Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lack of volunteers in polls worries church-based groups

December 9, 2009, 6:54pm

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DUMAGUETE CITY (PNA) — With the Philippines adopting for the first time an automated election system in the May 2010 polls, church-based groups playing a vital role in efforts to ensure that the elections will be clean, honest, accurate and orderly are anticipating a lack of student volunteers and Information Technology (IT) experts in next year’s electoral exercise.

“With the entry of the automated counting machines, our number one problem now is finding volunteer IT experts and others that we can field to the different polling precincts,” said Fr. Julius Heruela, Convenor of the Diocesan Electoral Board (DEB) of the Diocese of Dumaguete.

He underlined, “We need at least two IT volunteers in every parish.”

Fr. Heruela said even in past elections, the DEB and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) always fell short of the required number of volunteers as many are lured by the offer of cash allowances from political parties or candidates.

He said it was not easy to be competing with SmartMatic, the company that won the bid to provide the country with over 80,000 units of the Print Count Optical Scan (PICOS) machines and political candidates, who could afford to pay the volunteers for their services.

Fr. Heruela said at least 3,000 volunteers are needed, apart from the IT experts for them to dish out their functions effectively and efficiently as a non-partisan, church-backed poll watchdog.

In the 2007 elections, the DEB and the PPCRV had also experienced a shortage of volunteers but were still able to pull through with their responsibilities, Heruela said.

According to the DEB convenor, previous volunteers are now being contacted in the different parishes but he can not ascertain whether all of them will still sign up for next year’s automated polls.

Meanwhile, the local PPCRV is gearing up to start trainings and seminars on next year’s poll automation.

Fr. Heruela, however, said that they were already running late in their timeline of activities in relation to the presidential elections due to the absence of materials needed for such training.

He hopes that by January, the DEB and the PPCRV can launch their activities, which also include the conduct of demonstrations on how to use the PICOS machine, in cooperation with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

As part of the DEB’s voters’ education campaign, parish priests are being asked to include in Masses conscience-based homilies on election-related issues such as choosing a candidate based on character and capability to serve the people.

Fr. Heruela lauded the Task Force Participatory Local Governance for the Visayas and Mindanao, headed by its Convenor, Dr. Oliver Gimenez, for spearheading Monday a forum here on poll automation as it was very helpful to the participants to understand even better the automated election system.

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