MANILA,  April 28, 2004
By Jaime Laude And Christina Mendez  - The three-day absentee voting for government employees, police and military personnel began yesterday with zero turnout of policemen and only a handful of soldiers casting their votes ahead of the May 10 elections.

Explaining the low turnout for the military, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public information chief Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said only 1,268 servicemen out of the 113,000-strong military force opted to avail themselves of the absentee voting system.

"I’ve got here a list of 1,268 AFP personnel who would be availing themselves of this absentee voting after they were screened by the Comelec (Commission on Elections)," Lucero said, waving to reporters a copy of the names of advance voters from the Comelec.

Lucero said there were initial reports that some servicemen in the field had cast their votes but he could not cite exact figures or say where they voted.

On the other hand, Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao said only 2.6 percent or 3,033 of the 115,000-strong PNP registered for absentee voting.

Goltiao said voter turnout from the PNP was zero as of late yesterday afternoon.

He said he personally checked the number of registered absentee voters as well as the turnout.

"A majority of the PNP personnel opted to cast their votes on election day, but I think there are many who cannot vote (because they will be on poll duty)," Goltiao said.

As prescribed by the Comelec, the local absentee voting will end on Thursday. Government personnel who cannot go to their poll precincts on May 10 are allowed to cast their votes ahead. They are provided official ballots with sealed envelopes, which they submit to their immediate superiors upon filling up.

Their superiors will then submit the filled up forms to the nearest Comelec office in their areas of jurisdiction.

Government employees, soldiers and policemen who have opted for absentee voting may vote only for candidates in national elective positions including the party-list representative.

Goltiao said many policemen in the field were not yet aware of the system due to the lack of efficient information campaign by the Comelec.

"There have been information campaign and these have been disseminated properly to the chiefs of police and provincial directors during the conferences," Goltiao said.

Goltiao attributed the zero turnout to the delay in the delivery of the official ballots and other election forms from the Comelec main office to the local provincial offices which will distribute the election materials.

To correct the problem, Goltiao said Comelec, in an en banc resolution, moved to accommodate late registrants, particularly those assigned in the regional and provincial mobile groups and strike forces.

He noted that the regional and provincial mobile group personnel are assigned to secure the ballots and election returns until delivery to the city and town halls for canvassing.

At the same time Goltiao took exception to insinuations that the PNP leadership is trying to influence its personnel to favor certain national candidates. "No, that is being partisan," he said.

Lucero, for his part, said he is still hoping that all the servicemen who have registered for absentee voting should cast their votes by tomorrow.

The Absentee Voting Law, otherwise known as Republic Act 9189 passed in February last year, enables policemen, military personnel, government employees and expatriate Filipinos to vote ahead of the May 10 elections. ‘Task Force Canvas’

As this developed, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. announced yesterday the preparations made by the House of Representatives for the canvassing of votes for the positions of president and vice president.

De Venecia said House secretary-general Roberto Nazareno has been appointed to lead Task Force Canvass ’04 which will have a total of 10 committees working on the drafting of rules and procedures for canvassing.

Deputy secretary-general Artemio Adasa said the task force has already made arrangements with the Senate in drafting the rules and procedures.

When Congress resumes session on May 24, the Senate and the House are set to approve a joint resolution merging the two legislative chambers into the National Board of Canvassers, which will officially proclaim the winners in the presidential and vice presidential race.

Adasa said the certificates of canvass and election returns from the provinces and cities will be received by the Senate in Pasay City and later transported under heavy security to the House at the Batasan complex in Quezon City. - With Delon Porcalla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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