Monday, May 21, 2007

Namfrel Is Missing The Moment

By: Gladstone A. Cuarteros
Research Associate, IPD
May 21, 2007

In March when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) finally accredited the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) to undertake a quick count for this 2007 elections, I did not rejoice. I have doubts on Namfrel, a feeling that is shared by many people I know. The allegations against its ex-Chairman is one reason. The other reason is Namfrel lost significant credibility when it declared that there was no systematic nor large-scale fraud committed in the 2004 presidential elections. The discovery of 'Hello Garci' tapes erased all that assessment. On the contrary there was indeed systematic and large scale-fraud as the Garci tapes have revealed. What dismayed me more is Namfrel until this day did not bother to make any condemnation on the fraud allegedly committed by GMA and Virgilio Garcillano.

Though Namfrel failed to account for its own actions in the 2004 election Operation Quick Count, because Comelec already decided that it will be doing the quick count I was willing to give Namfrel a chance to redeem itself this time. I could not over emphasized the value of a quick count in deterring election fraud and cheating, especially so when the count it is done literally quick. In our archaic electoral system that requires weeks to complete the canvassing of votes for national positions, an independent quick count will provide the public important information on the outcome of the elections way ahead of the official count. By doing so whoever are planning to cheat the elections by altering municipal or provincial certificate of canvass (COCs) will have less time to do it because independent count have already reported who are the winners. All that is left is for Comelec to finish their bureaucratic, slow-paced count and proclaimed officially the winners.

One week after the May 14, 2007 elections what we see is Namfrel's supposed quick count is not a quick at all! Until today (21 May) it has counted less than half of the total election returns, exactly only 37.76% of the 225,000 election returns nationwide. Its highest figure on the senatorial candidates votes stand only at 5.6 million votes. Compare that to the media quick count done ABS-CBN and STI who were successful in counting up to 1.4 million in just 24 hours. Or the separate media count of GMA 7 and AMA whose figures stood at 1.5 million votes counted in a day and a half. They also made use of precint-level tabulations just as what ERs have, which Namfrel is authorized to receive a copy.

The media quick counts while unofficial and limited to provinces and cities where these computers schools have branches, they gave full meaning to the word QUICK. And because they were so quick they earned criticisms from the Palace and Comelec accusing them of trending, an accusation that is misplaced I should say. If ABS-CBN/STI and GMA7/AMA can undertake counts that are fast and accurately why can't Namfrel do the same? What is bugging Namfrel from hastening its count?

For sure, Mr Edward Go, the new Namfrel Chairman explained that their computer system could not take-in the volume and so at some point their system bug down. Furthermore Go's secretary general also explained that they could not cross-check the data last Thursday (17 May) night because their volunteers were tired. I don't know if we should be convinced with these reasons, flimsy as they are. Namfrel should understand that by delaying the count, Namfrel is unwittingly providing time and opportunity for 'dark' political operators outside and within Comelec to do their cheating? A lot of time and opportunity, in fact. And what are these rumors that Namfrel is deliberately delaying the count and is involve in trending?

The cheating machines of candidates are by now very active. Last week sources have said that some groups have been spotted in Mindanao already. They are just waiting for time to insert somewhere the fabricated ERs and COCs they have in their hands. The use of quick counts is precisely to guard against these people by not giving them time and opportunity to insert those ERs/COCs somewhere. If the votes for every municipality, province and city are counted quickly, then the 'dark' political operators will have difficulty finding a municipality, province or city to cheat, to insert those fake Ers/COcs they have.

This is where my dismay of Namfrel is coming from, it is taking them too long to complete the quick count. The delay is giving too much time and opportunity for the dark political operators to successfully manipulate the election outcome. How many days have passed after the voting yet Namfrel is literally miles away from completing its count. In fact it is just few millions ahead of the official Comelec count and with the pace Namfrel is taking it might even be overtaken by the Comelec in a matter of days.

People want to know quickly the results of their votes, that is why the ratings of the TV channels rise up when ABS-CBN and GMA7 were doing their media counts. When the media stop their counts they are expecting Namfrel to fill the gap. But Namfrel is now missing the moment of providing quick information to the public and as such, also missing the guarding against election fraud/cheating. Instead of seizing the moment, Namfrel is missing the chance of raising its own credibility capital. The fear of Manolo Quezon III that Namfrel might not be up for the job of rendering judgment and ensuring credibility of the 2007 elections is proving to be a legitimate fear.

We all know for a fact that funding for Namfrel comes from big business. If by any chance the big business is among the reasons why Namfrel is doing a slow count, not the quick count that it is suppose to be doing, only because of the concern of big business for political stability, then I think the businessmen/women should go back to drawing boards. They might just get the opposite. This year's election is critical in deepening our democracy. After 'Hello Garci' in 2004 our people expects no less than honest and credible election. When the people see that the elections is so manipulated by the powers that be just like in past, worse with the aid of independent bodies, I am sure our people will turn the tide against to those who are betraying them and those who do not respect their votes.



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