Comelec presents new rules for 2013 Polls

Manila, Philippines --- "The best way to cheat is through vote-buying, because they can't find ways to cheat in automated elections."

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Planning Department Director Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan emphasized this in a seminar held yesterday in Mandaluyong City wherein he presented the new General Instructions (GI) on Republic Act 9369, the Poll Automation Law.

The new GI, which covers the 2013 Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on the law, includes the standard operating procedures for the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) and the Board of Canvassers (BOC), regarding the conduct of the May 13, 2013 polls.

Unlike manual elections, which are prone to fraud, automated elections make it practically impossible for unscrupulous political candidates and their operators to tamper with votes, leaving vote-buying as their "most effective" option to deceive their constituents, Rafanan said.

"The automated election system only guarantees us that the counting and canvassing are free from human intervention and intended or unintended errors of human beings, but the human elements, such as vote-buying, will still be there, and vote-buying constitutes greater problems in our electoral process," he said.

Rafanan affirmed that nobody could alter the transmission of votes, as the original election returns are printed, then forwarded only to three servers: those assigned to the city/municipal BOCs; to the dominant majority and minority political parties, and citizen's arm organizations; and the central server.

To help deter fraud, poll volunteers will be allowed to witness the proceedings at the BEI, take note of what they see or hear, and take photographs of the proceedings and incidents during voting and counting, printed election results, and other election paraphernalia, except ballots in possession of voters.

"They (voters) should be more concerned about the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machine itself; they should not only learn how to cast their votes, how to shade, how to feed the ballot to the PCOS machine, but more than that, they should not sell their votes," he said.

Rafanan likewise explained how all BOC members would conduct the counting and canvassing of the votes, and transmission of election results, from the municipal and provincial levels, to the national level.

He said from May 13, 2013, until the proclamation of winners, they must not leave their respective assigned stations; otherwise, they can be charged with an election offense.

Rafanan warned that BEI members who would be absent from their respective assignments on election day can be arrested by the police, for obstructing performance of their duties.

The Comelec drew praise for coming up with comprehensive rules for this year's midterm elections. "The impact on that is a more organized election, more open and honest election, less irregularity, [and] less problems. It is a deterrent to those who are attempting to derail the elections for 2013," Center for Global Practices (www.cgbp.org) President Henry Aquende said.

The comprehensive rules are applicable to all political candidates, poll watchers, lawyers, and other election practitioners, who will be facing crucial concerns on this year's midterm elections, such as voting, protest mechanisms, and relevant continuity plans.

For his part, former Comelec Commissioner Atty. Rene V. Sarmiento, who acted as a panelist in the seminar, said the Comelec's advocacy of strictly enforcing the country's election law would ensure that there would be less cheating incidents in this year's electoral exercise.

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