Failure of elections a ‘strong likelihood’ – Comelec

MANILA, Philippines – Forced to cram 5 months of preparations in only 60 days, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said a “failure of election” has become a “strong likelihood” after the Supreme Court (SC) ordered it to issue voting receipts. 

In a 13-page appeal before the SC, the Comelec said it stands with the high court in the “laudable pursuit” of ensuring transparency in the coming elections. 

“Nonetheless, this objective should not result in burning the house down and risking a failure of election, a catastrophic result that is too high a price to pay for the marginal improvement sought by the petitioners,” the poll body said in the motion for reconsideration filed on Friday, March 11.

“Progress requires a sense of proportion, balance, and timing,” the agency added, in the appeal filed on its behalf by the Office of the Solicitor General. 

The “marginal improvement” cited by the Comelec is the issuance of voting receipts on May 9, as ordered by the SC.

The high court issued this ruling based on a petition filed by senatorial candidate Richard Gordon and his political party, Bagumbayan, to compel the Comelec to issue voting receipts.

The Comelec failed to comment on Gordon and Bagumbayan’s petition and thus partly lost by default. (READ: Why Comelec failed to defend itself before SC: ‘We were busy’

This thrust the Comelec into a state of emergency, which, according to the poll body, might force it to postpone the elections or hold manual polls.

'Failure of election' under the law

In its motion for reconsideration, the Comelec said the SC then “must carefully weigh the far-reaching implications of its ruling on the conduct of the May 2016 elections.”

“There is a strong likelihood that the May 2016 elections will fail if the voting receipt feature is enabled by the Comelec at this very late stage of the project,” the poll body said.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, a “failure of election” happens if, among other things, an election is postponed or suspended “on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, or other analogous causes.” 

Should this happen, the Comelec is tasked to reschedule the elections “on a date reasonably close” to the original election day. 

Explaining why a failure of election could happen, the Comelec cited a letter from technology Smartmatic that warned of the SC ruling’s consequences.

For one, the Comelec said changes due to the voting receipts – as well as a new feature that allows people to verify their votes on the VCM monitor – could “extend the voting period to more than 20 hours.”

Comelec: No 'heavy duty cutter'

It also said the VCMs don’t have a “heavy duty cutter” that can automatically cut the printed receipts.

“The hardware and software without a printer/cutter upgrade on the VCMs will not be able to cut the printed receipt automatically, thereby increasing the rate and likelihood of paper jams and printer failures dramaticaly, as when a voter tears the printed receipt and yanks the existing paper cutter,” the Comelec told the SC.

“This will cause a 20% failure rate of the VCM printer. Once the VCM printer fails or gets damaged, this may also affect the function and operation of the VCMs,” it added, again citing a letter from Smartmatic.

The Comelec told the SC that it is willing to issue voting receipts “in future electoral exercises” to ensure clean and honest elections.

“This breathing space will allow for better planning, training, customization, budget preparation, testing, and implementation,” the poll body explained.

It added: “The Comelec does not seek to denigrate the Honorable Court’s authority; it only asks that it not be required, at this late stage, to comply with a mandate that, though laudable, is beyond the ambit of the statutes and thus could not have been anticipated and implemented within a reasonable period.” – 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.

image