Wider ballot audit sought
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Electoral reform groups have renewed calls for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow a wider random manual audit of ballots before the proclamation of winners in the May 10 polls to “lend credence to election results.”
The Automated Election System (AES) Watch, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) and Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) said a limited manual audit done after proclamation would further cast doubt on the results of the automated polls.
AES Watch convenor Alfredo Pascual said a random manual audit is now “central to ensuring the integrity of the May 10 elections given that the pleas of concerned citizens’ groups for measures to address the internal vulnerabilities of the AES have remained unanswered.”
“(Random manual audit is) the last line of defense against fraud in the elections,” Pascual said in a statement jointly issued by AES Watch and Cenpeg.
A random manual audit is provided for in Sec. 29 of Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law, which states that “where AES is used, there shall be a random manual audit in one precinct per congressional district randomly chosen by Comelec in each province and city.”
This means that one ballot box from a congressional district will be audited to check if it had been counted accurately by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine.
But since there will be more than 76,000 voting centers in the coming elections, poll watchdogs deemed it necessary to expand the random manual audit.
In an interview, CER executive director Ramon Casiple maintained that they have long proposed to the Comelec the expansion of the random manual audit and that it should be done before the proclamation but nothing has happened.
“They do not want it done that way. Maybe they are worried that it would create chaos. Imagine what will happen if after an audit, you find out that a PCOS machine had counted the ballots wrongly. But through this system, we’ll be able to see if what comes out from the PCOS machines is really the people’s will,” he added.
Pascual said the Comelec should not “give premium to speed over credibility.”
He added that it is more important for the public to know what is happening in the PCOS machines so that they would believe in the results of the elections.
LP to Comelec: Redeem yourself
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party (LP) has urged Comelec officials to redeem themselves by ensuring clean and peaceful polls in May.
The Comelec’s credibility had been tarnished due to alleged massive cheating by candidates, allegedly including President Arroyo, in 2004.
LP officials, led by standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, had expressed apprehensions about a possible failure of elections because of the Comelec’s lackluster response to alarming developments in its preparations for the country’s first automated election.
Aquino and Roxas appealed to the Comelec to immediately resolve technical glitches cited not only by the LP but other election watchdogs as well, to ensure the credibility of the polls.
The LP tandem also urged the poll body to authorize the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) to conduct a public official count; stop the harassment of LP’s local candidates; accredit the LP as the dominant minority party; and allow an independent review of the PCOS machines’ source code two weeks before the actual elections.
Aquino and Roxas lamented that Comelec officials seemed to have simply shrugged off these alarming developments in the political front that could affect the results of the May 10 elections and allow Mrs. Arroyo to stay in power or install a candidate friendly to her.
They said the appointment of Gen. Delfin Bangit as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; the reshuffle of police directors without the authority of local executives; the Supreme Court decision allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice to replace retiring Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno; and the declarations of deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales of a possible military junta or a transitional revolutionary government if the poll automation fails, among other factors, could shake the credibility of the coming elections.
As this developed, an alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East yesterday urged Filipino communities and organizations of OFWs abroad to help guard their votes as the one-month overseas absentee voting begins on April 10.
John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, said the encouragement and ready support in terms of services provided by these organizations to their members would result in relatively high absentee voters’ turnout compared to previous overseas absentee voting.
Migrante chapters in the Middle East, according to Monterona, will officially issue a note calling on their members and urging fellow OFWs to cast their votes early and not to waste time, especially those who are far from designated polling precincts usually located at Philippine embassies, consular offices, and foreign service establishments.
ERs can no longer stop proclamation
The Comelec, meanwhile, said it will no longer allow the stoppage or delay of proclamation of winning candidates in the May 10 polls on the basis of election returns (ERs).
Citing Resolution No. 8804 or the Rules and Procedures on Disputes on the Automated Election System, the Comelec said that “pre-proclamation controversy” now covers only two issues – illegal composition of the Board of Canvassers (BOC) and illegal proceedings of the BOC.
“A pre-proclamation controversy refers to the proceedings of the BOC which may be raised by any candidate or by any registered political party or coalition of political parties, or by any accredited and participating party-list group before the board or directly with the commission. The basis of the canvass shall be electronically transmitted results,” the resolution reads.
The BOC is composed of an election officer who acts as chair, city or municipal treasurer and district school supervisor.
In previous polls, a candidate’s victory can be challenged using issues concerning the ERs, the document containing the summary of votes obtained by candidates in a polling precinct.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that if ERs would still be considered for pre-proclamation controversy, the proclamation of candidates would be delayed, thus defeating the purpose of automation which is to speed up the electoral process.
Under the resolution, “there is illegal composition of the BOC when, among other similar circumstances, any of the members do not posses legal qualifications and appointments.”
The information technology-capable person required to assist the BOC under Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law shall be included among those whose qualification may be required.
Illegal proceedings of the BOC, on the other hand, is when the canvassing is a “sham or mere ceremony, the results of which are pre-determined and manipulated as when any of following circumstances are present: precipitate” canvassing, terrorism, lack of sufficient notice to the members of the BOC, and improper venue.” – With Pia Lee Brago and Aurea Calica