Noynoy, Erap camps step up vote protection measures

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Apr 23 2010 10:55 AM | Updated as of Apr 25 2010 05:01 AM

Former DND chief says 'Garci may be in PCOS machine'

MANILA, Philippines - Almost all political parties have stepped-up vote protection measures amid looming fears that widespread cheating could take place during next month's automated polls.

ANC's "The Rundown" on Thursday night took up the issue of how the country's political parties are securing the integrity of votes with political strategists of the Liberal Party (LP) and the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP).

Learning from opposition presidential bet Fernando Poe Jr.'s experience with electoral fraud in 2004, former Ambassador Ernesto Maceda, also former President Joseph Estrada's campaign manager, said the PMP has tapped lawyers and volunteers to oversee the conduct of the elections in various election precincts and protect the votes of their candidates from cheating operations.

"Our mistake, principally, was that we didn't have watchers and lawyers on the ground. In Cebu, GMA piled up an unbelievable 1 million plus margin. But that's not going to happen in Cebu now. There are four strong contending parties, I think nobody will run away with elections in Cebu," he said.

Maceda said that although they have had problems mobilizing volunteers while operating on a shoestring budget, they have managed to complete their lawyers and poll watchers nationwide.

A manual audit of poll results

Former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, the LP's Vote Protection Unit Head, said they have trained 8,000 lawyers and IT-capable personnel and 300,000 volunteers on how the automated polls work and what to look out for in the event of electoral cheating.

But having poll watchers to oversee the conduct of automated elections may not be enough.

Cruz admitted while it may be harder to cheat from the outside, it is easier to cheat from within the system.

"Garci might be inside the PCOS [Precinct Count Optical Scan] machine," Cruz quipped. "Comelec did not allow us to review the source code, they removed the ultraviolet safety measure of the ballot, they didn't allow Namfrel to do a parallel unofficial count. So we don't know if the PCOS will count correctly on May 10."

Cruz said that amid recent challenges posed by such problems, a manual audit of results of three selected positions--the presidential, vice-presidential and mayoralty race would be a good way to ensure fraud-free election results.

"What is important now is for Comelec to allow parallel manual count or 100% manual audit of 3 positions. This will take 3 hours and P400M. If Comelec can spend P680 million for plastic folders, why should it be expensive to spend to assure accuracy of results on May 10?"

Cruz compared it to withdrawing money from an ATM machine where one automatically counts the money after making the transaction, not wait two weeks later to do so like what the Comelec proposes to do.

"That's a ridiculous idea and that's against the law," Cruz said.

But Cruz added that Comelec agreeing to a 30% manual audit would be better than having none at all.

Cruz noted that while the manual audit is a good proposal, Comelec has not yet warmed up to it.

Partial manual audit

Maceda agreed with Cruz's call for a manual audit, but said expressed doubts that a 100% manual audit is realistic.

"I doubt if it will be practicable and cost-effective to have a 100% parallel audit. We'd be satisfied with at least a 30% provided we are informed where the audit will take place," he said.

Maceda said the manual audit could be conducted in places where cheating has been widely reported in the past, places like the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), particularly Maguindanao, Cotabato and other parts of Mindanao, as well as smaller provinces like Abra.

Both Cruz and Maceda noted it seems unusual that candidates believed to be the allied with the Arroyo Administration are not putting as much attention to vote protection.

"It's strange they don't have a vote protection unit because Comelec has removed the safeguards provided by law in the election automation system," Cruz said. 

"If it's true they are administration candidates, they probably have no fear of being cheated because cheating will be done by other people for them," Maceda added.

Maceda and Cruz said that given the unpredictability of the election automation system, vote protection measures are essential to ensuring the integrity of the outcome of the polls.