Philippines elections: Soldiers accost, harass foreign observers at Cebu checkpoint

May. 15, 2007

Military overstepped their authority, Peoples’ IOM delegates say

MANILA — Soldiers from the 78th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army twice stopped and harassed delegates of the Peoples’ International Observers Mission (Peoples’ IOM) at a checkpoint in the northwestern coast of Cebu this afternoon.

The Peoples’ IOM team in Cebu included foreign observers Elizabeth Hendrickson from the English Lutheran Church in the United States and Minerva Gutierrez, a member of the political party Quebec Solidaire in Canada.

The team was stopped at a military checkpoint in Brgy. Ginabasan in Asturias while travelling en route to the municipality of Tuburan earlier this afternoon. The checkpoint was manned by troops from the 78th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and headed by a certain Sgt. Ronald Pastrana. The team was held for around ten minutes and was forced to give their names to the soldiers before they were let go.

While returning from their mission area in Tuburan, the team passed the same road and were again accosted and stopped. This time around, soldiers held the team for 15 minutes and took photographs of the delegates without their consent.

The foreign observers expressed disappointment and concern at the incident.

“I think the military overstepped their authority. They did more than visually search us. They got our names and took our pictures,” said Hendrickson.

Gutierrez agreed with Hendrickson’s observations. “I felt that [the soldiers were] aggressive and disrespectful due to their questions and the fact that they seemed to have no valid reason for holding us the way they did,” Gutierrez said.

Hendrickson believes that the military’s actions were unwarranted. The troops asked the team leaders where their next destination was. Some of the soldiers also refused to disclose their names and covered their name tags with their rifles.

“If [the soldiers] did not have a valid reason, they should not have stopped us in the first place,” she says.

Hendrickson’s team was on its way to witness the election conduct in Tuburan when the two incidents happened.

“Mostly, they hindered our trip [to the mission areas]. They were trying to delay people from getting to places where we wanted to observe the elections,” Hendrickson said.

“I wasn’t surprised with the checkpoint. But I was just frustrated with the way the military could overstep the bounds of what they are allowed to do,” Hendrickson ended.

The People’s IOM Cebu team was able to monitor the election conduct in Bakyawan, Tuburan, and the Poblacion in Aloguinsan. The canvassing area in Aloguinsan is congested, Hendrickson said

Hendrickson’s team has so far reached Toledo City without further incident this evening.

The Peoples IOM is composed of 25 foreign observers from Canada, USA, Japan, Myanmar, Korea, Australia, Norway, Belgium, Germany and Scotland. They are currently dispersed throughout 10 poll hotspots in 7 regions to document cases in areas where harassments of voters are intensifying and the probability of electoral fraud are high.

The mission is coordinating with other national, local, and international monitoring groups such as Kontra Daya, the PPCRV, Teachers’ Hotline of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Lawyers’ Monitoring Groups.###

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