by Maya Angelique B. Jajalla
photos by Cong B. Corrales
QUEZON CITY—There were more election lapses reported by its 3,000 volunteers spread all over the country last Monday, compared to the 2010 Presidential Elections, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), claimed in a press conference here Friday.
LENTE is a non-partisan nationwide network of lawyers, law students, paralegals and trained volunteers that has been monitoring the country’s polls since 2007.
“Nakakalungkot isipin na parang hindi po tayo natuto from past mistakes. Our problems are still the same—or even worse,” lawyer Kenjie Aman, President of LENTE’s National Secretariat, said.
Aman said “problems” like vote-buying, vote-selling, PCOS machine breakdowns, voters’ list discrepancies, the lack of ballots, the low-level training of the board of election inspectors (BEIs), oversized ballots and thermal paper, and the snail-paced transmission of votes marred last Monday’s midterm elections.
Worse, these recurring electoral lapses had disenfranchised many voters, the group said. The organization expected that the poll body would resolve them before the 2013 elections, since this was already the second time that the country is undergoing automated elections.
“Hindi naman masama na mag-expect tayo ng mataas… because they promised that (this year’s elections) would be okay,” Aman added. Comelec claimed that this year’s PCOS machine glitches (200 of 77,000) are lower compared to the 2010 presidential elections (400 of 70,000). To this, LENTE executive director Ona Carintos said: “It’s not about the issue of numbers. Basta may mga hindi nakakaboto, may problema ang ating eleksyon.”
“There was no genuine elections—not in accordance with international standards of inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and public confidence in elections,” Aman told reporters Friday.
Almost all of LENTE’s regional desk volunteers reported that persons with disabilities (PWDs) had a hard time casting their votes last Monday, since most of the polling centers in the country did not follow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution 9485 on Accessible Polling Places for Persons With Disability (PWD), pregnant women, and detained voters. LENTE noted that most of the polling areas for PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women were still located in the polling centers’ second and some still on the fourth floors.
LENTE’s Robee Ilagan, on the other hand, says that even though there were no reports of violence on Election Day in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the voting hour only started at 9 a.m. and closed as early as 4 p.m. The personnel claimed that they already have a 100% voter turnout. However, the transmission of votes only started at midnight. “What happened between 4 p.m. to 12 midnight, nobody knows,” said Ilagan. “It contradicts the principle of transparency,” she added.
In some regions of the country, voters found it hard to locate their precincts. Issues on the secrecy of their ballots were experienced, LENTE claimed. Citing what their volunteers witnessed in Regions V and VI, there were “more than 10 voters voting at the same time and ballot secrecy folders were not used.”
Since the electoral lapses are considered crimes against a person, Carintos explained that all they can do as an organization is offer their legal services to would-be complainants for free. “We need to have complainants to file the electoral cases. We will back you up and support you for free,”” said Carintos. From 2010 to 2013, LENTE only handled one election case. It is a case against Camiguin Governor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo. “Katatapos lang ng presentation ng prosecution. It’s now the time for the defense to present,” Carintos said adding that the slow pace of electoral case trials have also been instrumental for the complainant to lose interest in pursuing the complaints. Still, Carintos appealed to those who have witnessed electoral lapses to file their complaints.
Complaints, says Aman, should be viewed by the Comelec as constructive. “Hindi po ibig sabihin na yinuyurakan, sinisisi at gusto na naming mag-resign si Chairman (Sixto) Brillantes. Hindi po tao, kundi ang sistema po,” clarified Aman. LENTE lawyers admitted that they were disappointed with the incident reports and Comelec’s lack of contingency planning. But Aman added that the commissioners are not the only ones to be held accountable for the lapses in the election, but the election officers as well.
“They are the ones directly involved. So sila din dapat nating i-held [sic] accountable.”
LENTE officials also presented a list of recommendations to prevent the same problems in the 2016 elections. These include training of BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors), support staff and technical personnel and a specialized sensitivity training for vulnerable sectors. Second, there should be custody and security of the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines and all election paraphernalia. This is to address reports on pre-shaded and oversized ballots. Third, there should be a mandatory biometrics so that the Posted Computerized Voters’ List is in consonance with the Election Day Computerized Voters’ List. Fourth, there should be effective and timely remedies to safeguard electorates’ right to vote. Fifth, is for Comelec to reveal the areas where the PCOS failed to transmit. And lastly, there should be a timely release of the source code review.