BSAIII statement on the declaration of martial law in Maguindano

Official statement of Senator Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino on the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, December 5, 2009

On the Declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao

For weeks now, the country has shared the shock, horror and agony of the people of Maguindanao over the slaughter of innocents. This national outrage has increased as securing justice faces hurdle after hurdle, both in Maguindanao and in Manila. Our people want justice, and they want results; the government wants us to believe that it must impose Martial Law for justice to be accomplished, and for peace and order to finally prevail in Maguindanao.

Now, for the first time since 1972, the chief executive has seen fit to take this unprecedented step. But unlike 1972, there are many Constitutional safeguards in place to ensure that martial law is an option taken with full transparency and under legislative oversight.

The people of Maguindanao, the people of the Philippines and the troops on this mission, deserve every assurance that this act will, indeed, result in justice being served and peace being restored. If the declaration of Martial Law is not motivated by the enforcement of the rule of law, but is rather an attempt to expand authority by means of the military it will be a grave abuse of power and reckless endangerment of the lives of our brave soldiers.

The Constitution is clear: martial law can only be declared upon the existence of an actual invasion or rebellion, and when public safety requires it.

Is there truly a legal basis for declaring martial law in Maguindanao?

Is the restoration of peace and order the real reason for the imposition of martial law or are there other reasons yet unseen?

Is it to instill fear, given the very negative connotations of martial law?

Can we take Mrs. Arroyo’s word when she is largely responsible for the creation of this monster?

Does it not indicate the state’s inability to enforce its laws that it had to resort to something as drastic as martial law, despite its possible repercussions on the economy?

The President need not declare martial law. She could have swiftly ordered that charges be filed against all those who carried out the lawless orders of Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. She could have directed that all those charged be preventively suspended. She could have instructed the Prosecutors to ask the 11 Courts to deny bail to all those charged with the commission of this heinous crime and let the succession of local officials under the Local Government Code take effect, to ensure that the local government will continue to function.

This extraordinary step fuels much speculation on the real intention behind it.

The people must demand an explanation of the circumstances that led the administration to resort to this action, how the President intends to use its vast powers, and for how long.

The rule of law must prevail; constitutional processes must prevail. The courts cannot be abolished there or elsewhere. The President of the Philippines remains accountable not only to the Congress of the Philippines, but to the People of the Philippines for taking this course.

We must also demand that both houses of Congress meet, as required by the Constitution, within 48 hours of a martial law declaration, without need of the President making a call for Congress to convene.

While the Constitution expects both houses to merge for the purpose of voting on this specific imposition of martial law, it also expects our lawmakers never to surrender their identity as representatives of the people.

I appeal to my colleagues in Congress to come together immediately and ascertain the validity of this imposition.

Congress must muster a quorum. Congress must not be a rubber stamp. Congress must ask the right questions, and it must act now.

This is a time for all our people to be sober, discerning, vigilant and unafraid.

[Archived from the official campaign web site of President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III]

ARMM, other provinces may not get flash cards on time

ARMM, other provinces may not get flash cards on time
By Ryan Chua

MANILA, Philippines – Problems in the country’s first ever nationwide automated elections continued to mount Thursday as officials confirmed that clustered precincts in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and other provinces may only get compact flash cards for automated voting machines on Election Day itself.

Smartmatic Southeast Asia President Cesar Flores said more than 30,000 new memory cards have been reconfigured, tested and are ready for deployment. He added that new memory cards were shipped out to Antique, Bohol, Capiz, Guimaras, Abra, Batanes, Quirino, Makati, Parañaque, Marikina, Batangas, and Palawan Wednesday night.

He admitted, however, that the reconfigured memory cards might not be able to reach 5% of the country  on time due to security and logistical challenges. He said the worst that can happen is that the memory cards will arrive in the polling centers on Election Day itself.

This includes all municipalities in Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Misamis Occidental, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur. Other places where the flash cards will be delayed are Toboso, Negros Occidental; Divilacan, Maconaco and Palanan in Isabela; Calayan, Cagayan; and Baliguian, Sibuco, Siocon and Sirawai in Zamboanga del Norte.

Flores said delays in the delivery of the flash cards means that the voting machines will not be ready by May 10 since they first have to be tested and sealed. However, the voting process will still continue as stated in the continuity plan of the Commission on Elections.

What will happen is that voters will still fill up their ballots but will not be allowed to insert their ballots into the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Instead, the boards of election inspectors will collect the ballots,  store them in the ballot box and wait for the new memory cards to arrive.

Upon receipt of the cards, the BEIs need to install them into the PCOS machines, test the machines and seal the memory cards. Once all preliminary procedures are done, the BEIs will feed all accomplished ballots to the machine for automated counting and transmission.

Flores said the new memory cards must be tested first and the machines sealed before they are used for counting and transmission.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo ruled out a proposal to revert to a manual count and reiterated that the automated nationwide election will push through as scheduled on May 10. He added that if things still go wrong, the Comelec is prepared for manual elections in 30% of the country and that the necessary forms have been printed and are already on standby.

RP militias on int’l list of ‘predators of the press’

RP militias on int’l list of ‘predators of the press’
Philippine Daily Inquirer

PARIS—Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday named the world’s 40 worst “predators of the press,” including politicians, religious leaders and Philippine militias, to mark World Press Freedom Day.

“They are powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law,” said the Paris-based RSF. “These predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists.”

Seventeen presidents and several heads of government are on the list, including China’s Hu Jintao, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

New entrants on the annually updated list of “predators” include Taliban chief Mullah Omar.

The Taliban leader, “whose influence extends to Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, has joined the list because the holy war he is waging is also directed at the press,” the RSF said.

Mullah Omar’s “thugs threaten local reporters who do not relay his propaganda,” while around 40 Taliban attacks directly targeted journalists and news media in 2009, the group said.

“The threats to journalists reinforce the Taliban’s sway over the population and create news black holes in the south and east of Afghanistan and in western Pakistan,” the RSF said.

Private militias in the Philippines were also added to the blacklist following the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, by “the local governor’s thugs” in Maguindanao on Nov. 23.

“We will continue to urge that the Philippine government aggressively and thoroughly pursue and bring to justice those responsible for the killings,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. said in a statement.

Thomas said that a free press “is just as much a pillar of democracy as elections are.”

100 slain under Arroyo admin

He assured that “Americans stand together with Filipinos in support of the members of the press, who labor every day to expose truth and enhance accountability.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the next president who would be elected on May 10 should ensure that justice is done not only for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre but all journalists killed under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In a statement, the NUJP said that 100 of the 137 journalists slain in the Philippines since 1987 were killed during the Arroyo administration.

Members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and Kabataan party-list group flew kites with a call that “every day should be press freedom day.”

Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin President Ramzan Kadyrov was also added to the blacklist.

Under Kadyrov, the watchdog said, “anyone questioning [his] policies… is exposed to deadly reprisals,” citing the murders of reporter Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

“Often referred to as ‘Putin’s guard dog,’ Ramzan Kadyrov shares the Russian prime minister’s taste for crude language and strong action,” the RSF said.

Victims of ‘dirty wars’

Yemen’s President Ali Abdulah Saleh was branded a “predator” after Sanaa set up a special court for press offenses, in what the RSF said was a bid “to limit coverage of dirty wars being waged in the north and south of the country.”

The entry on Saleh noted: “Eight independent newspapers are currently subject to a printing ban for ‘separatism.’”

“In Latin America, violence still comes from the same infernal quartet: Drug traffickers, the Cuban dictatorship, (Colombian guerrilla group) FARC and paramilitary groups,” the RSF said.

Italian organized crime, the Basque separatist group ETA and Somalia’s Islamist militias were also listed.

Figures whose names have been removed from the “predator” list include Nigeria’s State Security Service, which RSF said has “has been reined in.”

The Nigeria police force, however, “has emerged as the leading source of abuses against the press,” the RSF said, with poorly trained police “encouraged to use violence against journalists.”

The RSF also removed several Iraqi Islamist groups, arguing that while levels of violence remained high, journalists were no longer being singled out.

According to an RSF tally, nine journalists have been killed in 2010 and 300 media professionals are in prison. With reports from Agence France-Presse, Julie Aurelio and Bianca Geli in Manila; and Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao

Comelec control eyed in Maguindanao, 6 other areas

Comelec control eyed in Maguindanao, 6 other areas
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo said yesterday that seven areas across the country will be placed under the agency’s control due to escalating violence in these places.

In an interview, Melo identified these places as Abra, Nueva Ecija and Bacoor and some towns in Masbate, Davao, Maguindanao and Zamboanga.

The Comelec has already drafted a resolution effecting the placing of these areas under its control but it has not yet been promulgated.

“We will put these areas under Comelec control due to election-related violence there,” Melo said.

Melo revealed that election officers in Abra have refused to receive the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines way ahead of the May 10 polls, fearing that the machines would be stolen.

The machines will instead be placed in the Archbishop’s residence for safekeeping.

Melo added that Nueva Ecija has the same situation.

Yesterday, Comelec officials met with regional directors and officials of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces for a joint command conference to discuss the peace and order situation this coming elections.

The Comelec can place under its control areas where there is intense political rivalry among candidates, political parties or factions and if paramilitary forces, private armies or armed bands threaten to disrupt the polls.

Once an area is under Comelec control, the agency decides on matters concerning the elections.

‘Hello, Garci’ boys well entrenched for May 10 polls

‘Hello, Garci’ boys well entrenched for May 10 polls
By Aries Rufo

MANILA, Philippines—The men who worked closely with disgraced former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano as he rigged the 2004 presidential elections are still well entrenched for the May 10 polls this year.

Together, the so-called “Hello, Garci” Boys control Mindanao, which is home to more than 10 million registered voters.

“Hello, Garci” became a popular phrase to refer to how President Arroyo addressed the commissioner when she was caught on tape asking Garcillano to ensure her a lead of at least 1 million votes over her rival, Fernando Poe Jr.

Except for the high-profile Lintang Bedol, who is in hiding, the Garci Boys are positioned either as regional election directors (RED) or provincial election supervisors (PES).

Easily identifiable is Ray Sumalipao, who has been transferred as RED of Davao Region (Region 11) from his previous post as RED of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Replacing Sumalipao in ARMM is RED Remlane Tambuang.

The influence of the infamous group is intact in ARMM, however, as Renault Macarambon retains his positions as assistant RED (ARED) of ARMM.

Sumalipao and Macarambon were Garcillano’s errand boys at the height of the canvassing of the May 2004 of the votes for national positions. At that time, Sumalipao was the chair of the provincial board of canvassers in Lanao del Sur when a Namfrel official there threatened to make an exposé poll fraud.

Arroyo, learning of the threat, called up Garcillano to defuse the tension. “We will try to make him say something. I will tell him to talk without letting the people know that I am the one who will address it,” Garcillano assured the President.

Macarambon, then the vice chair of the Lanao del Sur provicial board of canvassers, was mentioned by Garcillano as the one who was supposed to ensure the victory of a senatorial candidate allied with the administration who was in a neck-and-neck race for the last spot with an opposition candidate.

The cheating attempt, however, was foiled when the opposition candidate went to the area to protect his votes.

A source from the Commission on Elections said that Macarambon might be assigned to Maguindanao as acting PES. The Comelec, however, has yet to release the resolution.

An election lawyer observed that Sumalipao’s transfer from ARMM to Davao Region might have done more damage than good “since this means he has control over a new territory. His men are already in place in ARMM, so removing him from there does not do any good.”

More of them
Another Garci man, Henry Magbutay, is RED of Northern Mindanao (Region 10).

Magbutay’s subordinates include Cirilo Nala Jr., who Comelec sources say is also a Garci follower. Nala is PES of Misamis Occidental.

Magbutay’s voice was caught on tape as the “Boy” who told Garcillano that an election official who knew about the irregularities was in hiding. “Boy” even suggested that they kidnap the concerned Comelec official, but Garcillano rejected the idea.

Another RED who was caught on the Garci tape is Francisco Pobe, who is in command of the CARAGA Region. Pobe, whose nickname is Danny, had called Garcillano asking for results in Cotabato City. Pobe, who was then the PES of Agusan del Sur, was acting on behalf of a senatorial candidate.

Although he was not on tape, Michael Abbas, the current RED of SOCCSKSARGEN (Region 12), is also known as Garcillano protégé who tampered with the votes of Arroyo’s rival, the late Fernando Poe Jr., in Tawi-Tawi during the 2004 race. Abbas was the PES of the province.

Now his coverage includes North Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat.

More authority
The ARMM has about 1.88 million registered voters; Northern Mindanao, 2.4 million; Davao Region, 2.55 million; SOCCSKSARGEN, 1.98 million and Caraga, 1.37 million.

Garcillano’s men, in effect, collectively have control over more than 10 million votes.

Separately, they are power brokers in their own right. They are not accountable to any Comelec commissioner at the head office, as the en banc decided that there will be no more commissioners-in-charge (CIC) of regions in the elections this year. In past elections, each commissioner was made in charge of a certain number of regions, exercising control over the regional directors.

A commissioner told that Comelec chair Jose Melo “did not like the idea of the commissioner having their own fiefdoms during the elections.”

The CIC system, as practiced in previous elections, allowed the poll official concerned to call the shots and make decisions without consulting the en banc, as an initial remedy to problems that required immediate attention.

However, the CIC system, while it decentralized decision-making, allowed the types of Garcillano to manipulate the elections with ease.

A Comelec source, who is privy to the assignments of poll officials, said that the Garcillano Boys were spared from the disgrace brought by the “Hello, Garci” tape because no one came forward to file a complaint against them.

The Comelec faced a blank wall when it initiated an investigation since there were no complainants and that the evidence—the wiretapped conversations between President Arroyo and Garcillano—linking them to irregularities could not be used as evidence in the first place.

Of the Garci Boys, Bedol was not as lucky after their 2004 adventure. Charges have been filed against him for his participation in the 2007 rigging of Maguindanao votes. (

Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters

Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Former Senate President Franklin Drilon Tuesday questioned the “improbably high voting population” in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), particularly the province of Maguindanao, and urged the Commission on Elections to purge the voters’ list in the region.

Drilon, a Liberal Party senatorial bet, noted that while other provinces in Mindanao registered voter population increases between eight and 16 percent from 2007 to 2009, the province of Maguindanao registered an unbelievable 78 percent.

Citing figures from the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Drilon said Lanao del Sur’s voting population grew by 16 percent (from 396,722 in 2007 to 459,012 in 2009); Sulu by 12 percent (from 250,571 to 280,257); Tawi-Tawi by 11 percent (from 140,232 to 156,027); and Basilan by eight percent (from 181,445 to 195,845).

Maguindanao recorded the biggest increase from 336,774 to 601,057, he added.

Drilon noted that the ARMM had gained notoriety in the 2004 presidential election as the alleged site of massive fraud that favored President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The ARMM is composed of the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. It had a registered voting population of 1.6 million as of early 2009, Drilon added.

He said a National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) official, whom he did not name, also felt that the region’s listed overall population growth rate of 5.4 percent—more than double the national average—was “patently unrealistic.”

Drilon said the LP was worried that local ARMM officials were padding the region’s population figures so they could carve out new districts to get higher local budget allocations.

“Already, we are getting persistent reports that the unrealistic population growth rate in the ARMM is causing so much confusion among government data gatherers that a technical committee in the census department is studying whether to accept the numbers as valid or not,” Drilon said.

The Ampatuan connection

Drilon then linked the ARMM voting figures to the Department of Justice’s recent decision to release two members of the prominent Ampatuan clan accused in the Maguindanao massacre.

“It might be a prelude to massive administration cheating in the region during the elections,” he said.

“To make the elections credible to the Filipino people and the international community, I am urging Comelec Chairman Jose Melo to seriously review the existing voters’ list in ARMM and have it immediately purged,” he added.

Earlier, LP campaign manager Florencio Abad said the DoJ’s decision to clear Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from involvement in the Maguindanao massacre could mean the “Ampatuan cheating machine” in the ARMM would be put to work again during the May 10 elections.

“With 23 days left before the May presidential elections, the timing of the dismissal of the case and order of the release of the two…can only fuel further suspicion that the Arroyo regime will once again employ the dreaded but effective Ampatuan cheating machine in ARMM to manipulate the coming elections according to Arroyo’s whims,” Abad said in a statement on Sunday.

The Ampatuans were close allies of Ms Arroyo before they were implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including 32 journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009.

Zaldy was suspended as governor of the ARMM while Akmad as vice governor of Maguindanao as a result of their alleged involvement in the massacre.

In the 2004 elections, President Arroyo enjoyed a comfortable lead over her opponents in the region allegedly due to the Ampatuans’ influence over the electorate, Drilon said.

He agreed that the DoJ ruling revived fears that the Arroyo administration “might again resort to massive fraud in the ARMM” to have its candidates win in the May elections.

2 Ampatuans to go free

2 Ampatuans to go free
By Dona Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The government will drop murder charges against two prominent members of the powerful Ampatuan clan in connection with the November 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 31 media workers, in Maguindanao.

Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his cousin Akmad Ampatuan, the former acting vice governor of Maguindanao, will be dropped from the list of those accused, Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said Saturday.

The two men were initially alleged to be among the key planners of the massacre that drew condemnation from all over the world.

Agra said he had ordered state prosecutors to exclude Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from the information sheet filed before the court, and that the prosecutors would formally inform Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes that they were not charging the two with murder.

Asked if the two would now be released, Agra said: “It will depend on the judge.”

Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan were among the family members transferred from detention in General Santos City and Davao City to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on Friday night.

The dropping of charges is seen to provoke outrage among the massacre victims’ relatives, who have repeatedly voiced concern that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had secretly intended to protect the Ampatuans because they were longtime political allies.

In February, the prosecution charged that Zaldy, Akmad and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to murder the Mangudadatus, their political rivals, who were in a convoy accompanied by lawyers and journalists on Nov. 23.

But Agra said Saturday that there was “no proof of conspiracy,” so he gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan’s alibi of being elsewhere at the time of the massacre.

He said Zaldy Ampatuan had presented evidence consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records to show that he was not in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, and a witness who testified to that effect.

Agra said there was likewise no proof of conspiracy with regard to Akmad Ampatuan, who, he claimed, was not identified by witness Kenny Dalagdag, was not included in the charge sheet of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police, and had an alibi of being part of a medical mission elsewhere at the time of the massacre.

But lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the families of some of the massacre victims, pointed out that “under criminal law, alibi is the weakest form of defense.”

Roque also said witness Dalagdag had testified that Zaldy Ampatuan knew of the plan to kill members of the Mangudadatu clan.

DOJ, Arroyo’s political arm

Roque said the dropping of charges against the two Ampatuans was the handiwork of the President through Agra, who, being a member of the Cabinet, was her “alter ego.”

He said Agra’s decision was “not only erroneous [but also] scandalous.”

“Agra is the alter ego of the President. He can’t do anything without [her] consent. This is Gloria in action,” an upset Roque told the Inquirer.

He added: “It only proves that victims of the massacre will never get justice under the Arroyo administration.”

Roque said the widows of the slain journalists would immediately petition Judge Solis-Reyes to disqualify the state prosecutors from handling the murder case.

He said Agra’s decision could be part of a supposed plan of the administration to use the Ampatuans’ “cheating machineries” to ensure the victory of its national candidates.

“The Department of Justice is acting like the political arm of Ms Arroyo. This is the price of using the cheating machineries of the Ampatuans,” he said.

Transfer hailed

In General Santos, Manuel Reblando, elder brother of slain Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, expressed satisfaction that five members of the Ampatuan clan led by patriarch Andal Sr. had been moved from police and military custody to Camp Bagong Diwa.

“We are happy that they were finally brought to a place where they really belong—a maximum-security prison cell,” he said.

Reblando hailed Judge Solis-Reyes for issuing the commitment order that paved the way for the transfer of Andal Sr., his sons Zaldy, Anwar and Sajid, and nephew Akmad to Camp Bagong Diwa, where they joined primary suspect Andal Jr.

He said reporters would now be able to “closely monitor” if the Ampatuans were being given “special treatment.”

Reblando said that under the custody of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in General Santos, Zaldy and the other Ampatuans “lived in comfort.” With reports from Aquiles Z. Zonio and Nash Maulana, Inquirer Mindanao; Nina Calleja; and Agence France-Presse

500 election watch list areas monitored

500 election watch list areas monitored
By Cecille Suerte Felipe
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 500 election watch list areas are being monitored by the Philippine National Police to prevent untoward incidents during the May 10 general elections, PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa said yesterday.

“Election watch list areas are around 500 and the areas of immediate concern are I think around 18 or 17,” Verzosa told reporters during a command conference in Camp Aguinaldo with officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other stakeholders of the coming elections.

Verzosa explained some areas were included in the watch list due to a history of violence in the past elections.

“Quezon, Masbate, Iloilo, the three Samar provinces, Surigao, Davao, these are the usual areas. We are focusing on these provinces and we added additional security forces, depending on the progress on the ground,” Verzosa said.

He reiterated his directive for police regional, provincial and station commanders to strengthen their security preparations for clean, honest and orderly polls.

Meanwhile, Verzosa noted there was no need to deploy more police troops in Maguindanao despite a grenade blast in Datu Odin town last Wednesday night.

“We have enough (troops) there,” Verzosa said.

He noted there are developments on their campaign to thwart private armed groups, which usually carry out violence during election season.

“I think around 73 persons, members of private armed groups, were arrested and we have seized 80 high-powered firearms,” said Verzosa, noting that the arrests were made mostly in areas of concern.

Garci’s ghost haunts techies

Garci’s ghost haunts techies
By Kristine L. Alave, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The specters of “Garci” and glitches are fueling urgent calls for hybrid elections.

Information technology professionals fearing hiccups in the automated election system (AES) on May 10 have pressed demands for a parallel manual count.

They said that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should consider a manual count after the electronic transmission of results to various canvassing centers and before the proclamation of any candidate.

Maria Cristina Coronel, president of the Philippine Software Industry Association, said that the partial manual count for the presidential, vice presidential and the mayoral races could be done by the board of election inspectors (BEI).

“Unless we do a full count at all precincts, of at least the top two positions, we cannot say with confidence that the coming elections in May will be free of any form of cheating,” Coronel said in a press briefing sponsored by the Movement for Good Governance.

Ex-President Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) also has asked the Comelec to conduct a parallel manual count after two out of 20 counting machines in absentee voting in Hong Kong failed over the weekend.

“That’s a 10-percent failure rate, which is definitely not acceptable,” said PMP senatorial candidate Jose de Venecia III, an information technology businessman and the PMP’s spokesperson on automated election concerns.

“The Comelec has no choice but to conduct a parallel manual count on all precincts nationwide,” he said.

De Venecia said that with the expected failure of at least 10 percent of the more than 70,000 counting machines on May 10, “the results of the elections at the national level will all be contestable.”

Coronel said the manual count would not pose a heavy financial burden. It would not also delay the announcement of results and would discourage losing politicians from thinking that the machines were rigged.

Time, motion study

She noted that a time and motion study had revealed that it would only take three hours for a precinct with 500 voters and five hours for a precinct with 1,000 voters to do the manual tally.

About 50 million Filipinos have registered to vote in the 76,000 precincts using counting machines that would tabulate and transmit results electronically.

Ma. Corazon Akol, president of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation, said the use of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines did not guarantee that the elections would be free of fraud.

Akol said the compact flash cards could contain commands that could manipulate the results.

Gus Lagman, convenor of the, also warned against high-tech cheating. He said that lack of system transparency could allow a government insider to rig the election. He added that the automated system was not fail-safe.

The specter of an electronic “Garci” is real under the electronic balloting system using state-of-the-art programs, Lagman said, referring to former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Garcillano allegedly manipulated results in the 2004 election to favor President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with the help of military generals in Maguindanao province. She has denied the charge.

Selected massive cheating

“Our concern today is more focused on the high probability of massive cheating in selected areas involving national, local and even party-list elections,” Lagman said.

AES Watch, a consortium of poll watchdog groups from the church and the civil society, urged the Comelec to hold another mock elections and install large video projectors that will show real-time tallies.

The group also supported calls pushing the Comelec to allow independent third-parties to conduct a random manual audit of ballots from at least 1,500 ballots before the announcement of winners.

AES Watch said in a letter to Comelec Chair Jose Melo that these measures could be costly but that it was a small price to pay to ensure “trouble-free and credible elections.”

The group noted that the projectors, the manual audit, and the mock elections a day before the actual polls would make the detection of the printed and the transmitted election results easier.

The Comelec has yet to decide on whether to hold the random manual audit of votes, which is mandated by law, before or after the proclamation of the candidates.

Melo has said he favors the post-proclamation audit so as not to delay the results and defeat the purpose of computerized balloting.

The Comelec says that in the automated balloting, results for the local races will be known in 12 hours after the voting, while national contest winners can be proclaimed within two to three days.

PMP vice presidential candidate and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay also urged the Comelec to take note of the delays caused by faulty PCOS machines in Hong Kong and prepare contingency measures.

“The weather conditions in Hong Kong and the Philippines are different. But so is the situation for voting. Such delays can be accommodated during absentee voting, but we do not have such luxury on May 10. They are given several days to cast their ballots so should they fail, they can try again. Here, we only have one day,” Binay said.

De los Reyes decries persecution of family

De los Reyes decries persecution of family
By Perseus Echeminada
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Olongapo Councilor JC de los Reyes decried yesterday what he described as persecution not only of his party Ang Kapatiran, but also of his family members, who are subjected to ridicule in school and in public gatherings.

Speaking to editors and reporters of The STAR yesterday, De los Reyes also lamented that media coverage is focused only on the survey leaders and not on parties espousing new politics.

“But I am not throwing in the towel, I will continue the fight,” he declared.

He said that when he decided to run for president, he also embraced the sacrifices that come with it.

He recalled that his wife cried when he told her he would run for the highest post in the land, but has remained supportive nonetheless.

Even at parents-teachers association (PTA) meetings, where he said many parents are supporting Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno Aquino III, his wife is taunted about his candidacy.

It’s not easy, De los Reyes admitted, especially in Olongapo where his uncle and political rival, Bagumbayan presidential candidate Sen. Richard Gordon, is more popular. De los Reyes’ children are aware that their first cousins are supporting Gordon.

“Some people say I am insane because I have no chance of winning. They would say pang-gulo lang ’yan (He is just a nuisance). The most affected are my wife and three children… Even our relatives are for Gordon,” he said.

“(But) I am determined to win.”

Since the campaign began, De los Reyes has gotten up at 3 a.m. to meditate in preparation for his hectic schedule. He meditates again before going to bed.

To keep fit, he subsists mainly on oatmeal.

When he is not spending time with his family during his downtime, he unwinds by reading the Bible and praying.

The last book he read was the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Despite the stresses and dangers of the campaign, De los Reyes said he does not fear anyone because he has no enemies. He has, in fact, waived his right to have police security escorts.

His biggest challenge right now, he says, is to attract millions of Catholics to vote for him.

“ I want to mobilize the Catholic votes to introduce reform in the country…We are consolidating the votes of the Catholic laity; we are waking the sleeping giant,” he said. “They must not confine themselves inside churches. They must now be politically engaged.”

De los Reyes himself was once headed for the priesthood, but interrupted his ambition when he became aware of the country’s problems.

De los Reyes is strongly against the proliferation of political dynasties in Philippine politics and describes himself as the political “rebel” of the Gordon clan.

He shared that his vision of social and political reform contrasts with that of his uncle Senator Gordon, who he describes as someone who is “more pragmatic.”

“I challenge other (political) dynasties to rebel against their families,” he said. “I will serve as an antidote to the political venom in the country.”

He cited the political clans of Ampatuan in Maguindanao, Garcia in Cebu, and Magsaysay in Zambales.

De los Reyes also said that despite his lack of experience in higher political office, he has actively fought corruption at the local level.

He said he exposed the reported abuse of workers’ safety and rights at the Hanjin Shipyard in Olongapo and had written to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to account for and put closure to the multi-million drug bust in Subic Bay Freeport.

He also actively opposed the creation of a coal-fired power plant in Zambales because of its environmental hazard.