By John Marwin Elao, Jovic Yee, Krixia Subingsubing | Inquirer.net
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) on Friday announced it was withdrawing as an accredited watchdog for this year’s midterm polls after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) turned down its request to access key election data.
By rejecting its petition to directly access, among other things, electronic copies of the certificates of canvass and statement of votes, the poll watchdog would not be able to independently track and monitor the authenticity of the election results, said Namfrel treasurer Lito Averia.
“The data we requested would have given us a complete picture to observe the general situation and environment of the election,” Averia said.
‘Simply wasn’t granted’
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the full commission did not deny Namfrel’s request.
“It simply wasn’t granted,” he said.
He noted that the poll body did not have an official position on the matter. The non-approval of Namfrel’s request may be because Comelec was trying to avoid creating confusion among the public.
“One of the main points of automation is that the results come out very quick and it’s coming from a singular source. I guess perhaps one of the concerns is that what happens if you have two competing sources of election information?” Jimenez said.
“This is not the official justification but if you look at the situation, it is what it is,” he added.
Namfrel chair Augusto Lagman said his group’s ability to monitor the elections would not be hampered by the absence of Comelec accreditation.
“We would still be watching the polls. The only difference now is that we would have to look for sources that could provide us the data we want. We can work with whatever we can get,” Lagman said.
Comelec has allowed Namfrel to participate in the random manual audit (RMA) and to obtain the 27th copy of the election results generated by the vote counting machines.
Data needed for verification
The poll data they had requested would have been relevant in validating and minimizing fraud during the RMA, Averia said.
“Without this, we would not be able to verify our findings in the RMA,” he said.
He said Namfrel also wanted to use the data to design and maintain an “open election data website” to increase transparency during poll season.
It was not the first time that Namfrel has not had an official accreditation since it was established in 1983.
In 2010. the Comelec junked Namfrel’s bid for accreditation, citing the latter’s credibility and partisanship.
Namfrel appealed but later pulled out its application after Comelec delayed its accreditation.
The poll body authorized the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting as civil arm.
75-78% turnout seen
Regarding voter turnout, Jimenez said the poll body expected it to be higher this time compared to previous midterm elections because voters appeared to have become more engaged in part due to social media.
He said the turn out this year could be 75 percent to 78 percent or even close to the 81 percent during the 2016 presidential polls. In 2013, the turnout was 77 percent.
“There is room to be cautiously optimistic that we will have a higher turnout than expected,” Jimenez said during the launch on Friday of the “One Destination” voter education campaign, in partnership with Grab Philippines.
The campaign will have select Grab drivers educate passengers on how to vote and what to expect on May 13.
“So when you take a Grab car and receive the pamphlet, there is an increased chance that you will decide to vote. So we expect to see higher than average voter turnout,” Jimenez said.