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Ballot printing delayed for the 3rd time

MANILA, Philippines – Citing system problems, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the 3rd time moved the start of ballot printing for the May 9 national and local elections. 

The Comelec decided to start ballot printing on February 15.

Ballot printing was supposed to start on Monday, February 8.

Earlier, the Comelec already scheduled the start of ballot printing on January 26, then delayed it to February 1. 

When ballot printing was moved to February 1, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez cited “scheduling issues” but refused to elaborate. 

When it was rescheduled to February 8, the poll body explained that it was still finalizing the list of candidates. 

The SC is still hearing the appeal of Senator Grace Poe to junk the Comelec orders to bar her from running for president. (READ: 4 key issues that divide SC justices in Grace Poe case)

The SC scheduled on Tuesday, February 9, another round of oral arguments on Poe’s case.

Eventually, when February 8 came along, the Comelec said it was rescheduling the printing of ballots for the third time. 

In a news conference on Monday, Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim said the new problem involves incompatible codes in the systems to be used. 

“While there is still time, we will correct whatever is needed to be corrected,” Lim said.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista was asked, however, about perceptions that the Comelec is using the system problems as an excuse to delay the printing of ballots.

A delay in the printing of ballots could allow the Comelec to remove the name of Poe – that is, if the SC upholds the Comelec order to cancel her presidential bid.

Postponing elections?

On using the system problems as an excuse, Bautista answered that the data for ballot printing would be loaded on Tuesday.

He quickly added, “So alam 'nyo naman bukas, meron pang oral arguments.” (And as you know, tomorrow, there will still be oral arguments.)

“The follow-up question is, what if the Supreme Court decides on Friday? Can we still change things? The answer to me was, you can, technically, but again, you will take another 5 days to load another set of data,” Bautista said. 

In Monday’s news conference, Bautista also said he doesn’t think that this problem “materially” affects the preparations for the coming polls.

Bautista then quelled fears that this problem could force the Comelec to postpone elections.

The Comelec chairman said: “If ever there's any delay, it's in the actual printing of ballots. We think it will just be a one-week delay.” 

“It can turn out to be a blessing in disguise because, I think, now we have more flexibility in designing the ballot face that will enable us to have a shorter ballot. And a shorter ballot is beneficial in several respects,” he added.

The Comelec chairman explained that a shorter ballot will be cheaper because it will use less paper and ink.

Lim earlier said the delay in the timeline could prompt the Comelec to postpone elections in a few areas. 

He later downplayed his statement, saying: “If you ask me, I always look at the worst possible scenario.”

The elections on May 9 will be the Philippines’ 3rd automated polls. During these elections, Filipinos will elect their next president.

The Philippines is getting its 93,000 vote-counting machines from technology provider Smartmatic, which a group of election watchdogs had wanted the Comelec to blacklist. 

Critics have claimed that Smartmatic's machines can easily be rigged, but the Comelec has said it remains confident about Smartmatic.

Smartmatic provided the Philippines' vote-counting machines in its first two automated elections in 2010 and 2013. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

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