FILIPINO VOTERS IN TORONTO CAST BALLOTS WITHOUT OFFICIAL POLL WATCHERS
By Luisito Queano
May 11, 2016
Coalition member Migrante Sectoral Partylist (MSP) documented election fraud reports since OAV started on April 9 but the registered Filipino voters in Toronto cast their votes without accredited poll watchers. Toronto's voters, according to COMELEC figures, are estimated at 34,000 in all. The reports may be received by the consulate but are not considered as official complaints.
“But we will receive these reports and will rule on it based on the merit of the complaints”, Consul Bao of the Philippine consulate in a video interview on the day of the elections counting at the consulate in the presence of local and mainstream media.
During the delegation at the consulate on May 8, Consul Bao explained that the provisional accreditation was granted to poll watchers in the spirit of electoral transparency taking into consideration the urgency of the matter and while waiting a reply from the office of Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in Manila.
MSP including other political parties were granted provisional accreditation as a result of the petition campaign launched by Koalisyon Kontra Dayaan on May 7 and the letter of appeal submitted to the office of the Consul General Rosalita S. Prospero.
In the letter of appeal dated May 6, Koalisyon Kontra Dayaan (KKD) Chair Ben Corpuz said, “It is now only three days away from the final day of voting yet not one poll watcher has been accredited in Toronto.” The letter was addressed to Consul General Rosalita S. Prospero of the Philippine Consulate in Toronto. Corpuz further stated in the letter that the accreditation of poll watchers is urgent, or the credibility of the elections result would be put under question. The letter was presented to Prospero by coalition members on may the 8th.
Election poll watchers help deter election irregularities and act as witnesses to any election-related irregularities. Accredited poll watchers are allowed, according to COMELEC resolutions, to take photographs of the electoral proceedings and incidents, if any, during the counting of votes, as well as photographs of the election returns, tally board and ballot boxes. They are also mandated to file protest against any irregularity or violation of law which may have been committed by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) or any of its members or by any person.
“How can we be assured that OAV in Toronto is credible and representative of Filipino voters when not even a single poll watcher was accredited?” Migrante Partylist National Coordinator Maru Maesa pointed out in an interview.
“Wala po kaming opisyal na poll watchers," explained Bob Fajardo of the Philippine Consulate via phone interview, "dahil wala kaming natanggap na application on time."
He added that poll watchers were not accredited because they did not meet the deadline of five (5) days before the start of OAV period prescribed under Section 40 by the COMELEC for the submission of documents in order to claim accreditation for poll watchers.
This was however contested by Ron Turla of the Duterte campaign team who said that they submitted the documents for accreditation as early as March 31 and yet, to the date of this writing, they were not accredited. Turla is one of the convenors of Koalisyon Kontra-Dayaan.
Legal advisers of Koalisyon Kontra Dayaan meanwhile questioned how the Philippine Consulate in Toronto treats the provision of the COMELEC Ruling on Sect 40 pertaining to the time prescription prior to actual elections.
“The consulate should treat this provision merely as directory and not as a mandatory rule,” Atty. Debbie Jean, Poe’s camp argued. She said that even the legal team in Vancouver believes that it should be treated as such so that at least there is one accredited poll watcher during vote counting. Reports from two other precincts, Ottawa and Vancouver, say that no issues of accreditation were recorded.
“That is the essence of a democratic process. Dapat may “check and balance”. May opposition -- hindi yung sila lang ang masusunod kahit anong gustuhin nila. Hindi ito demokrasya!” Ben Corpuz , Koalisyon Kontra Dayaan chair remarked.
Fajardo, in his phone interview, nevertheless said that "everyone is enjoined to see our procedures. Kaya lang po on a case-to-case basis dahil hindi natin kayang i-accommodate lahat. Kahit wala pong accredited poll watchers pwede naman silang mag-observe, take down notes, basta bawal lang po ang cellphone at kumuha ng video at photos.”
Finding the consulate’s pronouncements over the lack of accredited poll watchers unsatisfactory, the coalition (KKD) also released on May 6, as a last ditch effort, an online petition appealing for accreditation of poll watchers. The group also sent its letter of appeal to the COMELEC Chair J. Andres Bautista thru email, a copy of which was also presented to Consul General Prospero.
On May 8, a day before the last day of voting, apparently to dispel the heavy cloud of suspicion, Consul General Prospero offered a “provisional poll watcher”status to appease the discontent with regards to the issuance of accreditation for the poll watchers.
“The provisional poll watcher status is just the same banana as the pollwatcher without accreditation that Fajardo talked about . Pinaganda ang pangalan but still they have no right- not a single right- to file an official protest or to officially document the whole voting process using camera or video – all of which an accredited poll watcher is allowed to do," said writer Petronila Cleto, one of the observers documenting the OAV. "The presence of provisional poll watcher only legitimizes the consulate’s questionable election process by using these "provisional poll watchers" who are actually powerless to even question the conduct of the elections. Worse, though they are supposed to be able to “sit with” Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), they don’t even know these BEI people are, nothing assures them they have any more official rights or powers than any other onlooker. They don’t even have the appointment papers to prove anything the consulate negotiated with them!”
“We can only document the activities inside the voting area, the Toronto precinct but these documentations will simply be an exercise in futility as no one in Toronto is accredited. Even the UNTV media people were not given accreditation. So the consulate is free to do whatever it wants with those ballots cast should it decide to alter the results … it’s now up to them,” said Connie Sorio. one of the convenors of Koalisyon Kontra Dayaan.
Latest partial elections reports coming from the Philippines show Duterte winning by a landslide in Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) as the presidential choice of the overseas Filipino workers.
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