May. 11, 2007

MANILA — Genuine Opposition senatorial candidate Aquilino Pimentel III today said volunteer watchers and monitors in non-government organizations who will render poll duties should possess not only the courage and determination but also the basic know how on how to detect, report and foil cheating in elections.

Pimentel said poll operators and fraud syndicates are devising more ingenious and sophisticated methods of manipulating and fabricating election results but their wicked scheme can be uncovered and thwarted with the presence of volunteer watchers equipped with the necessary skills.

He said it is heartening to hear about the enthusiastic response of the people to the call for volunteer watchers by the Church-based Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), which were both accredited by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to be its citizens arms or watchdogs.

But these volunteer watchers will not be effective in doing their job unless they are properly oriented on various election rules, procedures and documents and how to detect instances of irregularities and outright cheating. I can only hope these PPCRV, Namfrel and other election watch groups will not fall short of this aspect of their important mission, the GO senatorial contender said from Mindanao said.

Pimentel, a practicing lawyer who topped the 1990 bar examination was alarmed by reports that fraud operators have again sprang into action openly offering their services to candidates for senator, congressman and other public posts for a handsome fee.

He urged candidates and their campaign leaders/supporters not merely to turn down the syndicates offer to help them win through dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving) operations but also to expose their illicit activities, report them to the election and law enforcement authorities and even to file criminal charges against them.

Saying that work of volunteers during electoral exercises is a serious business, Pimentel said they have to stay in the polling precincts from the start of the voting up to the end of the tabulation of the votes which usually lasts up to the next day.

He said senior volunteers of PPCRV and Namfrel will have to work longer and harder as they have to keep watch of the canvassing of votes at the city, municipal and provincial levels.

Pimentel said he is familiar with many of the techniques of employed by fraud operators because he served as the lawyer of his father, Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. in his electoral protest before the Senate Electoral Tribunal as the prime victim in the massive dagdag-bawas operations that marred the 1995 senatorial race.

During the 1995 elections, he said the fraud syndicates falsified the results by padding the number of votes cast in favor of candidates in the election returns statement of votes (SOVs) and certificates of canvass.

According to Pimentel, this is done, for example by adding one or two zeroes to the number of votes obtained by a candidates in the election documents.

But during the 2004 presidential elections, Pimentel said the falsification of election documents was more fraudulent and crude because entire election returns and certificates of canvass were fabricated to replace genuine ones.

He said these anomalies were fully documented and exposed before the media by investigative journalists, Namfrel volunteers and lawyers of the late presidential contender Fernando Poe, Jr. and the political opposition.

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