Manila/Vienna, 26 June 2004/P/RE/18755c-is
On 23 June 2004 the President of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.), Dr. Hans Koechler, concluded a 12-day fact-finding mission to the Philippines. During his visit he met with politicians, legal experts, intellectuals, NGO representatives and journalists representing a broad political spectrum in the Philippines. He also held consultations with representatives of the civil action group Vote Watch Philippines with which co-operation had been established prior to the May 10 presidential and legislative elections.
On 17 June he observed the canvassing of the votes by the joint congressional committee at the House of Representatives in Manila. He was accompanied by a group of 10 Austrian graduate students of philosophy and political science. His observations on the slowness of the counting of the votes were widely covered by the Philippine media. Mr. Christoph Wurnitsch and Ms. Carla Berg, MA, members of Dr. Koechler's delegation, also shared their observations with reporters of Philippine TV stations.
Dr. Koechler took note of opposition allegations of widespread vote-buying and electoral fraud, particularly in the Mindanao provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga Sibugay, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Saranggani, Tawi-tawi, North Cotabato and Davao. In view of persistent allegations by opposition politicians, the lead of the incumbent President, Ms. Macapagal Arroyo, over her main rival, Fernando Poe Jr., by about 3 percentage points (1.1 million votes) would have had to be scrutinized by an independent commission. In many instances, politicians and independent observers have pointed to inconsistencies between the actual election results and the figures in the CoCs, details of which have been published in the country's media. Regrettably, this has had a very detrimental effect on the Muslim minority in the Philippines as outlined by KNP Senatorial candidate Amina Rasul who said that Muslims are very upset with the dismal picture painted of the minority areas in Mindanao: "The word fraud is now synonymous with Muslim communities. There is already a notion that one does not have to campaign there since Muslim votes can be bought." Serious doubts have also been raised about the authenticity of the CoCs from Cebu City and Cebu Province.
The handling of the vote count – it took almost six weeks from the election day to the proclamation of the results – has exposed the systemic weaknesses of the electoral process in the Philippines. The entire procedure, including the canvassing of the votes at the national level, should be taken out of the context of party politics in which it is presently located. The establishment of the final results by adding up the numbers contained in the Certificates of Canvass (CoC) should not be undertaken by a political committee (such as the joint congressional committee which was composed of members of the legislature according to the majority relations in the outgoing parliament), but by civil servants attached to a constitutionally independent office. Because of the political nature of the Joint Committee, all requests to scrutinize the CoCs (i.e. to open the election returns so as to verify the authenticity of CoCs) have been voted down by the deputies of the governmental majority. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has not proven to be sufficiently independent – and, in any way, does not have an adequate mandate under the present regulations. The same holds true, to a certain degree, for the government-sanctioned National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).
According to Section 17 of the House of Representatives' rules on canvassing and Section 30 of Republic Act 7166, Congress or the joint committee of the Senate and the House should refer to the election returns whenever there are questions raised as to the authenticity of a CoC. Section 30 expressly provides:
When it appears that any certificate of canvass or supporting statement of votes by precinct bears erasures or alterations which may cast doubt as to the veracity of the number of votes stated therein and may affect the result of the election, upon request of the Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate concerned or his party, Congress shall, for the sole purpose of verifying the actual number of votes cast for President and Vice-President, count the votes as they appear in the copies of the election returns submitted to it.
Because of the congressional committee's refusal to scrutinize the results of electoral precincts – not even the scrutiny of one single CoC, as a sample, was granted by the governmental majority –, the legitimacy of the final election result may be in doubt in the eyes of many Filipino citizens, something which will be detrimental to political stability in the country. This situation may also undermine the legal and constitutional system in the Philippines. Protracted legal battles are to be expected and a series of complaints may be filed with the country's Supreme Court.
Dr. Koechler concluded that the slowness of the entire process was not due to the manual counting of the votes (a system which is also practiced in many European countries), but mainly due to allegations of irregularities and the subsequent doubts and objections, raised by the opposition, in the joint canvassing committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The President of the I.P.O. suggested that a future constitutional reform shall pay attention to this serious problem of the rule of law in the Philippines and redefine the entire process of canvassing in a framework which is to be situated outside of party politics. In that regard, one may build on practices in member states of the European Union, not necessarily the United States (where the electoral process also requires urgent systemic and procedural reform).
The International Progress Organization will remain seized of the matter and will continue an exchange of views with all sectors of Philippine society on the basic issues of democracy and the rule of law.