The formidable force to contend with in 2022 elections
Nelson Celis, September 1, 2021, The Manila Times
Posted by CenPEG, Sept. 1, 2021

LATELY, the Commission on Audit's (CoA) reports caught the attention of President Rodrigo Duterte, who said, "Sinong nag-o-audit ng CoA?" This is a question of who audits the auditor! In private companies, you would find an internal auditor, usually an organic employee, as well as an independent external auditor doing regular financial and operational assessments. In short, there are watchdogs in private companies. Among the independent constitutional bodies under the 1987 Constitution, the CoA has no watchdog to look over its reports pertaining to its observations and findings on the budget utilization of government offices. The other two constitutional bodies, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC), are audited by CoA.

Aside from CoA, the Comelec has more watchdogs than you could ever think of. But from 1940 until 1983, the Comelec had no watchdog except the General Auditing Office, which later became the CoA. Providentially, an election watchdog was established in 1983, the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). In 1985, the concept of an election watchdog was formally recognized and institutionalized by virtue of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines or the Batas Pambansa (BP) Blg. 881. It stipulates in its Section 180: "Other watchers. - The duly accredited citizens' arm of the Commission [on Elections] shall be entitled to appoint a watcher in every polling place. Other civic, religious, professional, business, service, youth and any other similar organizations, with prior authority of the commission, shall be entitled collectively to appoint one watcher in every polling place."

Through the years, election watchdogs grew in number having the same mission of free, fair, orderly, fraud-free, transparent, truthful, honest and secure elections. Among these watchdogs are the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV, 1991), Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente, 2007), Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch, 2009), Kontra Daya, among others. The more election watchdogs... is it merrier? But why increase instead of unifying when in fact the missions are all the same? Or are there more Filipinos getting organized for a cause and looking forward to the next generation to come? Ironically, most election watchdogs converge months before an election, but some don't always see eye to eye! Let's take the case of PPCRV and Namfrel.

Complying with BP 881, the Comelec citizens' arm accredited in the OQC for the 1986 snap elections was Namfrel. We learned how the independent parallel counts by Comelec and Namfrel worked effectively with contentious results resolved by fate.

In 1991, calling for electoral reforms, PPCRV was organized during the Roman Catholic Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. PPCRV expanded its operations nationwide in the same year through the support of Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). PPCRV's poll-watching activities started in the 1992 elections. It was also noted from Namfrel officers that their volunteers then were wearing Namfrel IDs in the morning; but after the closing of the precincts, the same Namfrel volunteers flipped their IDs to show PPCRV IDs... well, to become PPCRV volunteers! How beautiful to see these patriotic volunteers wearing two hats. However, it didn't last long. For some reason, a "silent war" between Namfrel and PPCRV ensued before the 2010 elections.

Let me cite this article "Silent war between PPCRV and Namfrel; worsens" (Rufo, 2010): "The PPCRV has asked the Comelec to junk the petition for accreditation filed by the Namfrel as a citizen's arm in the May 10, 2010 elections... The poll watchdog [Namfrel]... also sought to be designated as a citizens' arm in the implementation of the Comelec random manual audit. It also wants to be the lead coordinator of the activities of nongovernment organizations and other private stakeholders in the elections. Its co-petitioner is the National Secretariat for Social Action Justice and Peace (NASSA) of the CBCP. But PPCRV... has objected to Namfrel-NASSA's petition on the ground that Namfrel-NASSA only seeks to duplicate the election duties of the PPCRV... 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, [Henrietta] de Villa was named chairman of both Namfrel and PPCRV. But senior leaders of Namfrel later asked de Villa to resign as Namfrel chairman."

Eventually, in the 2010 elections and until 2020, PPCRV was accredited by Comelec as the citizens' arm. By the way, if the "silent war" has a seeming resemblance to what's lately been happening in the camp of a certain political party, it's plain coincidence!

Analyzing more closely the adverse consequences of the "silent war," the loser here is neither Namfrel nor PPCRV. It is us who are the losers. Our political exercises in the past four elections were not reflective of the will of the Filipino people. We were rather made to believe that the automated election system used was transparent and did not violate the "Automated Election Law of 1997," or Republic Act (RA) 8436 (as amended by RA 9369 in 2007); RA 9184, or the "Government Procurement Reform Act of 2002,"; RA 8792, or the "e-Commerce Law of 2000,"; the Supreme Court's Electronic Evidence of 2001, among others.

It is best that all watchdogs come together and be united to protect our votes in the 2022 elections. This is the only way to serve the majority of the Filipino people who are still hoping that their votes are really counted. As President Duterte uttered when Hidilyn Diaz won a gold medal in the recent Tokyo Olympics, "Let bygones be bygones." In the same token, since Namfrel and PPCRV are both backed by the Church, why not join forces again in the forthcoming 2022 elections for the sake of real democracy to prevail? The other election watchdogs will surely join this formidable force. Let the ideal OQC framework used in the 1986 snap elections prevail in 2022. We have become smarter and should not be fooled for the fifth time.


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