Flap over security mark downplayed

Flap over security mark downplayed
By Leila Salaverria, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) Monday downplayed the absence of an ultraviolet security mark on 1.8 million ballots for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), saying they contained other safety features.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that without the safeguards, the ballots would not be read by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines to be used in the balloting.

He said that the ultraviolet mark of the National Printing Office (NPO) was a “redundancy.”

“The NPO security marks are simply an additional safeguard. They are not critical to the security or the veracity of the ballots,” Jimenez said.

He said five security features were incorporated in all ballots: The unique paper, the unique precinct-based numbers, the ultraviolet ink from Comelec, the bar code and the Comelec markings.

Philippine Daily Inquirer sources in the NPO earlier voiced concerns at the absence of the NPO mark on the ARMM ballots which, poll watchdogs said, could be used to commit electoral fraud.

The Comelec has completed the printing of the ARMM ballots, and is now printing the ballots to be used for the rest of the country. The ARMM ballot is longer than the other ballots because of the Arabic translations.

The non-ARMM ballots will have the NPO ultraviolet mark, but Jimenez said this was just a redundancy.

“There are security marks on the [ARMM] ballot, just not all of the available security marks,” Jimenez said in a press conference.

Asked why the NPO mark was included in the non-ARMM ballots if this was not critical, Jimenez said it was because the NPO had requested it.

“I guess to be true to their mandate just in case they get asked later on… but ultimately, it’s not necessary,” he said.

Last-minute proposal

Jimenez said that the Comelec was unable to include the ultraviolet mark because the NPO made the proposal shortly before the start of the printing.

He said the NPO had initially proposed to put a 2D barcode, which was more complicated and would require testing by its independent certification authority. This test would have delayed the printing by days or weeks. The plan was later abandoned, and the NPO agreed to just include its own UV mark.

Since the NPO mark was not critical, the printing office and the poll body agreed to go ahead with the printing of the ARMM ballots with only the Comelec security marks present.

Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that the NPO had asked to put its own mark on the ballot so that it could authenticate them in the event of protests.

But he said that in automated elections, there was a way to determine if the ballots were fake since the counting machines would reject them.

Jimenez said the presence of the machines made the requirements for the authentication of the ballots different. The NPO mark is not the only thing that could determine if a ballot is real or not, he said.

“We have a new system of authenticating the ballots and that’s why although it’s good to have the second set of NPO security marks, they are a redundancy. They are an extra layer of security but ultimately, what will decide the authenticity of the ballot is not that extra layer but what the Comelec has indicated should be there as security marks,” he said.

‘Pressed for time’

NPO Director General Servando Hizon Monday confirmed that the Comelec allowed the printing of the ballots for the ARMM without the NPO marks, despite the NPO’s insistence to include it, because it was “pressed for time.”

The NPO mark had alignment problems that could affect the reading of the PCOS machine, Hizon said.

As this was discovered only a day before the ballots were scheduled to be printed on Feb. 7, there was no time for the mark to be tested by Smartmatic-TIM Corp., the automated elections provider, he noted.

The former police general appointed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the post last year said the NPO agreed that the ballots be printed without their seal because the Comelec assured them that there were enough security features on the ballots already.

“There is enough protection in it,” Hizon added, stressing that the ballots cannot be duplicated.

Hizon also dismissed allegations that the ballots would be used to manipulate the results in the ARMM, which has earned recognition as the country’s ground zero of electoral fraud and cheating.

“We will not be used as a tool in any anomalous electoral transaction,” he said.

The ProPinoy Project