Philippines: The birth of Lente

May. 25, 2007

MANILA — Reports of an anonymous teacher exposing massive poll cheating in Maguindanao, a volunteer lawyer reporting Sulu poll inspectors casting ballots for the voters, lawyers and paralegal volunteers reporting Lanao del Sur irregularities, highlight the successful effort of church-related organizations to coordinate the work of their volunteers in the 2007 elections through VforCE, former Comelec Chair Christian S. Monsod said.

This is the first time that these groups PPCRV, NAMFREL and CBCP-NASSA have worked so closely together since 1992, Monsod said. Also for the first time, lawyers have been organized specifically to address the weakest link in the process the canvassing phase where wholesale and systematic fraud can happen.

That is how One Voice thought of organizing LENTE, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections, for which it was able to secure an excellent co-convenor in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), said Monsod.

LENTE completes the coverage of the entire election process and enables a broader perspective for a qualitative assessment of the process, he added. We wish we did not have to do all this twenty-one years after EDSA. But it is all the more reason why we should reform the system, he said.

The quality of the volunteers of LENTE is impressive and this is attributable to the hard work of its two young co-convenors, Attorney Carlos Chochoy Medina, Jr., chief legal counsel of One Voice, and Attorney Jose Vicente Salazar, president of the IBP.

Monsod specifically cited Attorney Nasser Marohomsalic from Lanao del Sur, a member of LENTEs Executive Committee, and Attorney Raisa Jajurie of Sulu, who both came up with substantive observations on the conduct of elections in their respective areas as examples of the quality of LENTE lawyers.

Monsod is Chair of One Voice, a non-partisan movement pushing for social reform. It successfully countered the then peoples initiative and the move for a constituent assembly.

Medina said that giving legal advice where there is confusion over canvassing procedures, filing the appropriate manifestation or protest based on information gathered by citizen watchers, and providing legal services to volunteers have made LENTE a vital link in safeguarding the process.

According to Salazar, LENTE volunteers continue to monitor the canvassing through its last stages although, understandably, they are tired after more than a week of work for which they receive no compensation.

Most lawyers have been hired by political parties and candidates and it was difficult to recruit lawyers, added Salazar, so we had to train law students and non-lawyers in order to form a network of about 10,000 volunteers to do the work.

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