I had volunteered twice before as poll watcher for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting during the 2001 and 2004 polls. But nothing prepared me for the grueling tasks I had to do as poll watcher for Kabataan Party-list. And yet, more than a week after the polls, my task as a citizen is far from over.
BY ZOFIA LEAL
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 16 May 27-June 2, 2007
The first time I volunteered for election poll watch was when I was just 16 years old, during the 2001 elections. My father volunteered for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and I tagged along with him.
By the 2004 elections, I could already vote. I volunteered again with PPCRV. I voted for the late Raul Roco for president even though there was talk that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would certainly win by all means.
At both times the only task I did was to monitor the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) if they would say the correct names and put the correct total on the election return and tally sheet. At both times I stayed until they finished and locked the ballot box and that was it for me.
Running to and from
This 2007 elections, however, was different. I did not volunteer for PPCRV anymore but for Kabataan (Youth) Party-list which is aiming to represent the youth in Congress.
By 1 p.m. of May 14, my buddy and I were already at the Apolinario Mabini Elementary School, our assigned polling place. By that time we already knew that we have to cover 97 precincts. What we were not prepared for was that we were the only two people to poll watch for our party-list at the whole polling place.
By 3 p.m. we were already filling out the authorization forms that we did not even use. We resolved our ordeal by dividing the precincts, I got 48 precincts, my buddy got 49. Since we could not possibly watch over all the precincts at the same time, we decided that we would just get the results after the counting.
At around 7 p.m. some of the precincts had already finished counting the votes, all at the same time. I had to run to and fro two buildings just to get the tallies and have my certificate of votes signed by the BEI’s.
Although it was relatively easy, I had to deal with teachers who wouldn’t even look at me as “they have many things to do”. One teacher even pushed me away from the classroom and slammed the door shut right in my face, that was already about 1 a.m.
Also, I had seen votes for our party-list reduced to zero when it should have been eight or 12. This happened at two precincts. I was copying our tallied votes when I noticed that at the total, zero was written. I insisted that the BEI’s immediately change it and thankfully, they did.
Not much drama and adventure other than that. Although I did see policemen and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) men, they were considerably far from where the counting of votes was. I heard that at some polling places the police or the military were the ones counting the votes. At one region a school was even burned by policemen, instantly killing a public school teacher.
At around 2 a.m. the counting was over for most of the precincts. My buddy and I decided to leave our polling place and get our much-needed rest.
May 16, two days after the election and poll watch, I went to the Ninoy Aquino Stadium to monitor the canvassing of election returns. It was my first time to do this. Unlike the fast pace of poll watching, the canvass tired us by its slow pace. The Board of Canvassers had lots of breaks and the process really took time.
We had to be extra alert and vigilant since we already knew that most of the dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving) happens during canvassing. I realized how easy it was to make changes in the results especially for the national positions since all the watchers except for us were guarding the local votes. They had ample time to do it, during breaks when no watchers were present or were simply preoccupied with other things.
During the canvassing period from May 15- May 19 we also received reports from other regions about watchers not being allowed entry at canvassing centers, massive vote shaving affecting progressive party-lists and even the abduction and killing of two of our poll watchers in Camarines Norte.
Vote padding and shaving could also take place at the tabulation table where the votes were totalled. Since the people counting were using the calculator, we had to be careful in watching that they were putting the correct numbers. At one instance the people in charge were not using their calculator and had automatically added 10 votes to a certain candidate.
Far from over
Now the military and the government are claiming that the elections were peaceful and orderly. It’s hard to imagine where they based their statements since any thinking person can see otherwise.
The national canvassing is not yet over and more cases of fraud and violence are still surfacing. Unlike the past two elections wherein my task as a poll watcher was finished at the closing of the ballot box, I now know that my task as a citizen this election time is far from over.
The people’s votes still has to be guarded and I am all for it even if it means soaking in the rain like what happened to us last May 23 during a protest rally against the widespread fraud and violence that is being implemented by Macapagal-Arroyo’s treacherous regime.(Bulatlat.com)