MANILA -- The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) gave up Friday its petition for accreditation as the citizens' arm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

However, Namfrel National Chairman Jose Cuisia told reporters that it will continue with its role in “our own ‘Bantay ng Bayan’ initiative.”

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“We have made the decision to withdraw our petition for accreditation. We, however, proceed with the role of Bantay ng Bayan, which does not require Comelec registration,” said Cuisia.

“We are of course disappointed that Comelec has not acted expeditiously on our petition and it is obvious that they are not interested of obtaining Namfrel's assistance,” he said.

The poll body earlier dismissed the joint accreditation of Namfrel with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (CBCP-Nassa) in connection with the conduct of the May 2010 polls.

In its resolution, the Comelec en banc ruled that the petition be dismissed because it has not shown that Namfrel "truly desired" it wanted to be accredited.

“There must be a clear showing that the Namfrel organization has truly desired to be accredited as a citizens' arm. This could have been shown by a Board Resolution of a Manifestation by the organization authorizing the Chairman of the Board to file the necessary petition for accreditation,” the resolution cited.

The commission also called Namfrel's founding chairman Jose Concepcion partisan for being vocal on his preference of politicians.

Concepcion publicly broadcasted, according to the resolution, his disfavor with ousted President Joseph Estrada and has joined a protest rally in Makati against the present administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, meanwhile, said that Namfrel's withdrawal may be part of its strategy.

“I think it’s unfortunate that they withdrew their petition. I can only speculate that this is, perhaps, part of their over-all strategy and as such, calculated to be most beneficial to their organization,” Jimenez told Sun.Star.

Bantay ng Bayan

Namfrel and CBCP-Nassa vowed to continue their partnership in safeguarding the automated polls through its Bantay ng Bayan role.

Bantay ng Bayan will engage its nationwide volunteers in 80 provinces, 137 cities, and 1,497 municipalities in gathering election data and developments.

The initiative will also report to the voting public its observations and findings on the critical aspects of the election process through its pre-election, election day, and post-election reports.

Pre-election reports will be released on March 28, April 15, and 30, and May 8.

On May 10, the election day, reports will be out at 12 noon and 8 p.m.

Post-election reports, meanwhile, will be released on May 13 and June 10, a month after election day.

Namfrel is also welcoming volunteers to help it in its poll duties.

Readiness of Comelec

In a statement read by Cuisia, Namfrel stated that the poll body has been lenient in penalizing its election partner, Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM).

“We have seen Comelec extend tremendous leniency to Smartmatic not only in terms of front-loaded payments and fees but accommodating major changes to the contract that sometimes cross the boundaries of what is legal,” he read.

The group's other areas of concern include the source code review, the preparation for random manual audit (RMA), the cleansing of the voters list, election data transmission, server availability and transparency, ballot printing, and deployment of machines.

Namfrel insisted that the RMA should entail two percent of the 74,000 clustered precincts and that it be done before the proclamation of winners.

But Comelec maintained that the RMA should be after the proclamation, saying that the quick counting of the new automated system will be ruled out if the audit comes first before the proclamation.

Section 24 of Republic Act 9369 requires the RMA to be conducted in one precinct per congressional district in each province and city.

Namfrel also said it is dangerous for Comelec to assume it can achieve 100 percent automated elections and hence, not need prepare for manual conduct of polls.

“The Comelec must have guidelines to all its election inspectors and watchers as to what steps they should take in case automation does not work in their precincts on election day. Our respect for the Comelec will increase if it shows readiness and preparedness to handle the most likely scenarios pre and post election,” its statement added.

“The Comelec owe it to the Filipino people to work hard to earn their trust and deliver to them an election they can believe in,” Namfrel said.

Namfrel has been safeguarding the polls since the 1986 presidential snap elections.

The poll body has only accredited church-based Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) for Comelec's voters' education programs.

The fourth copy of the certificate of canvass will be given to the PPCRV as the duly accredited citizens' arm. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)