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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.