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MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos have nothing to blame but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should it fail to retire tens of thousands of aging vote-counting machines (VCMs) for the 2025 midterm elections, its new chairman said.
“I will pursue to my last breath and blood ang pagre-retire ng over 90,000 machines na ‘yan. Kasi walang dapat sisihin ang mamamayan kundi kami kapag hindi napalitan ang mga makinang iyan. Sigurado ako na papalpak iyan,” said Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Garcia in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, August 30.
(I will pursue to my last breath and blood the retirement of over 90,000 VCMs. Filipino citizens have no one to hold responsible but us if we do not replace those machines. I am sure they will malfunction.)
First used in the 2016 elections, the 90,000 VCMs will be 12 years old by the time the Philippines elects a new set of senators and local officials in 2025. The Comelec had told the Senate in May that around P6.7 billion will be needed to replace the aging VCMs.
In the 2022 elections, a total of 1,310 vote-counting machines broke down and had to be replaced, ruining the voting experience of tens of thousands of voters assigned in affected polling precincts.
The Comelec used around 107,000 own VCMs for the May polls, 97,000 of which were first used in 2016. Only 10,000 were newly leased for the 2022 presidential elections.
But to replace the aging VCMs, the Comelec needs to knock on Congress’ doors, as the funding must be included in the national budget.
The Comelec is expected to formally make this request to Congress in the next few years. No line item for VCMs was included in the executive branch’s proposed 2023 budget to Congress, and the Comelec also did not seek funding for next year’s appropriations.
“We hope our plea will be heard. I don’t want to preempt the action of the Comelec en banc, but if we won’t buy new machines, we will lease,” he said in Filipino. “I hope the 90,000 machines be set aside. We won’t throw them away, they will be used as standby machines.”
Senate electoral reforms panel chairperson Imee Marcos had said in May that the more feasible scenario is that Congress allots the budget for a partial replacement. She also insisted to pick interoperable machines, in case the Comelec decides to pick a VCM provider that is not its long-time automated election contractor Smartmatic. – Rappler.com