MANILA, Philippines – Just a little over 100 days to go before the May 9 polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) "with a heavy heart" again moved the start of printing of ballots to February 8.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista on Tuesday, January 26, explained that it was not an easy decision, because pushing the ballot-printing schedule further may affect other activities on the election calendar.
The poll body had originally scheduled ballot-printing to start on January 26, but moved it to February 1, and now, February 8.
The Comelec's decision comes on the same day the Supreme Court continued hearing oral arguments on Senator Grace Poe's petition questioning the poll body's jurisdiction over cases blocking her presidential bid.
There are also pending disqualification cases before the Comelec against Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who is also running for president.
"We are trying to accommodate calls of certain candidates. Kumbaga, just to show that we are not trying to railroad or favor any candidate," said Bautista.
He then explained that once a candidate's name is printed on the ballot, the vote-counting machines will still count the votes even if the bet is disqualified later on, though those will be declared stray votes.
"What if, for the presidential elections, the candidate who has been disqualified will get the highest number of votes? How does that impact our democracy?" asked the poll chief.
Responding to a comment that they are favoring or being influenced by certain candidates, Bautista said: "We don't allow ourselves to be dictated. We listen to reason."
Bautista hopes that the SC would resolve Poe's case the soonest, as the Comelec also plans to release the final official list of candidates by Wednesday, February 3, ahead of the ballot-printing schedule.
"Regardless of what the decision is, kami naman ay susunod sa pasya (we will abide by the decision)," the poll chief said.
The Comelec on Tuesday was also in the middle of securing the final trusted build of the software for the election management system (EMS), which loads election-related data to prepare the ballot faces and create configuration files for the vote-counting machines.
"Without the trusted build [of the EMS], we cannot start anything," said Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim. "We need all the time to prepare."
The poll body targets to finish printing around 57 million ballots by April 25, for a total of 81 days, with 14 days allotted to reprinting of rejected ballots and maintenance of printing machines.
All the printed ballots will then undergo verification. Only 200 vote-counting machines (VCMs) are currently allocated for this process, so the Comelec plans to add 125 more. Bautista said this will be coordinated with the National Printing Office.
Lim also hopes no machine for ballot printing or verification would break down, as they are already pressed for time.
Meanwhile, the printing of ballots for manual voting by local absentee voters and overseas voters in some foreign posts will still proceed on February 1. – Rappler.com