Contact: Daya Mortel
Southern California Coordinator, BAYAN USA
Los Angeles, CA – Reporting from the UCLA Downtown Los Angeles Labor Center, delegates of the People’s International Observers Mission from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) presented eyewitness accounts from the Philippines elections. Witnessing electoral fraud and military intimidation, they concluded the Philippine national election was neither fair nor free. NLG delegates participated in the largest People’s International Observers Mission to date, joined by church, labor and community leaders from Asia, North and South America, and Europe. NLG, BAYAN USA, and GABRIELA USA presented the latest updates regarding the 43 detained health workers and the ongoing spate of human rights violations post-inauguration of President Noynoy Aquino two weeks ago.
Attorney Radhika Sainath opened the forum declaring,“This is more than a reportback because what we found, what we witnessed, has significance outside of Philippines.” Atty. Sainath described electoral fraud that she witnessed in the forms of vote-buying and illegal vote-casting and confirmed that these were also documented in every region that NLG delegates observed elections. Military intimidation, lack of staff, defects with the electronic voting system, and a gunfight within the polling place were just some of the issues noted in their report. Lincoln Ellis, an NLG member from Los Angeles said, “Too often election observers simply base their conclusions on what they saw on the day of the election,” referring to COMELEC observers who generalize their positive individual experiences to the whole of the country. “We looked deeper to interview candidates and human rights activists about intimidation, harassment, fraud and violence that took place months or years before the 2010 Philippines election. These problems affected everything from the names that did or did not appear on the ballot, to the make-up of the election commission (COMELEC), that eventually tabulated the results,” concluded Ellis. Ellis observed elections on the island of Panay where Fernando Baldomero of Bayan Muna party-list was assassinated last July 5, 2010.
The NLG delegation put forward several recommendations including investment in social infrastructure so that people’s basic needs are met, restructuring appointments of COMELEC, and fully investigating and prosecuting politically motivated human rights violations.
BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA addressed the latest human rights violations including the assassination of Fernando Baldomero earlier this month. “President Noynoy Aquino has just been inaugurated and already his term is marked with more extra-judicial killings under the Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) counter-insurgency plan started during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime,” said Kuusela Hilo, Vice Chairperson of BAYAN USA. “Violently dispersing farmers camping out in front of Malacanang Palace to demand land reform and expanding the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Oplan Bantay Laya will only exacerbate the problems of poverty and impunity that plague Philippine society, but these are the actions of the newly inaugurated Aquino administration. Aquino’s commitment to seek justice will hold no water if it carries on with Arroyo’s OBL,” explained Hilo.
Farnoosh Hashemian, one of the NLG delegates, was able to visit the detained 43 healthworkers who were illegally arrested, tortured and detained on February 6, 2010. “One of the women I met, Judy, is expected to give birth soon in detention if not released,” said Hashemian. “Hearing their stories and their willingness to continue their community health work once they are released is inspiring,” said Hashemian. Hashemian showed one of the necklaces beaded by the detained health workers and shared that solidarity, even in the form of sending beads, will help to raise awareness about their fight for freedom. Terrie Cervas, Vice Chairperson of GABRIELA USA, emphasized the need for international solidarity from people in the United States. “The issue of the 43 health workers is not an isolated incident, and we must let our Congressperson, Representative Howard Berman, know that we do not want our taxpayer money funding human rights violations in the Philippines,” declared Cervas. Cervas invited the audience to sign postcards for Rep. Berman who is the current Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Riko Maniago, lead vocalist of Flattbush and member of Habi Arts, concluded the program with the song calling for the end to government corruption. The final National Lawyers Guild report on the Philippines International Observers Mission findings will be available at http://nlg.org. To sign onto to the Free the 43 Petition, visit http://petitiononline.com/FreeD43/petition.html.