Montreal delegates report on Philippine election irregularities
by Sara Falconer
"There is a war going on in the country. It's a war against political dissidents. It's a war against the working poor."
Stefan Christoff is back from the Philippines with first-hand accounts of an unfolding human rights crisis. He was part of the People's International Observers' Mission, along with delegates from more than 12 countries, sent to witness the May midterm elections, which were again won by U.S.-backed president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The mission was organized by the Centre for Philippine Concerns, a Montreal group that has been working in solidarity with social movements for over 20 years, since Ferdinand Marcos's dictatorship.
If the delegates were looking for corruption, they weren't disappointed. According to their reports, some candidates were handing out prefilled "sample ballots" with money stapled to them. Armed squads roamed the streets of poor neighbourhoods, including the district of Tondo.
"They were applying physical pressure and intimidation to tell people who to vote for," Christoff says.
These same paramilitaries, he adds, target left-leaning activists. There have been more than 850 political killings in the country since 2001. Amnesty International and other rights watchdogs have accused the current government of complicity in the killings.
Canada has a strong relationship with Arroyo's government, partially as a result of neo-liberal economic policies and massive privatization. Canadian mining companies have significant interests in the Philippines and the federal government provides military training and assistance to the army.
Meanwhile, over 30 million people in the Philippines live on less than $2 (U.S.) a day. Montreal has a large Filipino population, many of them displaced because of these conditions.
An event tonight will feature a report from the five local delegates to the mission, and a short film Christoff made with a video activist collective in Manila. For more information, visit www.stopthekillings.org.
Philippines: Battle of the Ballot Box, tonight, June 28, 7 p.m., at St-Paul's Anglican Church, 3970 Côte-Ste-Catherine. Suggested donation: $5-$10.