Comelec seeks 'citizen arm' after Namfrel rejects accreditation

April Rafales, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 03 2019 11:12 PM | Updated as of May 05 2019 10:35 PM

MANILA - (UPDATE) The Commission on Elections is scrambling to look for a new partner for the random manual audit (RMA) 10 days before the midterm polls.

This after the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) refused the accreditation of the Comelec as its citizen arm.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia said Namfrel's decision came as a surprise because the poll watchdog has been actively attending meetings on the RMA since October.

However, he said the Comelec can stand by its own preparations but it will still look for a citizen counterpart.

"We can stand by our own preparations than any attached group, specifically for the random manual audit because they were denied their request to access some data," he said.

"It came as a surprise to me when Namfrel expressed withdrawal. Their accreditation in RMA is independent from other requests. It can stand alone, they know that. As early as October, they have been appearing in meetings of the random manual audit committee. We have to scramble for a partner now.”

Guia said Namfrel requested for access for different logs attached in the server, which Comelec itself doesn't have access to, so understandably this was denied.

Meanwhile, Namfrel is hopeful Comelec will be more transparent with election information after the poll watchdog withdrew its accreditation.

Namfrel secretary-general Eric Alvia said on Saturday Namfrel decided to return the accreditation granted them last March 29 because the Comelec did not grant them access to election data for their Open Election Data project.

The Open Election Data project is a website meant to provide near-realtime data on this year’s midterm elections.

Alvia said the site could help identify red-flag incidents in the polls.

However, the Comelec only accredited Namfrel to be part of the Random Manual Audit and to receive the 27th copy of the election returns.

Alvia told reporters that by rejecting Namfrel's request to directly access electronic copies of the certificates of canvas and statement of votes, the election watchdog would not be able to independently track and monitor the authenticity of the election results.

“Tatlong bagay ang hinihingi namin. Isa lang ang malinaw na ibinigay... Lahat ng datos na makukuha, pati sana ang digital transmission.”

“Kung ganito lang, we will be ineffective,” the secretary-general said.

Alvia believes without the said data, the elections will be vulnerable to cheating.

“It’s not a problem but it will be very difficult. Walang saysay ang one true vote kung walang one true count. Hindi masasabing one true count kung walang magbibilang.”

“Mas madaling gawin ang wholesale cheating. Kaya nga we are asking for the data.”

“It’s vulnerable to cheating. Cheating is happening now, gaya ng sa inordinate use of resources to influence a vote... There are vulnerabilities that people are aware of,” Alvia explained.

The secretary-general said Namfrel will continue with their Open Election Data project even without Comelec accreditation using available data from sources, such as their volunteers and the media, among others.

“We will be making our statements based on the data available... It’s supposed to be a regular de rigueur. That’s part of transparency. It’s a basic human right, right to know. Meron kaming mga paraan, pero mahihirapan talaga ang volunteers namin. We have around 25,000 volunteers,” Alvia said.

He admitted Namfrel's work on election day will be more difficult without Comelec accreditation, but added they will still monitor the elections.

“Kahit walang accreditation, may mga pwede pa rin kaming gawin. Voters’ education, observe deployment of VCMs and election paraphernalia, observe election environment on election day, etc.”

In the end, Alvia expressed hopes the Comelec would reconsider granting their request.

-- with reports from April Rafales and Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News