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‘Pick a box, let’s open it’

Brillantes welcomes Aquilino III’s plan for manual audit

CHAIR’S CHALLENGE Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. looks at the ballot box under the PCOS machine during a preelection demonstration for foreign observers. He has challenged critics to identify any box for manual auditing. RICHARD A. REYES

Name the polling precinct and the ballot box will be opened for a handcount of the votes.

That was Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.’s response on Friday to critics of the May 13 automated elections who appeared to have misunderstood his announcement on Tuesday of discrepancies between the results of the computerized vote count and that of the random manual audit of the votes in some polling precincts, raising doubts about the integrity of the balloting.

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Brillantes welcomed reelected Sen. Koko Pimentel’s plan to conduct his own random manual audit of the election results but he urged critics to wait for the final results of the Comelec’s own audit.

But he rejected a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) suggestion that the election watchdog seriously deal with questions about the conduct of the elections.

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“The CBCP should not [tell us what to do]. They should take care of the Church, not the elections,” Brillantes said.

“Our job is elections. Their job is religion. . . . We don’t interfere [in their job],” he added.

Don’t be “onion-skinned,” the Church replied.

“It’s the right of the Church to ask questions, especially to make government officials accountable to the people. If he wants to resign, then he should resign,” Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action, said.

Brillantes’ “defensive” posture has added fuel to suspicions that the Comelec has something to hide, Gariguez said.

The most strident critic of the Comelec’s precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines, former Election Commissioner Gus Lagman, on Wednesday said discrepancies significantly lower than the required 99.995 percent accuracy rate could affect the results of local races.

The party-list group Kaakbay urged the Comelec on Wednesday to allow academic institutions to open the ballot boxes and count the votes by hand to see if the automated tallies were accurate.

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“We will do that (open the ballot boxes). I’m even suggesting that maybe ex-Commissioner Lagman should name one precinct where the results are wrong and (the two of us will open the ballot box),” Brillantes said in an interview.

“He should give me one precinct where the results are wrong. Does he know any?” he said.

Returns pattern

Information technology experts have detected what they call a “60-30-10” pattern in the  returns in favor of administration-backed senatorial candidates during the canvassing of the votes.

The pattern, they said, showed that the returns always showed 60 percent for administration candidates, 30 percent for opposition candidates, and 10 percent for other candidates.

The discovery of the supposed pattern led to calls, including from Vice President

Jejomar Binay, one of the leaders of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), for an investigation of alleged irregularities during the elections.

On Thursday, an organization of more than 3,000 evangelical churches and organizations in the country joined the calls for a handcount of the votes.

In a statement, the Philippines for Jesus Movement (PJM) said the Comelec owed it to the millions of voters to ensure that the results of the elections reflected their will.

“There have been many reports of irregularities in the elections. The Comelec chair himself admitted there were discrepancies in the audit they did. These cast doubt on the authenticity of the election results,” Leo Alconga, PJM national chair, said.

‘Truth commission’

Another religious group, the Intercessors for the Philippines (IFP), on Friday said it supported the CBCP-backed proposal of preacher Eduardo Villanueva, who lost the senatorial election, for the establishment of a “truth commission” that would look into allegations of fraud in the elections.

“We in the IFP support our fellow leaders in the CBCP. The destiny of our nation lies in the hands of the electorate [so] the Comelec should ensure that the right of Filipinos to elect their leaders is not trampled upon by a few unscrupulous people within or outside the government,” Dan Balais, IFP chair, said.

The IFP urged the public to remain vigilant so that the truth about allegations of large-scale vote-buying, discrepancies between the Comelec’s random audit and the computerized tallies of the votes, and the so-called 60-30-10 returns pattern could be determined.

Just explaining

Brillantes said he was just explaining what the Comelec was doing, but he ended up being pilloried by his critics.

“Whenever I explain, it just gets worse… I was the one who admitted that there was a discrepancy (in the random audit) but now I’m the one being blamed,” he said.

Brillantes pointed out that the Comelec was conducting a “forensic investigation” of the compact flash (CF) cards that malfunctioned during the elections.

“We want to know the cause… That is our obligation (but) outsiders should not teach us what to do. We are the ones doing the work inside,” he said.

“Those outsiders are just making stories when they do not know what is happening here. They are relying only on media reports… We don’t rely on media reports, we rely on [our] official documents,” he added.

Pimentel’s audit

Brillantes said Pimentel’s plan to conduct his own random audit of the election results could support the Comelec’s own findings.

“That’s good, but my suggestion is wait for [the results of our audit] and on the basis of [those results], he can determine if there is something that should be corrected,” Brillantes said.

“[W]e trained our (people). I don’t know if his people are better… but that is OK. That will even give support to us because that would validate the action of our [random audit] committee,” he added.

Brillantes said the Comelec would provide Pimentel with all the information he would need for his own audit. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy

 First posted 1:13 am | Saturday, June 1st, 2013

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TAGS: 2013 elections, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Election Highlights, Gus Lagman, Harry Roque, Sixto Brillantes Jr.
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