16 05 2007

To prevent widespread and systematic fraud during the canvassing of tallied votes, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) has deployed more than 10,000 lawyers, law students, paralegals and other trained volunteers nationwide to monitor the canvassing process.

“Monitoring the elections goes beyond May 14. Our work has just begun. Sadly, much of the cheating during elections occurs during the canvassing period. This is why LENTE and its partners, including those from the Commission on Human Rights, have spread out to cover all regions, provinces, cities and municipalities to ensure that the Certificates of Canvass will match the Election Returns,” LENTE Co-convenor and Ateneo Human Rights Center Executive Director Atty. Carlos P. Medina, Jr.,. said.

Jose Vicente Salazar, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, is also a LENTE co-convenor.

The lawyers’ group, members of which include the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA), the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), the Ateneo Law School Students Council, Bishop Businessmen’s Conference, are monitoring at municipal and city levels.

“Should there be irregularities, our lawyers are ready to immediately file a manifestation or protest based on the information gathered by the volunteers and citizen monitors,” Medina said.

LENTE volunteers have begun to give legal advice where there is confusion over canvassing procedures. In Tigboo, Zamboanga del Sur, for one, Election Officer Ruben Roluto refused to turn over Election Returns to NAMFREL and the dominant majority and minority parties. According to Roluto, Election Returns will be distributed at the municipal canvass. “The LENTE volunteer assigned in that area immediately informed Roluto of section 53 COMELEC Resolution 7815 which states that the Board of Election Inspectors shall deliver to the election officer copies of the election returns intended for the Commission on Elections and the Provincial Board of Canvassers,” Medina said.

Volunteers at the LENTE Secretariat also respond to calls for help over the hotlines. One caller reported massive ballot switching in precinct number 03-A. Barangay 2, in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro. The Secretariat connected the sender to LENTE lawyers assigned to the area to look into the anomaly.

The biggest difficulty hounding LENTE volunteer lawyers, Medina said, is that they have been denied entry, specifically in Caloocan, Cavite, and Pasig, by the Board of Canvassers. “Our volunteers carry PPCRV identification cards. According to a memorandum issued by COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos to all regional and provincial election officers, PPCRV identification cards must be honored,” LENTE Co-convenor Salazar said.

Many other irregularities, he said, already have been reported on election day, especially in the provinces. In Indanan, Sulu, witnesses have reported election inspectors filling up blank ballots, but poll watchers are apprehensive about objecting. In Lanao del Sur, a LENTE volunteer has described elections as a total failure after observing errors in the clustering of precincts, and disorganized election inspectors. Gunfire ensued to scare voters into picking partisan candidates.

“These and more incidents of violence and fraud, have fueled our group’s intention to guard the sanctity of the ballot,” Medina said. He also called for vigilance not only among volunteers, but also among the general public. Any interested party, even without accreditation may monitor the canvassing process, according to COMELEC rules.

To help monitor the canvassing process or to report canvassing irregularities, concerned citizens are encouraged to call LENTE Hotlines 0921-5355949 (Smart) and 0927-3037122 (Globe). 




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