25 MAY 2007
by ISA LORENZO
Then again, way before May 14, many of the election monitors — old and new alike — were already saying it was impossible to clean up the country’s election system. They had hoped, however, that their larger numbers would minimize poll “irregularities.” One of the newcomers, Kontra Daya, also said they were aiming to expose how the cheats were going to do it.
It is still far too early to even detect exactly what went on behind closed doors during (and after) the elections, even though some winners in the local government polls have already been proclaimed. The good news: at least one of the poll watchdogs, Bantay Eleksyon (BE), says its preliminary conclusion is that the 2007 midterm Philippine elections were “a qualified success,” because the voting process was conducted in a largely peaceful and orderly manner. (Read BE's report.)
The bad news: BE’s latest reports include those that reveal widespread confusion among voters, a significant level of electoral violence, and increasing signs of electoral fraud. Unfortunately, too, there are indications that BE and the other poll monitoring groups — including the more well-known National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) — have yet to come up with glitch-free systems that would make their mission to limit cheating a real success.
Namfrel, which has yet to recover from its failed 2004 experiment with SMS to conduct its “quick count,” has again encountered problems with its software, causing a delay in its release of regular updates during the first week of counting. BE, which had eight “monitoring sites,” admits that its efforts were marred by low compliance of last-minute instructions, including getting copies of the Voters’ List from the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Communication to some areas, especially the northern provinces and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), was also unreliable, it says.
At least it seems that the massive number of volunteer poll monitors belonging to different groups did not result into bedlam. The ever-widening scope of civil-society efforts to monitor the elections, however, is an indication not only of the citizenry’s growing distrust of the process, but also of the increasing audacity of cheats.
And we thought we had seen the worst of it in the 1986 snap elections.
MORE THAN 20 years ago, half a million Namfrel volunteers had guarded the ballot boxes, some even at the expense of their lives. While the government of then President Ferdinand Marcos churned out numbers that showed he won the polls, Namfrel’s tally indicated the opposite — and helped spark what would be later known as Edsa 1.
Since then, Namfrel has become a fixture in the country’s elections, where its main role has been to conduct a quick count. Beginning 1992, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) has also been enjoying official accreditation as the Comelec’s citizen arm, with the assistance of the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (Nassa) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Up until 2004, however, poll watching in the Philippines was practically synonymous with Namfrel alone. But then its foray into SMS went awry, making it unable to complete its tally three years ago. Then Namfrel Secretary General Guillermo ‘Bill’ Luz also declared those elections’ results as credible, despite reports of fraud from the organization’s own personnel in Lanao del Sur. A year later, the ‘Hello, Garci’ scandal erupted, and Namfrel was inevitably dragged into the fray. (See sidebar)
Kontra Daya convenor and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Carol Araullo says the idea is to “cast a wide net to be able to source (data) from as many groups as possible.” V-Force coordinator Benjamin Tolosa, meanwhile, says that the efforts of the different groups — especially those it is handling — actually complement one another. He adds, “One way also to encourage involvement is to be able to present a menu of options that will allow people to see where they can get involved.” (see V-Force flowchart)
For instance, the PPCRV, which became more visible than Namfrel right before the May 14 elections, conducted voters’ education workshops. Its national office developed modules then gave these to local archdiocese and dioceses, which operate in 2,707 parishes across the country.
Traditional voters’ education that employed spoon-fed information no longer works, says PPCRV Secretary General Brother Clifford Sorrita. Instead, the PPCRV now takes a community based modular approach, based on dialogue.
Drawing on popular television shows, the PPCRV called its trainer's manual “Pinoy Voters’ Academy (Ang Drama sa Likod ng Halalan)” and divided this into three modules: Pilipinas Nag-grow Ka Na Ba? (which draws from people's experiences); Kababayan, Laban o Bawi? (which asks people to stand up for what they know is right); and Halalan Idol (which encourages voters to choose the candidates who would help them achieve their goals).
A month before the elections, over 300,000 volunteers had signed up with the PPCRV, which was targeting 500,000. The PPCRV's funding is sourced from donations, including second collections during mass. For this year’s elections, parish donations were used for voters’ education and poll watching, says the group.
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