Plot to disrupt voting bared

Plot to disrupt voting bared
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Some groups are plotting to undermine the automated election system by trying to delay or prevent voting, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disclosed yesterday.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said some unscrupulous individuals would “purposely delay the voting in specific precincts” to disenfranchise those who vote late.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, in a press briefing, said the alleged plot was “an A-I information” although he did not name the groups involved.

“To discredit the commission and to discredit the automation is, by itself, a strategic goal because it, essentially, means that whatever comes out of it can be challenged. Ultimately, it all boils down to the theory that this election will not work,” Jimenez said in a press briefing.

Various poll watchdogs have been warning the agency that an 11-hour voting period – from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. – is not enough to allow 1,000 voters in a clustered precinct to vote. They warned that many of the voters would end up disenfranchised.

Asked if they consider the alleged plot politically motivated, Jimenez said it is.

“To discredit the elections means that you want to make sure that the outcome is in fact malleable. That the outcome can be spanned left or right depending on your particular desire,” he said.

He said that a losing candidate, in such a scenario, would have an excuse to challenge the results of the polls.

Jimenez said the Comelec had already alerted its field officials of the alleged plot.

“Disrupting an electoral proceeding is an election offense. You can be jailed. Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated in the polling places and the police who will be guarding the various precincts have been informed that this is an eventuality they have to be ready for,” he said.

The Comelec estimates that it would take a voter some seven to eight minutes to vote.

“The rule of thumb – the BEI (Board of Election Inspectors) will ask the person to speed it up after 10 to 15 minutes,” Jimenez said.

‘Psy-war’

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said any attempt to rig the poll results would be futile and dismissed as mere “psy-war” the threat of Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III to lead a people power revolt in the event of massive cheating.

“If there will be any cheating, it will be through intimidation and vote buying,” Melo said in Filipino.

Melo called on Aquino and the other candidates to just respect the process.

“It should not be like that – people power if you lose, which is very childish. We should respect the process,” Melo said.

Aquino was earlier quoted as saying that only a failure of elections would make him lose in the coming polls.

Melo said he does not believe that Aquino is intentionally scaring the public.

“It’s not really meant to scare the people. It is a psy-war against their opponents,” Melo explained.

But poll watchdog group Kontra Daya said ignoring massive cheating would be worse.

“It would be more irresponsible if the people would do nothing if their rights are being trampled upon,” Kontra Daya member Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines said.

Last check on PCOS

Meanwhile, Jimenez said the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines would undergo final testing and sealing before election day to placate skeptics.

“In any case, we will have final testing and sealing. It is scheduled this week so we’ll see if that will happen” he added.

Jimenez was reacting to the proposal of another poll watchdog “Halalang Marangal” to open some of the ballots to independent testing. The group was concerned that a misalignment such as the one detected in the ultraviolet security ink could also be present in the ovals assigned to some candidates.

“The test ballots that we will use for testing and sealing are the same run of ballots that we are actually going to use. So whatever will be seen in the actual run, it will come out in the testing and sealing,” Jimenez maintained.

“The misalignment affected the UV badly so it is possible that the scanners cannot read reliably the shading,” Roberto Verzola, secretary-general of Halalang Marangal, told reporters.

Verzola said the PCOS machines might give inaccurate readings.

“If the ovals were misaligned, even if you carefully shade the ovals, the PCOS machine would not be able to count the votes accurately,” he said.

Verzola said the possible misreading of the votes would not be noticed by the voters as the PCOS machine would still scan the ballots.

“They disabled a security feature where the voters can confirm their votes, so the voters will not know if the machine read their votes accurately,” Verzola said.

He urged the Comelec to feed a sample of 1,700 ballots into a PCOS machine as part of an accuracy test.

The ballot count in the test must conform to the poll body’s specifications of 99.995-percent accuracy, he said.

He earlier said that independent groups such as the Department of Science and Technology and not Smartmatic should perform the tests.

And as doubts on the accuracy of the machines have been raised, the Education department has assured the public that at least one of the three public school teacher-members of the BEI in every precinct has the technological know-how to perform their task.

“The DOST Certification Program for BEIs is an important step to ensure the success of the first automated elections in the country. With all the trainings and seminars they had, our teachers are fully prepared to perform their electoral duties,” Education Secretary Mona Dumlao-Valisno said.

She said 137,200 teachers have been certified as information technology capable by the DOST.

“Hopefully this certification will reduce, if not take away any doubts on the coming May elections,” she said.

In Surigao City, Surigao del Norte Police Provincial Director Senior Superintendent Gilbert de la Cruz said his men are fully prepared for the delivery of PCOS machines starting today to 176 far-flung barangays.

“We will be escorting delivery of PCOS machines in far- flung barangays. It’s a very huge task for us due to manpower lack,” he told newsmen. “We will help make this May 10 poll automation peaceful, orderly and honest,” he said.

The Philippine Coast Guard, meanwhile, reported the arrival of 36 PCOS machines in Batanes. With Mayen Jaymalin, Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda, Ben Serrano and Evelyn Macairan

Karen Ang

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