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Poll fraud a thing of the past,
say Comelec and Namfrel
By Rocky Nazareno and Donna S. Cueto
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THERE will be no padding or shaving of votes. The much-hated dagdag-bawas will be a thing of the past. And the votes will be counted accurately and as speedily as the manual method of
canvassing will allow.

The assurance came from election officials and watchdog groups at a breakfast meeting called yesterday by President Ramos to ease political tensions and help bring about clean
elections.

''It is not only our political maturity that will be put to a test,'' Mr. Ramos told the gathering of presidential candidates and government officials involved in the conduct of the balloting.

''It will also be a gauge of how we truly value our democracy,'' he said. ''The eyes of the world will be upon us.''

Commission on Elections Chair Bernardo Pardo and Jose Concepcion III, head of the National Movement for Free Elections, said an elaborate system of tabulating the votes and distributing copies of election returns to various political parties and watchdog groups would effectively deter any sleight of hand like dagdag-bawas.

''All preparations have been done to make sure that every aspect and stage of the electoral process is implemented,'' Pardo said.

''Let no one cast doubt on the credibility of the election results,'' he added. ''There will be no postponements, no failure of elections and other wrong and baseless predictions.''

In line with Republic Act 8173, he said Namfrel, which is authorized to conduct a quick count, would be given a copy of the election return from each municipality.

Copies will also be given to the dominant majority and minority parties, which in turn are required to share copies with other Comelec-recognized parties, independent candidates and those whose parties are not recognized.

Namfrel may give copies of the election return to ''any individual who requests for such copies,'' Pardo said.

''With these copies being given to all interested parties, aside from the official copy being given to our official citizen arm, I believe (there are) enough safeguards that the results will (not have) any kind of addition or subtraction,'' he said. 

Concepcion said the new law allows Namfrel to reconcile conflicting figures as early as when the returns reach the municipal level.

This process of sanitizing the returns of any illegal addition or subtraction will again be undertaken at the provincial level, he said.

The Comelec has accredited three citizens' arms--the National Movement for Free Elections, the Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Namfrel was accredited to conduct a media-based unofficial quick count accessible to the public while PPCRV was authorized to conduct poll watching and help voters at the precinct level.

The IBP was recognized to extend legal assistance to voters during the election period.

Presidential aspirants who attended the meeting were Joseph Estrada, Jose de Venecia, Raul Roco, Alfredo Lim and Renato de Villa. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was represented by vice presidential candidate Francisco Tatad.

They renewed their commitment to work for ''honest, orderly and peaceful elections.''

Not present among the presidential hopefuls were Emilio Osmeña, Santiago Dumlao Jr. and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. 

Canvassing deadlines

To help speed up the tabulation, Pardo said the Comelec had set deadlines for the boards of canvassers to finish their work.

The deadlines: 36 hours for municipal canvassers, 48 hours for city board of canvassers and 72 hours for provincial and district board of canvassers.

''In addition, the Comelec, as the national canvasser for senators, constituted five sub-canvassing committees to get its work done, thus ensuring a faster and earlier termination of the canvass,'' Pardo said.

A freewheeling, question-and-answer followed after the President treated his guests to a breakfast of fried rice, sausages, embutido, hot chocolate and mangoes.

Estrada said he was satisfied with the Comelec preparations.

Roco asked Pardo to make sure that ballot boxes are ''really empty when they get to the classrooms.''

''This is just one of the traditional ways of cheating, wherein you stuff the ballot boxes with fake ballots that will then be counted,'' Roco said.

''Another would be the vote-buying, particularly asking the voters not to vote,'' he added.

Pre-voting safeguard

As a safeguard, teachers, who will be at the poll precincts at 6 a.m., or one hour before the start of voting, have been instructed to empty the two compartments of each ballot box and show these to all the watchers present that these are empty.

The ballot boxes would then be closed with three padlocks, with only their slots open to receive ballots filled by voters. The ballot boxes shall remain locked until the voting is finished and the counting begins.

For his part, Lim asked the President to order an investigation of the slaying of Liberal mayoral candidate Lito Menedilla in San Carlos, Quezon, on April 17.

Menedilla was gunned down by four unidentified men in full view of about 100 people at the town plaza.

Lim also complained to the President that retired Gen. Rene Cruz, accompanied by former rebel colonel Tito Legaspi and a certain Colonel Mulato, transported ''50 baby Armalites (assault
rifles) in Kidapawan, South Cotabato last week.''

The former Manila mayor said he got intelligence information that 20 of the rifles were turned over to a ''gubernatorial candidate identified with Lakas.''

''The President assured me he would have the two cases immediately investigated,'' Lim later told reporters.

Philippine National Police Director General Santiago Aliño and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Clemente Mariano also briefed the presidential candidates on police-military preparations.

As of May 7, two provinces, six cities and 62 municipalities had been placed under Comelec control.

Aliño reported that from Jan. 11 to May 8, a total of 65 election-related violence incidents had been recorded.

These included the killing of five Lakas candidates, three from LAMMP and one independent candidate.

Exit polls

There was mixed reaction to a Supreme Court order overturning a Comelec ban on exit polls, which are surveys of how people voted as they leave the poll precincts.

The court told the Comelec to ''cease and desist from implementing the resolution from preventing ABS-CBN or any other group, its agents or representatives from conducting exit polls during the elections for national officials, particularly for the president and vice president.''

Election officials had said exit polls could conflict with the official vote count.

''It is extremely dangerous that an organization will announce the results of the election (before any officials do),'' De Venecia said.

Calling the Supreme Court decision ''so unfair,'' he complained that exit polls might be based on interviews with just a few voters.

President Ramos said the exit polls would place ''too much power in the hands of the media.''

But Estrada said the polls could curb cheating.

''That is one way of preventing cheating because in the past, the election returns and results were known only after more than two weeks,'' he said. ''When we have these exit polls, the election results will be known within one day.''

Quick Count

Namfrel's Quick Count was inaugurated yesterday at the La Salle Gym in Greenhills, San Juan.

''We're hoping 90 percent of the count (will be completed) in 10 days,'' Concepcion said.

Confident of efficient operations, the Namfrel head said the tabulation would be ''far better than in the 1992 or 1995 elections.''

Namfrel will have 95 tabulation transmissions points for the returns from 1,608 cities and municipalities.

Portents of fraud

Despite assurances from the Comelec and other government officials, people were complaining that mechanisms of fraud had been put in place in their localities.

In San Juan, residents said they were puzzled by the recurring brownouts lasting for 30 minutes to one hour in some barangays since May 6.

One of them interpreted this as a ''rehearsal'' for an orchestrated power outage that might be timed with the counting of ballots late this afternoon and evening.

In San Juan and Mandaluyong, residents interviewed by the Inquirer said partisan groups were preparing to go from house to house in depressed areas in a last-minute effort to buy votes.

''Wads of cash would change hands,'' one resident said.''And with the kind of life in the slums, it's easy to have takers.''

In Mandaluyong, the talk was that the going rate was from ''P300 to P500'' per voter in such areas as Addition Hills, Mauhay, Plainview, Malamig, Barangka, Hulo and Poblacion.

With reports from Volt Contreras, Ruel S. De Vera, AFP, AP and Reuters

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