COMELEC DENIES SLOW COUNT, VOWS TO FINISH JOB IN 9 DAYS

MANILA,  May 17, 2004 (STAR) By Jose Aravilla  -  Better slow but sure than hasty but inaccurate.

Despite what may seem to be an interminably slow canvass of votes, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it may be able to complete its task of canvassing all votes in eight to nine days.

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra said the poll body could accomplish the tedious task of counting every ballot in unprecedented time if they sacrifice accuracy for speed.

"We want to be much (more sure), more accurate, rather than sacrifice accuracy" for speed, he said.

The Comelec began canvassing the votes for the 12 winning senatorial candidates and party-list representatives Saturday and originally set a target of "no less than 15 days" to complete the job.

The Senate and House of Representatives in joint session and sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, will canvass votes for and proclaim the winners of the presidential and vice-presidential race on May 24 after the Comelec completes its tally.

The Comelec, however, has been unable to regularly update its official tabulation report, which has bolstered public perception that the official count is slow.

The last Comelec tabulations were two days late due to the poll bodyís failure to complete the nine signatures required for the documentsí release.

"There are nine signatures needed before I sign (the tabulation report)," Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said. "Everybody has to check and double check, they have to be very, very sure and very, very careful."

The Comelec has received several pre-proclamation protests and appeals, but it plans to dispose of these petitions at the soonest possible time if they question election returns that will not affect the electionsí results.

Borra said the Comelecís first division alone has 32 appeals stemming from pre-proclamation cases resolved by local boards of canvassers.

The Comelec has instructed its boards of canvassers to resolved these disputes quickly and proclaim winning candidates immediately to speed up the process.

The poll body tabulated an average of 25 certificates of canvass in its first two days of counting and aimed to raise that number to 30 certificates of canvass yesterday.

The Comelec must canvass a total of 176 certificates of canvass and most of those certificates are from overseas absentee voting centers, which involve very few votes.

Abalos also refuted claims by opposition politicians that elections never took place in areas of Mindanao where President Arroyo was shown to have an overwhelming lead over her rivals for the helm of government.

The Comelec verified the oppositionís claims with regional director Clarita Callar. Abalos said Callar has reported that, contrary to the oppositionís claims, elections took place in Barira, Ampatuan and Datu Piang in Maguindanao.

Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) senatorial candidate Francisco Tatad alleged that canvassing took place in these Maguindanao towns though no elections took place in them.

Tatad is doing poorly in both the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) quick count and the official Comelec count for the senatorial elections.

The Comelec said in a statement that Tatadís accusations are mere hearsay, faulty and categorically untrue.

"Unless somebody comes up with sufficient evidence, it is just an allegation that there were no elections there," Abalos said as he challenged Tatad to "come up with some evidence and we will investigate further."

"With this report that the BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) got all the election paraphernalia, proceeded to their respective assigned precincts and, thereafter, came back after the hours of election with already the election returns and complete ballots, what more presumption of regularity can we have? Unless there is enough evidence to refute all these, we will take the word of our BEIs," Abalos said.

He added that it is also possible for some areas to deliver all the votes for one candidate, especially in areas where leaders have "strong patriarchal influence" over voters.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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