MANILA,  May 13, 2004
By Marvin Sy And Jose Aravilla  -  International election observers pointed out problems in the May 10 polls but added that the exercise had been generally peaceful and credible, Foreign Affairs Secretary Delia Albert said yesterday.

The observers, however, still found Filipino-style elections too violent, too messy and, in some instances, too absurd.

"It was shocking for me that the whole election day, there was so much paper flying around in front of schools and politicians still tried to influence the votes," said German observer Laura Brune, who is part of the International Ecumenical Election Monitoring Mission (IEEMM).

"Another thing that bothered me a lot was the fact that there was so much violence going on during the time of the elections and people seemed to accept the fact that people got killed and harassed," she added.

Brune is one of 150 visitors from Australia, Germany, Norway, Tanzania and the United States who observed the conduct of elections in Metro Manila, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan and certain areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The foreign observers held a press conference yesterday to attest to allegations aired by Patriot, a Church-based organization, that the elections were far from successful.

Catholic priest Joe Dizon said many voters were disenfranchised during last Monday’s elections, which could be part of a larger scheme to cheat. He said they were considering filing an impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials who could be held responsible for the disenfranchisement.

Patriot also said in a statement that the incidence of violence and fraud "contravene certain claims that the elections were generally peaceful and without violence."

The police and military reported a total of 114 election-related deaths so far.

IEEMM also noted in a statement that there was "cheating" and that "votes are not counted correctly," but did not elaborate.

"In such an atmosphere of fraud, I feel so disheartened and disgusted. As I watch the long lines of people waiting to vote I wonder, where and when do they find hope that actual democracy will happen," American observer Sarah Tuttle said in a statement.

Albert, for her part, said in a statement that she has met with a number of foreign election monitors and they have painted a generally positive picture of last Monday’s elections.

The observers noted that the difficulties and problems faced by the government during the elections were attributable to the need to improve systems and processes utilizing modern technology, she said.

Albert added that observers also pointed out the need for more resources to be poured into preparing for the elections.

"They said these problems do not affect the credibility of the elections," she said. "I have met several observers and they have noticed the improvements in our elections. There are certainly problems, but even the election observers believe these problems are not insurmountable."

The observers did not disclose any specific details, asking that they be allowed to first file their final reports.

Albert met with election observers from Malaysia, led by Dato Abdullah Zawawi Mohamad, deputy chairman of Malaysia’s Election Commission.

"The Malaysian team shared with me their insights on our elections and made comparisons with their own elections. They painted a positive picture of the May 10 elections and said there will always be problems in such a large and complicated exercise but that all things considered, the Philippines and its people are to be congratulated," she said.

The Australian observers led by Melba Marginson, the commissioner of the Center for Philippine Concerns in Australia, noted there were instances of violence but deemed the elections as generally peaceful.

A group of American observers led by Peter Erben, senior election adviser of the International Foundation for Election Systems, said the Philippine experience could be used in Iraq, which is expected to hold its first free elections after the United States-led coalition government turns over governance of the country to the Iraqis.

Erben is also the chief election adviser of the coalition in Iraq and is deeply involved in preparations for elections in the war-torn country. He was also instrumental in organizing elections in Afghanistan, whose citizens suffered for years under Taliban rule until Taliban leaders were toppled by an attack by US forces.

"Erben told me he has witnessed many electoral exercises in the world and that the Philippines provides a very unique experience. He acknowledged the great challenges we face and problems that need to be solved," Albert said.

Erben also cited the Philippines for the successful overseas absentee voting process that he said provides many lessons for other countries.

The American observers are preparing a report, which they said will be presented in a workshop to all stakeholders.

Albert said she expected the observers to mention problems in the elections but expressed confidence that their final report will be fair and objective.

Meanwhile, religious leaders gathered yesterday at Plaza Roma in front of the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros to call for sobriety, peace and unity as votes continue to be canvassed.

"As a Filipino citizen and lover of this country, we call upon everybody to attend our prayer service for peace and unity among our people and for a credible and electoral and post-electoral process," Fr. Romeo Intengan, who heads the Jesuit religious order, said.

He also called on the winners of the elections "to be able to govern our country without distraction from discrimination and constant attacks from people embittered by resentments."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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