MANILA — The government elections commission Tuesday granted an independent civic organization the right to station observers at Philippine polling stations during the Feb. 7 presidential election.
The ruling gives the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, which is backed by various business, labor, religious and civic organizations, the right to field one poll-watcher in each of the country's 90,000 polling places.
The group will also be allowed to monitor voter registration, which was marred last year by reports of "flying voters," people registering in more than one precinct.
The decision came after a second day of hearings that focused on the group's finances and charges that some of its volunteers are biased toward opponents of President Ferdinand E. Marcos and that the group is supported by the CIA.
Jose Concepcion, chairman of the group, said he would consider taking a leave of absence from his post as a trustee of the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation to remove any impression that he is biased in favor of Aquino's widow, Corazon, who is running against Marcos.
The foundation was set up to award scholarships and to honor the memory of Aquino, a prominent opposition leader who was assassinated in August, 1983.
The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections was hailed by church leaders and U.S. officials for curbing cheating in the National Assembly elections of May, 1984, when the opposition made significant gains.
The election panel's ruling Tuesday came as the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, the party of Aquino and her running mate, Salvador H. Laurel, announced the "first major defection" from the ruling New Society Movement of Marcos.
Felicisimo San Luis, governor of the province of Laguna, south of Manila, formally joined the opposition party in a simple ceremony Tuesday.
"There is a need for everybody to unite behind the opposition in order that we can effect a change that is so badly needed," the governor said.