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Poll watchdog readies ‘flexible’ plan for manual count

July 1, 2009 10:37am

MANILA, Philippines - As manual counting looms, poll watchdog groups are mobilizing volunteers and watchers as part of a "flexible" plan for the 2010 national elections.

But Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa on Wednesday also called for the early removal of "Garcis," or poll officials linked to poll fraud.

"Sa panig namin, naghahanda na rin kami, flexible dapat para mabantayan ang manual election. Yung paghahanda ay dapat di nakatutok sa isang pamamaraan [Our group has to adopt a flexible approach in doing our job as poll watchdog, including preparing for manual counting. We cannot afford to stick to just one plan]," De Villa said in an interview on dzXL radio.

The possibility of returning to manual counting became imminent following the falling out between Smartmatic and Total Information Management (TIM), which bagged P11.3-billion contract to automate the 2010 polls.

Commission on Elections chairman Jose Melo, who refereed a meeting between representatives of Smartmatic and TIM Tuesday, gave both firms until Friday to "kiss and make up."

De Villa said poll watchdogs are expecting automated polls next year, but she said they could mobilize their members if the Comelec is forced to implement a manual counting of votes.

But this early, she said the Comelec should allow PPCRV and National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) watchers to have their usual places at the precincts.

"Kilalanin ang lugar ng citizens-arm ng Comelec na magbabantay lalo sa panahon ng bilangan ng boto sa mga presinto. Dapat ang lugar ng accredited poll watchers ay talagang sa malapit kung saan ginagawa ang bilangan – dapat sa likod ng BEI para makita kung ang binabasa na boto ay tama," she said.

[Election officers should recognize Comelec’s citizen-arm, its representatives’ place is behind the Board of Election Inspectors, to make sure they read the ballots right.]

Fraud-free polls

On the other hand, De Villa said the Comelec should make sure poll officials and even teachers involved in poll fraud in past elections are kept away from the field next year.

"Huwag nang bigyan [ng] pagkakataong maging poll officials sila sa 2010 kasi mahirap na. Alisin na muna yung maybahid ng pandaraya para maganda ang takbo ng election. Marami namang papalit eh [Comelec should not allow its field officials linked to poll fraud in past elections spoil the coming elections. Besides, there are many who can take their places.]," she said.

In the meantime, De Villa said the PPCRV remains hopeful Smartmatic and TIM can resolve their differences so automated counting can still go on next year.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines appealed to the Comelec Tuesday night to exhaust all means before deciding to revert to manual elections in 2010.

CBCP spokesman Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III said the Catholic Church is concerned that the planned automated election is in peril again.

"Like the rest of us, the CBCP is saddened by this development," Quitorio said of the breakup between Smartmatic and TIM.

In its July 2007 Pastoral Statement, the CBCP urged the Comelec then to introduce a good poll automation system as it would be the key in minimizing, if not eliminating, election fraud.

On the other hand, Quitorio said the Comelec might want to consider the open election system being backed by the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, the implementing arm of the programs of the CBCP commission on social action.

"The OES may be one of the options. If we are really facing a blank wall, we can look at some other alternatives that could be used," he said. - GMANews.TV
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