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Calls for manual count mount but Comelec says no

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.

Mandatory

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

Six presidential bets call for parallel manual count

Six presidential bets call for parallel manual count
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Six presidential candidates called yesterday for a parallel manual count to ensure the credibility of the May 10 elections.

They are former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes and Nick Perlas.

Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. did not join the call.

In a letter dated April 25, the six presidential candidates asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a simplified parallel manual count for president, vice president and any of three local posts: governor, member of the House of Representatives, or mayor.

The results of the parallel manual count will be compared to the tally by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

“The credibility of automated elections has suffered because the Comelec has removed many of the safeguards that were initially set in place – a credible source code review, ultraviolet mark checking, and the authenticity check through digital signatures, among others,” read the letter.

“Credibility and acceptance of the outcome of the elections can be restored by simply adding this one step – the parallel manual count.”

The letter was also signed by business groups led by Ramon del Rosario, Makati Business Club chairman; and Gregorio Navarro, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president; and church groups led by bishops Oscar Cruz and Deogracias Iñiguez.

NP: Manual count might cause confusion

The Nacionalista Party (NP) fears that a parallel manual count might cause confusion.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, NP spokesman Gilbert Remulla said they are not inclined to back a parallel manual count because “it is very late in the game.”

“We don’t know the rules and why they only want a parallel count for the president, vice president and mayor?” he said.

“It might turn out that the election fraud will happen (in the manual parallel count). What will happen in a situation when the results (of the automated count and the manual count) won’t match?

“Which will be more credible – the automated counting or the manual count which is also prone to errors.”

Remulla said those with backgrounds on poll cheating are former members of the Arroyo Cabinet who have joined the Liberal Party.

“Who are experienced in the ‘Hello, Garci’ type of operations?” he asked.

“Definitely not the NP, but those who were with (President) Gloria who are now with Noynoy Aquino.”

Remulla said former defense secretary Avelino Cruz, whom he claimed to have dealt with the Ampatuans in Maguindanao and members of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2004, and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who became notorious for his “Noted” stance during the canvassing of votes, are now with the LP.

“We can now see who voted not to listen to the Garci tapes at that time,” he said.

“We know it’s the Liberal camp, we know it’s (then representative) Noynoy Aquino.”

Remulla said at the time the “Hello, Garci” scandal was exposed, talks were underway for the construction of SCTEX that passed through the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

“So we see the timeline,” he said.

“This is why we are against the parallel manual count because, if there is a group who has the experience on cheating, it would definitely be not from the Nacionalista Party but from those in the Liberal Party.”

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said yesterday the Comelec has not yet come out with a decision on the parallel manual tally.

“The Commission will come up with the decision in the next few days based on thorough studies and in consideration of various factors,” he said. – Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo, Ma. Elisa Osorio