IT’S THE lack of political will that is keeping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from fully implementing legally mandated safeguards against wholesale electoral fraud like dagdag-bawas, says Kontra Daya, an election monitoring organization.
In particular, Kontra Daya cites a new election law that it says the poll body has been “negligent and selective” in implementing. Republic Act No. 9369, signed into law on January 23, 2007, introduced amendments to the Omnibus Election Code (B.P. 881), RA 6646 (the law introducing additional reforms in the electoral system), and RA 7166 (the law on synchronized national and local elections) that made the manner of counting votes at the precinct level and canvassing them at the municipal and higher levels more transparent and accessible to the public.
One significant reform in RA 9369 is the inclusion of the requirement that the second copy of election returns and the third copy of certificates of canvass be posted for 48 hours on a wall within the premises of the precinct or canvassing center for the perusal of the public.
Section 39 of the law also prescribes that the election return or certificate of canvass be projected on a wall so that those present in the canvassing center could monitor the progress of the canvassing process from beginning to end.
Last January 26, the Comelec issued a resolution providing for general instructions to Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) on the casting and counting of votes for the May 14, 2007 elections. But the resolution did not reflect RA 9369’s prescribed manner of counting of ballots as provided for in Sections 31 to 36, and so on March 27 the Comelec issued another one amending it.
“Yet even then, it left something out,” says Antonio Tinio, Kontra Daya convenor and Alliance of Concerned Teachers chairperson, pointing to Section 53 of the Comelec-issued instructions to BEIs that mandate the BEI chairman to turn over custody of unclaimed copies of election returns to the Comelec election officer. RA 9369 already directs the BEI chairman to retain custody of any unclaimed copy of ERs, turning them over to authorized recipients or any competent authority only upon demand.
The election return is the basic poll document upon which any election protest will be based. It is thus of paramount concern to contending parties — particularly the opposition — that will not have enough watchers to claim their ER copies at the precinct level. Says Tinio: “Obviously the law places more trust in the teachers than the Comelec election officers as far as the safekeeping of these ERs is concerned.”
Fr. Joe Dizon, Kontra Daya spokesperson, also warns, “A large number of teachers nationwide has undergone training (as BEIs) based on this flawed document. We are concerned that, unless teachers undergo retraining before May 14, Comelec’s negligence in implementing the relevant sections of the new law will result in chaos and confusion at the precinct level on election day. Teachers may also be charged with election offenses if they fail to follow the new procedures mandated in RA 9369.”
In February, Abalos declared in a dialogue with Kontra Daya that the Comelec would not be able to implement Section 39 of RA 9369 due to “lack of funds.” But the group insists that compliance with the law is “not merely optional or subject to the vagaries of availability of funding.”
Kontra Daya has also questioned why the Comelec could shell out P23 million to fund a much-criticized non-binding Internet voting for overseas absentee voters but claims to have no funds to implement a legally mandated requirement.