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NAMFREL rides again

(Article Published in the Jan 2,2013 issue of Manila Standard Today)

       Never mind that it came after months of tense and uncertain waiting. Never mind that it came out in print media on the page of the section allocated by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in its 30 December 2012 issue to jobseekers, death notices, and classified ads. What matters is that NAMFREL is alive and well and was given the job it had most earnestly sought for the coming May 13 elections.

       On December 21, 2012, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), in a per curiam resolution, appointed NAMFREL as its one of its citizens' arms.

       The COMELEC resolution, in all candidness admitted that "NAMFREL has been the Commission's constant partner in most elections in the past years," and that "its track record shows that it has been continuously assisting the Commission in its mandate to make sure that the conduction of elections is clean, orderly and honest." And since NAMFREL "has complied with all the requirements set forth under Rule 33 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure,", the Commission, albeit grudgingly admitted that it "cannot find any reason not to accredit NAMFREL as citizens' arm of the Commission in accordance with Section 2(5) of Article IX of the Constitution, Section 52(k) of the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws in connection with the May 13, 2013 National and Local Elections."

       What were NAMFREL's duties and responsibilities as such citizens' arm? The Resolution of December 21 was very liberal. It said: "...in coordination and cooperation with the other duly accredited citizens' arms and subject to the limitations as pay be provided by the Commission," NAMFREL "may" engage in three main activities.

       The first is "it may conduct poll watching in various precincts." The second area of activity permitted was voter assistance. Towards this end, it "may provide assistance to the voters on election day most especially to the senior citizens, persons with disabilities, pregnant women, detainees, indigenous peoples and other member of the vulnerable sectors." Finally, NAMFREL "may assist the Commission in voters information and education drives in very municipality, city and provinces most especially in far flung areas and to sectors which experience inaccessibility in getting information from the Commission."

       To enable NAMFREL to perform its functions, the COMELEC committed, subject to the procedures and limitations that it may deem proper, to furnish NAMFREL with certain enabling documents. For instance, to empower NAMFREL to help voters exercise their right to vote, NAMFREL will be provided the electronic copies of the computerized voters' list and the Project Precincts. Specifically, NAMFREL will be given a permanent list of voters per precinct, the territorial jurisdiction of every precinct indicated in the precinct maps, the national central file that is under the custody of the COMELEC that is the composite of the 3rd copies of all the approved voter registration records, and the list of deactivated, reactivated, and/or cancelled voters.

       At the heart of the automated election system that will be put in place nationwide for the first time on May 13, is the PCOS (precinct computerized optical scan) machines which are really the point of contact between the voter and the COMELEC. To assure itself that the PCOS machines distributed to the precincts are both genuine and working, NAMFREL will have the audit logs and/or audit trails of the PCOS machines and, on election day, may witness the examination and testing of the equipment or device that needs to be conducted prior to the casting of ballots.

       At a work station that will be allocated to NAMFREL that is directly connected to the transmission server, it will have first hand access to the vote count and transmission and other related processes to assist in its poll watching and, after the voting, the conduct of an unofficial parallel count of the votes. After the casting of ballots, NAMFREL will be given any of the 27th to the 30th copies of the election returns printed by the PCOS (precinct computerized optical scan) machines after transmission for the conduct of an official count by any of its local units.

       Giving its go-signal to NAMFREL's educational mission, it is authorized to undertake a widespread stakeholder education and training program to raise the consciousness of the public and fully inform the electorate of the features of the automated election system. The modules are, naturally, prior to roll out, are to be approved by the COMELEC's Education and Information Department.

       The months leading to the May 13 elections and the few weeks thereafter will certainly be most challenging for NAMFREL. But its Chairperson Cora de la Paz Bernardo has never shrank from any worthwhile challenge and the army of NAMFREL volunteers, with its history of involvement in election monitoring and safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot, a history that goes way back to 1957, will undoubtedly be up to the task.

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