By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter

THE National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) has withdrawn its accreditation to assist in the May 13, 2019, midterm elections.

The election watchdog said its withdrawal was prompted by the Commission on Elections’ limiting NAMFREL’s operation to the conduct of the Random Manual Audit (RMA).

“The Commission declined to grant Petitioner’s prayers related to open access and data,” NAMFREL saidits manifestation, filed before the Comelec on April 30.

NAMFREL, among others, will not have access to voter’s list, project of precincts and related precinct statistics. It will also not have direct access to the transmitted election turnover from the main server, and audit logs.

“Without open access to information and data, Petitioner is unable to participate in the RMA because the inaccessibility diminishes the verifiability of data separately provided during the RMA,” NAMFREL said.

NAMFREL National Council Member Lito Averia said the restriction had to do with threats to the security of the data and the risk of possible exploitation for other intent.

“Security (of) data and what if the data goes to the wrong hands (are a concern)…. (There are many ways) to secure the data. We can use a technique called hash coding,…through (which, if you change something, we can detect that change) after the hash code has been generated. (If there is) personal information,…we can always encrypt the personal information,” Mr. Averia told BusinessWorld in an interview Friday.

“The second question is what if the data goes to the wrong hands. It is best that we process it immediately, so whoever has an intent of exploiting the data and coming up with their own story, negative story, we can easily refute with our analysis,” Mr. Averia added.

Despite its withdrawal, NAMFREL said it will continue to monitor the election through other sources that may have access to the same data.

Mr. Averia said “one way of vetting it is to compare the data we will get from source one to the data we will get from source two.”

Also among the watchdogs accredited by the Comelec to assist in the May polls is the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

NAMFREL’s track record of election monitoring dates back to the postwar era. Led, among others, by businessman and Marcos-era political detainee Jose S. Concepcion, Jr., the group also played a crucial role in the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship, particularly the 1984 parliamentary election and the 1986 snap presidential election. Mr. Concepcion is currently chairman of the group.

Sought for comment, lawyer and Ateneo Policy Center research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said via email, Friday, that “the very existence of NAMFREL undermines the credibility of the Comelec. Remember that NAMFREL was organized precisely because Comelec could not be trusted to ensure fair and honest elections.”

He added: “Understandably, from the perspective of the Comelec, the continued existence of NAMFREL can be seen as an indictment on their capacity now to fulfil their constitutional mandate to ensure fair and honest elections. It is not surprising therefore that the present Comelec would treat NAMFREL at arms length. The incentive for Comelec ultimately is for the public to openly appreciate the conduct of elections even without the hovering presence of NAMFREL.”

Still on the elections, Pulse Asia’s April 2019 Pulso ng Bayan Survey found the number of party-lists to likely secure seats in the House of Representatives now at 13, from the 14 reported in March.

Out of the 134 party-list groups accredited by the Comelec, 13 are seen to garner more than 2.0% of the total votes cast for the party-list elections, Pulse Asia reported.

Bayan Muna maintained its lead with a 7.94% voters preference, followed by Ako Bicol party-list with 6.65%, up from 4.72% last March.

Magsasaka dropped from second to third place, while ACT-CIS and APEC ranked fourth and fifth, a huge leap from their previous ranking at 15th and 18th, respectively.

Pulse Asia noted that the high voter preference for Bayan Muna, Ako Bicol, Magsasaka and ACT-CIS partylists translates to three seats in the chamber, the highest number of seat a group can win.

Other groups that will likely have a seat in the chamber are AGAP, CIBAC, Senior Citizen, AMIN, Probinsyano Ako, ANAC-IP, Ang Probinsyano and COOP-NATCCO.

Pulse Asia reported higher awareness among those living in Metro Manila (88%) and the rest of Luzon (82%), compared to those in Visayas (57%).

Higher level of awareness had also been recorded in socio-economic class ABC with 93% against Class D and E, each with 75% and 72%.