Malacanang, the seat of power in the Philippines, is wont to claim that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo won the May 2004 elections "fair and square" and that the country is run by her under the rules of law and democracy.

By Guil Franco (A Correspondent)

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Published: Fri 23 Dec 2005, 2:24 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

And yet, a prestigious group based in the United States capital — Freedom House, which monitors the number of electoral democracies around the world, clearly does not agree with the Palace claims.

An AFP report, datelined Washington, on Tuesday said the international monitoring group downgraded the country to a "partly free" from a "free' state, based on the independent organisation's monitoring of the number of electoral democracies around the world.

Of the four countries that registered an outright decline in status, the most significant was the Philippines. The decision to downgrade this country from free to partly free was based on credible allegations of massive electoral fraud, corruption and the government's intimidation of elements in the political opposition.

Freedom House in its report also noted a rise in the number of democratic states from 119 to 122 this year. In its annual report, the group said every nation in the world was rated either as "free," "partly free," or "not free."

Founded over 60 years ago by the highly respected US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (better half of four-term President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and other Americans concerned with the mounting threats to peace and democracy, Freedom House is non-partisan and broad-based.

It is led by a board of trustees composed of leading Democrats, Republicans and Independents; business and labour leaders; former senior government officials; scholars; writers; and journalists. All are united in the view that American leadership in international affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom.

Freedom House was an advocate of the Filipino democratic opposition in the 1980s when the Philippines was still under Martial Law with the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos at the helm of government.

With the downgrade, it appears that the independent group monitoring freedom and democracy all over the world did not deem the presidential polls in 2004 that Filipinos say was marked with massive fraud, as credible.

President Arroyo stands accused of having cheated her way to Malacanang through massive vote-buying, as well as vote-shaving and vote-padding operations, as recorded in wiretapped conversations between her and a poll official, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Both denied they had riggged the elections to favour her candidacy.

The international monitoring organisation also noted in its annual report that it found credible government "intimidation" of the opposition members.

The Arroyo government has demonstrated its intolerance of political criticisms, with its usual style of charging her critics with destabilisation attempts. It is also known to fabricate evidence against a critic, use its influence over the courts to try her political foes, even when the evidence is weak.

After staging a power-grab against the legitimate government of then-sitting President Joseph Estrada, she has kept him detained while facing plunder charges which her government has failed to prove.

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, which is trying Estrada's case, has barred the detained leader from speaking to the media and, for at least two years, refused to grant Estrada "sunning" privileges, keeping him locked up in a room at the Veterans Memorial Medical Centre in suburban Quezon City.

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