MANILA, MAY 14, 2007 (STAR) By James Mananghaya - In a last-minute appeal, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) called on the millions of registered voters casting their ballots today “to exercise vigilance and guard the sanctity of their votes.”

Comelec Commissioner Resurreccion Borra said the May 14 electoral exercise offers the opportunity for every voter to do his or her share in strengthening democracy.

Several quarters fear that the Comelec itself will be a party to poll fraud, as suspected in the 2004 presidential race and in other elections. Borra did not touch on those fears.

“We urge our voters to be vigilant. They must do their share in guarding the sanctity of their ballots. Vigilance is the price of liberty,” he said.

Borra said the Comelec is expecting a heavy turnout of 75 to 80 percent of the more than 45 million registered voters who will be trooping to more than 200,000 polling precincts across the country.

He said they are expecting “the real voters” to come out and exercise their right of suffrage.

Borra declared an all systems go for the elections today with 46,003 candidates vying for 17,889 national and local elective positions.

“We went through a long period of preparation for this one day and we could say that we did our best,” he said.

Borra stressed all the necessary preparations are in place to ensure the political exercise will proceed without hitches even though the balloting would not be as perfect compared to other countries.

“We are ready. So far we have not received any validated reports (on the delay or hitches) in the delivery of ballots and election paraphernalia,” Borra said.

There are 37 candidates fighting it out for 12 seats in the Senate; 690 candidates are vying for 220 congressional slots; while 499 nominees have been fielded by 93 party-list groups battling for the 55 seats allotted for them in the House of Representatives.

There are 242 candidates competing for the 81 gubernatorial seats, and 209 candidates for the vice gubernatorial seats.

There are about 360 candidates for city mayors and 369 candidates for city vice mayors fighting for the available 118 positions each. A total of 3,503 candidates for city councilors are fighting for the 1,322 available slots.

There are also 1,802 candidates vying for the 770 provincial board seats; 3,845 aspirants for municipal mayors and 3,746 aspirants for municipal vice mayors — elective posts that merely have 1,510 vacant seats; and 31,237 candidates for municipal councilors vying for the 12,092 slots.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called on the voters to exercise their “one prized right” today.

In its advisory, the CHR appealed to the public to exercise their right of suffrage, describing today’s electoral exercise as one instance when “all become equal before the law.”

“This is the time when everyone, and each one, participates in equal share and weight, that is, one vote,” the CHR advisory stated yesterday.

The CHR said they are mandated to issue the advisory because of the significance and impact of today’s electoral exercise to the Filipino life and culture.

“(We) join the nation to watch, guard, and ensure that the coming elections will be free, fair, honest, peaceful, orderly, genuine, and credible,” the CHR said.

‘Remain calm’

The Philippine National Police (PNP) also made a last minute appeal to candidates and their supporters to remain calm.

“I also urge candidates to lead by example and dissuade their supporters from engaging in criminal activities,” PNP chief Director General Oscar Calderon said.

Calderon assured that security measures are in place for the smooth and orderly conduct of today’s elections.

He said the PNP is closely coordinating its efforts with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against possible attacks from insurgent groups.

The PNP had its hands full during the run-up to today’s elections that left over a hundred people dead and scores wounded.

Calderon said the PNP will continue poll duty even after election day.

“We will continue to provide security during the transfer of ballots and canvassing and until after the proclamation of duly elected officials,” he said.

Borra, on the other hand, said Comelec has “endeavored to make this elections the most credible,” although he admitted that minor problems may crop up.

Borra stressed the Comelec has already anticipated any worst-case scenario.

“I have been invited to observe elections abroad, particularly in the US, where the process is not perfect. There is no perfect election,” he said.

Foreign observers monitoring today’s elections earlier expressed apprehensions over persistent reports of cheating and political killings in the country which could stain the integrity of the polls.

Borra said that he is hoping that the 224 foreign observers would report the country’s elections objectively and fairly.

He said any input from them would be welcomed by the Comelec since they could suggest solutions to the problems that may arise in the conduct of the elections.

Amidst doubts raised on the credibility of Comelec guarding the sanctity of the ballot, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said they have done their best to ensure voting would be honest and credible.

“We cannot avoid that but what I can assure you is that we have done our best for this elections,” Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento said Comelec has already weeded out more than one million illegal registrants in the final list of registered voters in the effort to cleanse the process.

The Comelec also clarified in a resolution that voters who registered in two separate polling precincts would be allowed to cast their ballot in the latest place of registration.

Sarmiento said they have already addressed some of the “minor problems,” including the delivery of election paraphernalia to far-flung destinations.

Sarmiento also belied reports that some 350 ballot boxes in Lanao del Norte are still missing.

“I verified with our election officer there and it was just a false alarm. It is not true and our field officer has assured me that he would not allow such a thing to happen,” he said.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos also laughed off the reports and said this was only caused by a delay in transportation.

“For all you know it could be in transit at medyo na-delay lang,” he said. — with Katherine Adraneda, Cecille Suerte Felipe

Gloria to vote in Pampanga MALAYA May 14, 2007

PRESIDENT Arroyo will vote today in her hometown in Lubao, Pampanga.

Arroyo is registered in the Lubao East Central District, clustered precinct I-A and 1-B. Listed as "Macapagal, Gloria," the President is No. 86 in the Commission on Elections’ computerized voters’ list for the clustered precincts.

Arroyo is expected to vote at 10:30 a.m. She will be met at the Lubao Elementary School by her son, Pampanga re-electionst Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo who is registered in the same precinct cluster.

Rep. Arroyo is number 8 and registered as "Arroyo, Juan Miguel."

Presidential spouse Jose Miguel Arroyo and daughter Evangelina Lourdes will cast their votes in La Vista in Quezon City where they are registered.

The youngest Arroyo child, Diosdado Ignacio, will vote in Camarines Sur where he is running for congressman in the first district. He was previously registered in Quezon City.

The President will return to Malacañang after casting her vote. – Jocelyn Montemayor

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved