'Silent war' between PPCRV and NAMFREL worsens

by Aries Rufo, abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Jan 20 2010 06:16 PM | Updated as of Jan 21 2010 02:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The simmering “silent conflict” between two erstwhile allied poll watchdogs has spilled into the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) has asked the Comelec to junk the petition for accreditation filed by the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) as a citizen’s arm in the May 10, 2010 elections.

NAMFREL has asked the Comelec to be recognized as one of the accredited poll watchdogs in the synchronized national and local polls so that it will be provided with the 4th copy of the election returns (ERs), the certificates of votes to be generated by the automated machines, and the 7th copy for those manually prepared.

The poll watchdog, which built its reputation through its quick-count operations, also sought to be designated as a citizen’s arm in the implementation of the Comelec random manual audit. It also wants to be the lead coordinator of the activities of non-government organizations and other private stakeholders in the elections.

Its co-petitioner is the National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace (NASSA) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Duplication of duties

But PPCRV, chaired by Henrietta de Villa, has objected to NAMFREL-NASSA’s petition, on the ground that NAMFREL-NASSA only seeks to duplicate the election duties of the PPCRV.

In its comment, PPCRV said NAMFREL-NASSA’s petition for accreditation “is objectionable” as the Comelec has already granted to PPCRV the 4th copy and the 27th copy of the ERs in its resolution last October. In that October resolution, the Comelec recognized PPCRV as an accredited citizen’s arm.

“The 4th copy is for the PPCRV’s conduct of the unofficial count provided in RA 9369. Hence, co-petitioners’ prayers for the same copy is duplicitous,” PPCRV said.

The PPCRV said the move of NAMFREL-NASSA seeking permission to get the 7th copy for manually-prepared ERs indicate their lack of trust in Comelec to fully automate the polls.

The move “seems to suggest that they are not fully confident that the Honorable Commission can automate elections,” the PPCRV said.

De Villa and Comelec

The PPCRV also dismissed NAMFREL-NASSA’s petition to observe and assist in the random manual audit, arguing that such duty is also already the PPCRV’s function.

The PPCRV reminded Comelec that it has already formed a technical working group on the random manual audit with de Villa as chairperson. “Hence, co-petitioners are asking for a duplication of the task that has already been awarded to PPCRV,” it said.

As for NAMFREL-NASSA’s attempt to oversee the activities of non-government organizations (NGOs) and private organizations, the PPCRV argued such should not be delegated to the co-petitioners “because the NGOs should be accountable to the Commission and not to any other entity.”

Formerly partners in ensuring clean and honest elections, NAMFREL and PPCRV went their separate ways in the latter part of 2009 due to an internal conflict among leaders of both watchdogs.

In the early part of 2009, de Villa was named chair of both NAMFREL and PPCRV. But senior leaders of NAMFREL later asked de Villa to resign as NAMFREL chair.

Automation concerns

NAMFREL sources said they were getting uncomfortable with de Villa’s close ties with the Comelec, a relationship that could compromise the integrity of election watchdogs.

De Villa is a member of the Comelec advisory council in the automation project, which, some NAMFREL officials say, she should not have accepted in order to preserve the watchdog’s impartiality.

Like the Comelec, de Villa is a devout believer that full automation of elections is the answer to the country’s election woes.

Most NAMFREL officials, however, adopt a more cautious position on automation.

Manual audit

For instance, the group wanted to increase coverage in the random manual audit of the results to ensure that the machines are not tampered with.

Under the automation law, a random manual audit of 1 precinct per district shall be conducted to test the integrity of the machines. NAMFREL wants to conduct manual audit in 5-10 percent of the precincts per district.

In its comment, the PPCRV suggested to NAMFREL-NASSA to consider providing technical support to the Comelec, as it had done in 1992 when it did not seek accreditation.

The PPCRV also suggested that NAMFREL-NASSA ask Comelec for the 28th to 30th copies of the ER for its own quick count.