Comelec way behind in preparations for elections, say watchdog groups

Comelec way behind in preparations for elections, say watchdog groups
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—With a month to go before Election Day, there are signs showing that the Commission on Elections is way behind in its preparations and the shortcuts it has taken have eroded the confidence of civil society that credible elections will take place on May 10, according to at least two watchdog groups.

Bantay ng Bayan, an umbrella group composed of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), voiced its apprehensions at the weak links in the election preparations.

Namfrel has served as the Comelec’s citizens’ arm in the past elections, a role that it will not play on May 10. The Comelec gave the role to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

Bantay ng Bayan noted that the voters list has about three million multiple registrants and said the security markings on the ballot and the indelible ink, which prevents voters from voting more than once, are weak.

The groups also urged the Comelec to implement a random manual audit before the proclamation of winners, saying it was the last best safeguard it could implement against electoral fraud.

Namfrel officials said random checks on the computerized voters list in various parts of the country showed many errors that could be used by poll operatives to manipulate the results of the elections.

Namfrel chairman Jose Cuisia, in a press conference on Saturday, said the poll watchdog was concerned about the “disablement or delay of certain safeguard provisions” that would ensure credible results.

Asked if Namfrel and its allied organizations do not believe that the results of the elections will be credible, Cuisia and other officials said they have not yet reached that threshold.

“We are not among those who are saying we fear there is failure of elections. We are hopeful that these problems are resolved,” he said.

David Balangue, another Namfrel executive said, “There are indications but we need to be extremely vigilant.”

Cuisia cited the wrong ultraviolet ink that the Comelec and its electronic election provider, Smartmatic TIM Corp., have chosen for one of its security marks as one of the alarming developments in the poll preparations.

Because the Precinct Count Optical Scan machine was unable to read the UV ink and rejects the ballots, Smartmatic TIM has decided to turn off the machines’ built-in UV reader and use portable UV lamps to verify the ballots instead.

“The portable lights were not included in the original budget of the project and their use now adds an extra step in a new process which the BEIs [Board of Election Inspectors] are only beginning to learn,” Cuisia said.

The Namfrel official also voiced apprehension over the removal of digital signatures and the lack of transparency on the source code review. They also urged the poll body to allow public review of the automated election system’s back-up process, which will be used in case of software failure.

According to Namfrel officials, these security measures were provided for in the law to ensure that there are no suspicious programs in the voting machines that could undermine the elections.

Namfrel secretary-general Eric Alvia also warned the poll body against multiple voters in the national registry. He noted that Bantay Bayan random inspections of voters lists from various parts of the country showed errors like multiple identical names and deceased persons on the rolls.

There was also a “questionable” number of centenarian voters in some towns. Mandaluyong, for instance, has 187 voters who are at least 100 years old, the Namfrel official said.

Cuisia said the Comelec should post the certified voters’ lists in prominent places to allow voters ample time to check their precincts under the clustered precinct scheme.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.