Philippines: Catholic agency says 'clean elections an elusive dream'

 Having honest, orderly and peaceful polls is an elusive dream for Filipinos, as far as a Catholic poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) is concerned. PPCRV chairman Henrietta de Villa, said last month's May 14 conduct of elections was "still not clean, honest, meaningful and peaceful (CHOMP) just like what everyone wanted it to be." "We still have to consolidate our reports before issuing our final assessment of this election. It is important we talk to our people on the ground. But at this point, after witnessing the conduct of elections myself, I can say that we still have a long way to go before achieving CHOMP," de Villa said. After personally witnessing what she described as "messy special elections" in Lanao del Sur, de Villa urged the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to work on electoral reforms and stricter implementation and enforcement of election rules. "We have laws. And stakeholders in elections should make sure these are implemented properly. You can't just surrender these laws to culture or norms, just like what we saw in Mindanao," she said. De Villa said she witnessed how election laws were violated in the special elections in 13 municipalities of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provinces. De Villa supervised poll monitoring activities in Kapai town with Edward Go, chairman of National Citizens, Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), and said she saw "disorder and chaos". "You could see people distributing sample ballots and even dictating (to) voters inside the precincts. What surprised me more was that voters didn't mind receiving money. They didn't care even when other people saw their transaction," she said. Apart from stricter enforcement of election rules, de Villa reiterated the need for education of voters. She earlier proposed the inclusion of a voting program in the curriculum of elementary schools. "It's sad to say but there is really a high level of distrust on elections in the country. And all stakeholders should do their part and take action," she said. The COMELEC held special elections in 13 municipalities in Lanao del Sur after declaring failure of elections in the region. Poll watchdogs were also calling for another special election in Maguindanao province, where the centralized canvassing of votes was not witnessed by PPCRV and NAMFREL volunteers. The local canvassing in Maguindanao, which has 336,000 voters, had been completed with administration senatorial candidate Luis Chavit Singson of Team Unity making it to the top spot. It was also learned that Team Unity made a 12-0 sweep in the province. A witness, reportedly a female teacher, sought the help of poll watchdogs and admitted taking part in the cheating in Maguindanao. The teacher claimed she was among those ordered to fill up the ballots in the precincts. The report also forced NAMFREL to exclude in its national quick count all votes from Maguindanao, after its volunteers were also prevented by election officials from securing copies of elections returns (ERs) in the province. The COMELEC has created a special task force to investigate allegations of poll fraud and manipulation in Maguindanao. Although this year's election looks bad, the PPCRV said it found less cases of fraud than in the controversial 2004 presidential election.

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