Candidates hit Comelec over system glitches

Paterno Esmaquel II
Candidates hit Comelec over system glitches
'We should not allow sinister parties to manipulate the elections,' the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay says

MANILA, Philippines – Candidates criticized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday, February 11, after the poll body admitted more problems in the voting system less than 3 months before election day.

In a statement, the party of presidential bet Vice President Jejomar Binay described the reported glitches as “a cause for alarm.”

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) spokesman Mon Ilagan said, “We should not allow sinister parties to manipulate the elections, and Comelec must see beyond these delays and glitches and probe if there are quarters from within who are present to influence and exploit the situation.”

“It seems that someone is already laying the predicate and some do allow these problems to surface to give them enough window to manipulate the elections,” Ilagan added. 

This comes after the Comelec on Wednesday, February 10, bared new glitches in the automated election system.

A major problem involves vote-counting machines. In a recent test conducted by the Comelec, the machines rejected 1-2% of ballot papers.

Earlier, another glitch prompted the Comelec to postpone the printing of ballots. 

‘Deliberate, intentional’ delays?

In his statement on Thursday, Ilagan said he hopes the delays “are not deliberate and intentional” to allow the Comelec to postpone the elections.

Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code, after all, allows the Comelec to postpone elections “for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature.”

The law allows the postponement to a date “reasonably close” to the original date. The new date should not be later than 30 days after the cause of the postponement. 

The camp of presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe and her running mate, Senator Francis Escudero, also hit the Comelec over the reported problems.

Lawyer George Garcia, who represents Poe and Escudero, wrote the Comelec about this on Thursday, February 11.

In a letter addressed to all Comelec members, Garcia said it “is quite alarming” that the designated Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) hasn’t issued a crucial certification or report required by the law. 

Republic Act (RA) 9369 requires the TEC to certify, through “an established international certification entity,” that the automated election system can count votes accurately. 

The TEC should issue this certification “not later than 3 months” before election day.

Mock polls after deadline

The law requires the TEC to base its certification on criteria such as the following:

  • A field testing process, followed by mock elections in one or more towns or cities
  • A successful audit on “the accuracy, functionality, and security controls” of the automated election system software
  • A successful review of the source code, or “master blueprint,” of the vote-counting machines
  • A certification that the source code “is kept in escrow” in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP)

The period 3 months before election day ended on Tuesday, February 9.

The Comelec will hold the mock elections only on Saturday, February 13, or 4 days after this deadline.

Because of the glitches, the Comelec has also been delayed in putting all the needed source codes in escrow at the BSP. The poll body is set to complete this process only on Friday, February 12.

The other problem is that the Comelec discovered new problems in the voting system. 

The Comelec has subjected the source codes to the review required by law. The poll body, however, is set to subject it to another review after it recently found glitches in the voting system.

Bautista said the new source code review is “going to happen after we have deposited these source codes with the BSP.” 

Garcia said he “cannot overemphasize the importance of the strict compliance” with RA 9369.

The election lawyer then requested the Comelec for a dialogue with stakeholders like them “concerning the accurate status” of election preparations, as well as “a comprehensive written report” on the testing of vote-counting machines.

‘Sowing undue fears’

Garcia said these moves will “dispel” negative reports regarding the initial testing of vote-counting machines.

On Tuesday, February 9, Senate President Franklin Drilon already urged the Comelec to stop “sowing undue fears” regarding the elections.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim had warned that elections could be postponed in some areas because of a major system problem.

“The Comelec should focus on doing all it could to fulfil its mandate and refrain from making speculations which will cause unnecessary fears and doubts among the public regarding the upcoming elections considering the already tense and toxic political atmosphere,” said Drilon, vice chairman of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

The LP, chaired by President Benigno Aquino III, is fielding Manuel “Mar” Roxas as its presidential candidate.

Despite these problems, the Comelec chairman said he is confident that the elections will happen on May 9. 

Bautista said he is unsure, however, if the Comelec can hold technology provider Smartmatic accountable for these system problems. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.