Sleepless, scowling Melo asks for trust

Sleepless, scowling Melo asks for trust
By Kristine L. Alave, Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:54:00 05/06/2010

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines—From sleepless to scowling.

The chair of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), who once admitted having sleepless nights over the preparations for the May 10 polls, hasn’t been smiling since receiving reports that the voting machines supplied by Smartmatic-TIM Corp. gave erroneous results during recent tests.

As Jose Melo put it Wednesday, repairing technical problems may be the easy part but the tougher challenge would be for the Comelec “to recapture the trust of the people and the candidates.”

While other Comelec and Smartmatic officials insisted there would be elections on Monday as scheduled, a somber-looking Melo said he remained cautious.

“They are confident. Well, let’s see. Me, I’m hoping for the best,” Melo told reporters.

Sources inside the Comelec said they had never seen the poll chief lightening up even for a moment since the defects in the machines’ memory cards were detected.

One source said Melo had ordered Smartmatic to give him updates regarding the remedial measures every six hours.

Melo said the poll body has started to map contingency measures in case the replacement cards do not reach some precincts in time for Monday’s balloting.

Recapturing trust

The voting machines, Melo said, still have “to be trusted.” Melo even likened the problems encountered with the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to that of a car that merely needs its spark plugs replaced.

Reprogramming the machines may relatively be easy, Melo said. Regaining the public’s confidence in the automation project, after all that had happened, would be the bigger challenge, he added.

“We have to recapture the trust of the people and the candidates in the machines. That is why there will be testing again tomorrow,” he said.

The Comelec and Smartmatic will conduct a new round of tests on PCOS machines with new compact flash cards in Parañaque, Makati and Marikina cities.

Melo conceded that the technical setbacks had given fresh ammunition to Comelec’s critics, including politicians and groups pressing for the return to a manual voting.

A group of lawyers serving as one of the poll watchdogs shared Melo’s concerns.

The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), a citizen’s arm accredited by the Comelec, said doubts about the electronic counting process would persist even after the glitches had been fixed.

Perception problem

“This is already a perception problem,” said Lente lead convenor and former Agusan del Norte Rep. Roan Libarios.

“This early, politicians already doubt the results. Now they have all the excuse in the world to cause trouble when the results come out,” Libarios said.

“We can give them (Comelec) the benefit of the doubt. (But) even if they can actually solve the technical problems, not everyone will believe the results. The losers can always claim they were cheated,” Lente member Louie Guia told Inquirer reporters.

Such credibility problem would make the PCOS count an open target for a flurry of election petitions, the lawyers said during a visit at the Inquirer office on Tuesday night.

Glitches too gross

“There will be more cases, even more violence,” Libarios warned, calling the PCOS glitches “too gross, too massive.”

“Unlike before, the results are known after the ballots are read. You’d know how you lost. Here, the results will come out already counted. How can you trust the machine?” he said. With a report from Leila Salaverria

Karen Ang

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