Calls for manual count mount but Comelec says no
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Widespread misreading of ballots in the testing of counting machines for Monday’s automated polls has revived calls from national and local candidates for a full manual count to ensure that no massive electronic rigging will occur on Election Day.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), however, quickly thumbed down the suggestions, saying it was confident that computerized balloting and canvassing will push through despite the technical setback of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
“We are confident that failure of election is not a problem,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.
But Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III wanted a firm assurance from the Comelec that it “will do everything within the bounds of the law” to ensure that automated elections would push through or else prepare for a manual count “as mandated by law.”
In a statement, Aquino said the misreading of the PCOS machines belied the poll agency’s claim that it is “ready.”
“The Comelec denied our proposed parallel manual count for national and selected local positions as it could open the electoral process to fraud and protest that could delay the proclamation of winners. They called it regressive and unnecessary,” he added.
4 business groups
In a joint statement, four business groups renewed their call for a full manual count for president, vice president, member of the House of Representatives, governor and mayor.
The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, and the Philippine Bar Association also urged the immediate printing of complete sets of election forms.
The manual count in all clustered precincts was a good way to “salvage the credibility of the elections,” the groups said.
In Malacañang, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson said he did not think the Comelec would “outrightly suggest a manual counting of the election returns or the results.”
“The costs of holding the automated polls may run up to P10 billion, and that’s why the Comelec cannot just scrap this,” Rogelio Peyuan said. The poll body’s bill has so far reached P7 billion.
Ms Arroyo directed Commissioner Ray Anthony Chua of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) to meet with officials of the Comelec and its private contractor, Smartmatic-TIM, to discuss the situation and suggest solutions, including possible “alternative moves.”
Senators Francis Escudero and Rodolfo Biazon on Tuesday asked the Comelec to scrap the conduct of automated polls and prepare to go manual now.
In a statement, Escudero, co-chair of the Congressional Poll Automation Oversight Committee, called on Comelec officials to order the printing of election paraphernalia for a mandatory, full manual count.
“The latest report about poll counting errors by the PCOS machines, at this stage of the electoral process, may very well validate long-standing concerns about the nationwide automated count of the votes to be cast on Election Day,” Escudero said.
“The Comelec must undertake preparations with utmost caution and plan for contingencies knowing that any mistake in this unprecedented exercise could cost us more than the billions spent for this project—the denial of our people’s right to elect this country’s next leaders,” he said.
In a phone interview, Biazon expressed concern that “this may be a national level thing and thus the Comelec has to come up with contingencies reverting to manual polls.”
Senatorial candidate Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, an information technology expert, said that while he favored full poll automation, the Comelec was not ready for it. He proposed that full automation be postponed when the country would be “fully” prepared for it.
In a press conference in Bacolod City, De Venecia said it was easier to cheat with the PCOS machines as shown in Monday’s testing in Makati City, in which only the votes of one mayoral candidate were counted, and in other parts of the country.
The Comelec traced the problem to wrong configuration of the compact flash cards, which contains data on precincts, and local and national contests.
Integrity of PCOS count
De Venecia said there was no assurance of the integrity of the PCOS count because some security features of the machines have been disabled.
The PCOS system log file was dubious, he said. “One can actually tamper into the system,” he added.
PEP party-list nominee Philip Piccio, who was also present in the press conference, warned that if the automated count fails on the local level, especially in volatile areas, violence could break out that could lead to bloodshed and death.
Makati mayoral candidate Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay and his sister, reelectionist Rep. Abigail Binay, had asked the Comelec to resort to manual counting following the glitches in the PCOS test run in Metro Manila.
“We cannot trust these machines to count ballots according to our real votes,” Abigail said.
Most of the PCOS machines tested by the city’s board of election inspectors encountered problems in tallying votes for local candidates on Monday afternoon.
Glitches in Manila
During the testing conducted on Sunday in Manila, most of the PCOS machines failed to read votes for the mayoral post, according to mayoral candidate Lito Atienza’s son and campaign manager.
In District 3, Arnold Atienza said the machines failed to read the votes for mayoral and congressional candidates, and votes cast for his father were credited to his toughest rival, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.
“The trend that we see here is that the machines may have been programmed to work well for national positions, but not for local,” he said. “This is a cause for serious concern … the integrity of the elections is at stake here.”
But Commissioner Sarmiento said the poll body was not adjusting its May 10 contingency plan for the manual count. The Comelec expects manual count in only about 30 precincts of the precincts, he said.
“We are ready for that 30 percent. We can go manual for 30. But what if it exceeds 30 percent? That has to be discussed by the en banc,” Sarmiento said. With reports from Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; and Kristine L. Alave, Niña Calleja, Tina G. Santos, Christine O. Avendaño, Philip C. Tubeza and Abigail L. Ho