30 April 2010
Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace awardee human rights watchdog, urged government authorities and candidates in the May elections to respect the right to suffrage and not serve as obstacles to the free exercise of the right to vote.
“We are seriously worried and concerned that everyday in the run-up to May 10, incidents of killings, gun ban violations and reports of unfinished election preparations are reported. An unprecedented number of election-related human rights abuses have already taken place and reliable reports show the involvement of government officials, police, military and candidates themselves.,” lamented Dr. Aurora Corazon A. Parong, Section Director of Amnesty International Philippines.
Yesterday (April 29), a candidate was implicated in the killing of a supporter of his opponent in Abra while 209 gun ban violators were arrested in Cebu. Prior to this, Philippine authorities have already reported election related violence resulting to the death of more than 90 persons including 28 candidates and 1,390 gun ban violators (making the count of gun ban violators 1,599 as of April 29, 11 days prior to May 10).
Amnesty International is also concerned that the right to information in order to freely, independently and intelligently vote has not been given serious attention by the COMELEC and other government agencies or sometimes even trampled upon by candidates themselves. There is lack of widespread and systematic information on which of the party list included in the official ballots are legitimate candidates especially since the party-list has mushroomed to more than a hundred and have non-marginalized representatives, defeating the main objective of the party list system to ensure representation of marginalized sectors. Amnesty International takes note that some candidates have no access to some areas due to the “permit to campaign” (PTC) concept of some non-state actors and express concern that voters in such areas may vote without all the information they deserve to intelligently choose their future officials. AI noted that people, including candidates, become timid or turn a blind eye to extortions related to the “permit to campaign” during elections and just concentrate on what they view as most important – to campaign and win.
“We note with serious concern the continued existence of paramilitary units like the civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs) and the CAFGUs. We would like to again to reiterate the fact that many CVOs have been transformed into private armies of political clans. And this was highlighted in the Maguindanao massacre, the worst election related violence in Philippine history. Paramilitary units and private armies of political clans, the prevalence of guns in ious parts of the country despite the gun ban and failure of many government authorities and candidates to respect the rule of law are definite recipes for further election violence and trampling of the human right to vote this May 10. We urge government authorities and candidates and all stakeholders to all work together to ensure that the right to suffrage is respected and that the free will of the people will come out this May,”added Dr. Parong.
“To uphold the right to suffrage means that the government shall do everything in its power to ensure genuine fair elections. The gun ban must be strictly enforced. If extortion by non-state actors in the countryside is not stopped, then corruption, poverty or other human rights issues will be difficult to end. If the cycle of impunity does not stop, then suffering of the peoples in the Philippines will continue despite a change in administration.The failure of the government to protect its peoples’ right to suffrage has long-term implications. We note that the May elections will determine the kind of governance that the Philippines will have at the local and national level in the next six years.” Said Dr. Parong.
In February this year, Amnesty International wrote to the presidential candidates to make human rights in the center of their platforms and governance when elected. Amnesty International put forward a 5 –point human rights agenda for the May elections which include: 1) ending extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances by taking concrete steps to prosecute and punish perpetrators; 2) establishing control and accountability of the security forces including the revocation of the Executive 546 which allows the use of militias and paramilitary units; 3) embedding human rights protection in the peace process and paying particular attention to the thousands of chronically displaced peoples in Mindanao; 4)making human rights a priority integrated across all government bodies and development plans; and 5) ratifying and implementing treaties on human rights and international humanitarian law.
“We are on the last leg of the journey to elect new government officials. Urgent immediate steps must be done by government and candidates to assure respect for voting rights. Every action from this time on must safeguard the right of suffrage. Everyone should make human rights a priority, not only during elections but all the time.” concluded Parong.