hour away by boat.

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After walking through the precincts, we spoke to a community elder while a crowd of a hundred voters surrounded us to listen.

She claimed that they had been harassed every day leading up to the election by incumbent officials, including being threatened with having their Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program cut off. The program, also known as 4 Ps, is a conditional cash transfer to the most impoverished families in exchange for keeping children in school; it is run by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The local PNP also informed us of taunting and booing that occurred between large groups of voters earlier that day, which they had to disperse. At day’s end there was no signal to enable the transmission of the final results to COMELEC.

The BEIs and poll watchers decided to stay overnight in the precinct to secure an honest count until the arrival of a technician the next day, or the possibility of bringing the VCM to the mainland for a better Internet signal.

Overall our mission found the election process generally credible, although more measures can be taken to secure the secrecy of votes within precincts. We commended the hard work of the BEIs to maintain fair and accessible voting precincts, highlighting that women teachers primarily filled these roles.

We also suggested that advancing voter education would greatly support the development of democracy in the Philippines and needed to truly challenge the persistence of political dynasties and the practice of vote-buying.

At our final press conference in Bohol, my colleague Cindy Domingo underscored the point that a full democracy can only happen once everyone also has a right to education and a means for a sustainable livelihood.

For me, democracy has meant one’s ability to affect one’s own livelihood, elections being just one of those means. My experience as an observer has greatly informed the way I value my work to expand voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds here in San Francisco.

This effort, also known as Vote16, will be on the ballot in November, in the city of San Francisco. I hope it will contribute to better voter education here and the emergence of of better voting habits starting at an early age.

Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/139490/what-i-learned-as-a-foreign-observer-of-ph-elections#ixzz4Db1DWg55
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Election Monitors’ Observations and Findings: also “Partial and Unofficial,” so far.

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The COMPACT-IOM 2016 delegation, after witnessing first-hand how elections were done in 91 precincts in four provinces, expressed that, in general, “the conduct of the election was orderly and the results can be considered credible.”

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Since their precinct-hopping proved relatively uneventful, the foreign election observers were able to focus more closely on monitoring the systems and processes that take place inside the polling centers. One stark observation was the absence of a common set-up of the precincts: where VCMs are located inside the room, how tasks are delegated amongst the authorized personnel, and how many people are allowed inside the room at a particular time.

Some precincts were overcrowded and unauthorized persons are sometimes able to enter the room. To be fair, the difference in the set-up of rooms can be attributed to the differences in the realities of each precinct, i.e., the room only has one entrance.  However, it has been noted that the orderliness of a precinct highly depends on the skill and “firmness” of the assigned BEIs.

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The observers also noted some problems with the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs).  They observed that it was prone to overheating and paper jams.  The primary concern relating to this is the irregular handling of the ballots, in that, the voters are no longer able to personally feed their ballots into the VCMs.

This leads us to the issue of vote security.  The observers noted the difficulty of ascertaining whether or not the “helpers” who were assisting Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens were actually authorized to do so.  They noticed some go beyond simply “assisting” to actually filling out the ballots on their own without conferring with the voter they were “helping.”  Also, the election monitors observed, the different ways by which ballot secrecy folders were set-up by the BEIs posed a challenge to voters who wanted to keep their votes secret.

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All of the teams — Isabela, Bohol, Dinagat and Maguindanao — received reports of vote-buying. It is noted, though, that in different places in the Philippines, vote-buying can take different forms.  They differ when it comes to rates, frequency, manner, and even in the way the voters in each locale viewed vote-buying.

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When it comes to election-related violence, mostly it has been reports of harassment of voters and poll watchers.  Heated arguments outside polling precincts were also reported but these mostly involved supporters of opposing candidates. The Maguindanao team, however, was able to visit one precinct that had been bombed a few days before their arrival.

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Despite all these, the foreign election observers commended the Filipino voters for being as patient as they were, standing in long lines under the heat of the sun just to wait for their turn to vote. The high voter turn-out, they expressed, is a very encouraging sign. The foreign observers also praised the BEIs who were very patient and hard-working. They likewise recognized the important role of women in this democratic exercise. Lastly, they applauded the commitment of the different independent election watchdogs that continue to work hard, every election year, to ensure the peaceful and fair conduct of the elections in the Philippines.

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Election Monitoring at the local: being present and absent at the same time.

From May 7 to 10, the four COMPACT-IOM Teams were deployed to their respective mission areas: Dinagat Islands, Isabela, Bohol and Maguindanao. In each area, the foreign delegates, plus their designated Team Leaders, were met by the local COMPACT Teams.

Day 3, May 7, was spent mainly in traveling to the assigned areas. For the Bohol and Maguindanao Teams, this meant a short trip (shorter than the trip to the airport and subsequent waiting time, at least) by plane to Tagbilaran and Cotabato City, respectively. For the Dinagat Team, their plane trip to Butuan was followed by a short land trip to Surigao and a pump-boat ride to San Jose. The Isabela Team, however, had to endure a 12-hour bus ride to Santiago City. for all teams, the remainder of the day was spent in getting to know their local counterparts more and hearing a more in-depth description and analysis of the prevailing political-electoral situation.

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Day 4, May 8, was devoted to making the rounds and visiting the different stakeholders to the elections — e.g., the local COMELEC, PNP, AFP (where necessary) and “election watchdogs” (PPCRV and LENTE) offices — to get briefings and updates; and interviewing candidates, campaigners and supporters from all sides. The Teams also held press conferences/meetings with local media to explain to the people the objectives of their mission and the reasons why they were deployed to their areas.

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Bohol Team Presscon2

Election Day, May 9, was the 5th day of the Mission. For the delegates, this was to be the most hectic of days. For one, in order to observe the complete voting process, the Teams made sure that they were already at the precincts by 5am — the time when the BEIs started to prepare the voting rooms and set-up the VCMs assigned to them. After viewing the opening and initial voting, the teams then proceeded to hop from one precinct to another, oftentimes visiting other nearby municipalities. Their election monitoring tasks lasted well into the night, after the voting has ceased and the results transmitted, ending only after a quick visit to the provincial canvassing center (where accessible) and a day-end assessment meeting. In all, the four team managed to visit 91 precincts, a new COMPACT record.

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COMPACT in Parang, Maguindanao

Such was the experience of our COMPACT-IOM 2016 Delegates. But the mission wasn’t over yet.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 Delegates hit the ground running

Soon after arriving, the 15 foreign election observers of the 2016 COMPACT for Peaceful and Democratic Elections – International Observers Mission (COMPACT-IOM 2016) immediately got to work. Day 1 of the Mission (May 5) saw the delegates, representing Germany, Sweden, USA and Japan, undergoing their initial orientation with the Convenors and Secretariat of COMPACT-IOM.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 delegates

During this activity, emphasis was given to the different rights and obligations of the COMELEC-accredited foreign election observers as they do their monitoring work on May 9.

COMELEC Resolution 10079 highlights the need for foreign observers to remain neutral and non-partisan at all times. They are also expected to report only actual observations and not hearsay. Finally, they are also cautioned against making “generalizing” observations by always stating that their observations are only limited to those areas they actually visited in person.

Day 2, May 6, was the Launching Press Conference of the 2016 Mission. Here, Media was informed about the delegates’ itineraries in the four (4) election “hotspots” they will be deployed to in the next few days: Dinagat Islands, Isabela, Maguindanao and Bohol. The Secretariat likewise gave an overview of the current political and electoral settings in these four areas. Finally, a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” were discussed in order to make the Monitoring Team’s work as effective, safe and hassle-free as possible.

Day 3, May 7, saw the four teams embarking on their separate trips to their assigned areas. Those going to Dinagat, Bohol and Maguindanao joined the throngs of Filipinos flying back to their provinces to vote. The Isabela Team, on the other hand, began their 10-hour bus trip to Santiago City.

As of this posting, we are happy to report that all teams have safely reached their destinations and have already linked-up with the local COMPACT groups who will be their hosts during their 4-day election monitoring mission.

Stay tuned for more updates as the teams begin sending back reports from the four mission areas.

COMPACT-IOM 2016 Mission; ang pagbabalik ng “Team Bantay”!

Hand in hand with the unrelenting heat brought about by the Philippine Summer, the heat from the ongoing electoral campaign promises an Election that might just be the most hotly-contested race in decades. With less than two weeks to go before election day, the allegations of fraud and incidences of election-related violence are again, as in previous elections, piling up, one after another.

Elections are supposedly elevating moments of citizenship. Through the simple act of casting one’s ballot, an individual is able to choose his preferred candidates, an entire nation is able to express its collective will, and power is peacefully transferred from one set of leaders to another. Former US President James Buchanan said it best: “The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes among free men.”

Unfortunately, elections in the Philippines are often bloody affairs. 

In the last five electoral cycles since 2001, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has reported a total of 1,036 violent poll-related incidents, which claimed the lives of more than 600 Filipinos. The bloodiest period occurred in 2010 with 155 casualties and scores of other wounded.

Election Year

No. of Incidents of Election-Relation Related Violence (ERVs)

No. of Casualties

2001

269

111

2004

249

148

2007

229

121

2010

180

155

2013

109

80

Recently, the PNP announced that as of March 17 of this year, 34 incidents of election-related violence (ERVs) have already been reported throughout the country. These include 25 incidents of shooting; 3 incidents of stabbing or hacking; 2 explosions; 1 one case of strafing; 1 incident of grenade-throwing; 1 case of abduction; and 1 incident of verbal threat.  These numbers, however, are expected to rise as May 9 draws nearer.

The situation is further aggravated by the fear of possible electoral fraud. In a recent Pulse Asia survey for example, the polling firm revealed that 39% or 4 out of every 10 Filipinos believe that cheating will take place on Election Day. Though clearly not a majority opinion, this is still significantly higher compared to the 29% who expect the elections to be clean and credible, and the 32% who remain undecided.

Understandably, this concern has been transformed into fuel to drive the campaigns of many candidates. One presidential candidate has even accused Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista of wanting to rig the polls when the latter broached the idea of reverting to the old manual system in face of the new challenges brought by the Supreme Court’s decision to compel the Comelec to activate the Vote Receipt function in all VCMs (Vote Counting Machines) to be used in May 9. This accusation was echoed by that candidate’s running mate who described the poll body as “treading on dangerous grounds.”

Monitoring Elections, Ensuring Credibility 

Because of the extremely volatile condition leading to the elections, there is an even greater need to monitor the polls in the hope that by doing so, election violence can be reduced, poll fraud averted and the credibility of the results ensured. With this in mind, the Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections (COMPACT) is again organizing an International Observers Mission (IOM) and will deploy at least 17 foreign election monitors to four (4) election hotspots, namely: Dinagat, Maguindanao, Isabela and Bohol.

COMPACT is a consortium of non-government and civil society organizations to uphold the right to suffrage and address the growing incidence of election-related violence that are allegedly being committed by both state and non-state actors. It asserts that every citizen has the responsibility to guard the sanctity of the ballot—for elections are too important to be left solely in the care of the politicians and poll experts.

Compact has been organizing international election observation missions since 2004. Indeed, they are our international “Team Bantay.”

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Akbayanihan Infrastructures, now Solar Powered!

 Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

On the second week of July 2015, just after two typhoons had hit the Philippines one after the other, a team consisting of five ACF staff members and two engineers traveled to Leyte and Eastern Samar to install solar power sets for ten daycare and health center buildings built through donations coursed through the Akbayanihan Foundation.

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The first activity of the trip was an orientation seminar — given by Engrs. Mario Ochoco and Rommel Lopez of Solar Power North – for members coming from the different recipient communities on how to install and maintain the solar power sets.  After the installations are finished, the participants are expected to maintain the solar power set-ups and troubleshoot any problem that may arise in the future.

Featured below are some of the photos during the installation stage. The two engineers were assisted by the designated trainees of the community where the solar power sets were being set-up.

Tambis, Villaba, Leyte

Tambis, Villaba, Leyte

 Engr. Mario Ochoco

Engr. Mario Ochoco at Silad, Villaba, Leyte

 San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte

San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte

In total, ten solar panel sets, with capacities of 250 watts per set, were successfully installed in the following areas: Brgy. 37, Tacloban City, Leyte; San Rafael, Dulag, Leyte; Tambis, Isabel, Leyte; Silad, Villaba, Leyte; Maribi, Tanauan, Leyte; Banahao, Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Sulangan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Batang, Hernani, Eastern Samar; and Brgy. 3, Hernani, Eastern Samar.

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Alongside the installation of solar panels, the ACF team also distributed basic medical equipment and supplies to the health centers, and chairs, tables and blackboards to the day care centers.

San Jose, Dulag, Leyte

 Batang, Hernani, Eastern Samar

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Solar-Powered Fan

Solar-Powered Fan

According to the day care teachers and barangay health workers, the solar panels were badly needed in their everyday operations since most of them have not had electricity since the structures were erected.  Some of the local government units, they said, are still unable, or incapable, to provide the energy requirements of the buildings.  Ms. Alice, a midwife from Batang, Hernani, who is in-charge of one of the health care centers, said that before their solar panel kit (including the solar fans) was installed, she and the BHWs of Batang used to fan their pregnant patients during their visits to the center.

The ACF team was welcomed to the areas by the scorching heat of the July Sun.  Luckily, this will now be put to very good use!

ACF’s Health and Governance Forum with the bonggang-bonggang BHWs of Leyte!

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Simultaneous with Tacloban City’s celebration of its first fiesta after Yolanda, ACF convened Barangay Health Workers (BHW) from all over Leyte for a forum entitled “Health and Local Governance Program for Community Health”.  The program was held at Hotel La Rica, located at the heart of Tacloban City, last June 30, 2015.  Two speakers from the Department of Health Regional Office lead the discussions that day – Ms. Chiradee Claridad, Health Leadership and Governance Program Coordinator; and Ms. Arlyn Perlado, BHW Coordinator for Leyte Province.

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Ms. Chiradee Claridad opened the discussion by providing the participants with the overall health profile of the country then moved on to giving them a glimpse of how health services are being provided at the municipal and barangay levels.  Her entire discussion was constructed so as to give the BHW participants some framework on how to go about their duties.  She then gave a rights-based approach on health service delivery and informed the BHWs of their roles in the realization of such.  The speaker then grouped the participants into groups to enable them to assess the main health concerns in their respective barangays.

Another equally important topic is the discussion on the local structures which relates to the work of the participants.  Towards the end of her presentation, Ms. Claridad also discussed the 3 Delays model, which the clients of BHWs face on a daily basis:

  1. Delay sa pagdedesisyong humingi ng tulong pang-medikal (Delay in the decision to seek medical help).
  2. Delay sa pagtukoy ng at pag-abot sa angkop na pasilidad pang-medikal (Delay in the identification and accessing of medical facilities).
  3. Delay sa pag-tanggap ng tama at sapat na pangangalaga sa pasilidad pang-medikal (Delay in receiving adequate and sufficient medical attention in a medical facility). 

IMG_4464The second speaker, Ms. Arlyn Perlado, who will be working closely with the Barangay Health Workers, discussed Republic Act 7883, which grants benefits and incentives to accredited BHWs.  She discussed the menu of incentives that BHWs are mandated by law to receive from the government as well as the responsibilities and limitations of their duties as community health practitioners.  The speaker also updated the participants about the different executive and legislative reforms pertaining to BHWs which are currently in the pipeline.

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For the BHWs who were able to attend, the activity was of great significance because not only was it very informative, major questions were also raised (and answered) and vital networks established. In fact, many of the BHWs present were encouraged to immediately seek accreditation upon knowing about the law-mandated benefits they can receive.

Finally, the dream is now a reality: the Malaya-Tala School Handover!

It took more than a year from the initial idea of the sisters, Malaya and Tala David, to make and sell “Haiyan Bracelets” (loom bands) in order to raise funds to build classrooms for the children of Maribi, Tanauan, Leyte — who lost theirs to the typhoon — to the actual hand-over of the finished building to the Faculty and Students of Maribi Elementary School last June 2, 2015.

IMG_20150602_123219The happy occasion was participated in by the different organizations and personalities who, in one way or another, were involved in seeing the dream into fruition. There were local and national NGO representatives, officials from the nearby local governments, media practitioners, and even regional and national politicians present in the event. The Project Team, led by Isabella Borgesson and Geline Avila, and Arch. Dean Ramos of Emerging Architects Studio (EASt) were also in attendance. ACF, the financial manager of the Malaya-Tala Funds, was represented by its Executive Director.

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Unfortunately, the David sisters themselves were unable to personally attend because school was still ongoing in the US. They, however, sent a video message to the Teachers and Students of Maribi Elementary School conveying their hope that the school be used effectively and be well taken care of because it already belongs to them.

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Needless to say, the Teachers and Students of Maribi, the real stars of the event, were already fully committed to doing exactly that. :-)

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Free the jailed Students of Myanmar!

More than two months have passed since the violent state-led crackdown against student protesters in Myanmar. Though many of those arrested are finally out on bail, many are still languishing in Jail.

The protests, centered in Letpadan Township in Pegu (Bago) Division, involved more than 200 students and supporters, including monks, who were peacefully protesting the passage of the so-called “National Education Law of 2014,” which the protesters opposed because of four main issues:

  • Lack of consultation with students during its drafting stage
  • Ethnic languages will not be taught at institutes of higher education
  • Universities will not be independent from the Ministry of Education
  • Non-recognition of Student and Teacher Unions

In the crackdown, more than 100 students and supporters were brutally attacked and arrested by the police, who had been blocking their march to Yangon for eight days already.

Police hit a student protester during violence in LetpadanThis photo of Aung Min Khaing, posted by the news agency Irrawaddy.Org, has become the defining image of that event, which until today has not yet been resolved.

One of the youth organizations that played a leading role during the student protests is the Youth for a New Society (YNS), some of whose members were among those arrested and jailed. We are in solidarity with the students of Myanmar in their multi-sectoral call for peace, democracy and social justice.  Using only a mobile phone and free mobile applications, they put together this video, hoping that their government and the entire world will listen.