Partial manual polls possible – Comelec
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – With the country’s first automated polls less than a month away, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is preparing for possible partial manual canvassing of votes.
This developed as Ang Kapatiran presidential candidate John Carlos de los Reyes called on voters to remain vigilant as election day draws near.
In a roundtable discussion with The STAR editors and reporters, De los Reyes said concerns over a possible failure of elections remain but that as a candidate he has to do some “balancing on a tightrope” and trust in the sincerity of officials tasked with ensuring clean and honest elections.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said 30 percent of the forms required for manual voting and canvassing are now being printed by an accredited agency of the state-run National Printing Office.
In manual polls, voters will still use the ballots printed for automated polls.
But these ballots will be counted and canvassed manually by the Board of Election Inspectors and Board of Canvassers, respectively.
They will use the manual forms now being printed, like the election returns and other election paraphernalia.
The Comelec, Jimenez said, remains confident that there will be no nationwide failure of elections.
“We’ve always said that there will be none of the kind (nationwide failure of elections) that everyone worries about. There will be no widespread failure of election. If at all we have failure of election, (that will be in) small polling precincts much less than five percent possibility,” he told a press briefing.
Jimenez added that such cases should be attributed to “other things” such as Board of Election Inspectors not showing up or polling precincts being destroyed.
“We are preparing 30 percent of the requirements in terms of manually filled up forms. Remember when you go manual, for instance, you cannot count (the ballots) with the machines,” he said.
Malacañang has again called on detractors to stop raising a failure of elections scenario and help instead in ensuring the success of the polls.
Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said that there is reason to be optimistic about the May polls in spite of the reported problems encountered by the Comelec with the equipment for the automated election system.
There were reportedly some glitches in the overseas absentee voting in Hong Kong but according to Olivar, the exercise was generally successful.
“We hope and expect that this successful process will continue and carry over into the regular elections come May 10,” Olivar said.
Olivar welcomed the statements coming from candidates of the opposition Liberal Party (LP) congratulating the Comelec on the successful start of the OAV.
“Can we expect them (opposition) now, on the basis of this early success, to tone down the volume of their intemperate rhetoric about failure of elections and the shortcomings of the Comelec?” Olivar asked.
“The administration has always supported Comelec in its challenging and unprecedented task, always admonished our people not to obsess about failure and start working instead for success, always reminded our countrymen that we are not crabs, we are better and we can do better than the self-serving predictions of the merchants of doom,” he added.
Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, for his part, urged all sectors, particularly the Comelec, to remain vigilant to ensure a successful automation of the elections.
He said the problems that have emerged are expected considering that it is a new system and it is still in the testing stage.
“It is a good test actually, a good experiment for the bigger exercise during the May 10 elections,” Mendoza said.
“We are ready to assist the Comelec. As a matter of fact, all instruments of the government are at the disposal of the Comelec,” Mendoza said.
But even Smartmatic-Philippines admitted that a few or probably hundreds of the 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines are bound to malfunction on May 10.
Cezar Flores, Smartmatic spokesman, said operational glitches just like what happened in Hong Kong are unpreventable and likely to occur during the May elections in the Philippines.
“Ballots will not be read and rejected, these kinds of operational problems are standard, these things will happen on election day and this should be explained to the people,” Flores said.
“Based on the standards – and everybody in the industry knows it – that 0.5 percent of the machines may malfunction that is why we are readying eight percent contingency machines,” Flores explained.
Flores pointed out that one of the 20 machines deployed for the overseas voting in Hong Kong did reject some of the ballots, but it was not broken.
“The machine is not broken, but it did not read the ballots due to condensation caused by cold temperature inside the room,” he said.
“Any machine that is wet will not work, but it does necessarily mean it’s broken,” Flores stressed.
According to Flores, the election in Hong Kong resumed after 45 minutes.
“What happened in Hong Kong was an indication that backup procedures are in place,” Flores said, noting that 6,000 replacements or backup machines are on standby in case PCOS units malfunction on election day.
Jimenez also said a change in temperature caused the malfunction in Hong Kong.
“Since we are only holding a one-day election in May we do not expect any change in temperature that would affect the machines’ operations and thus we are not expecting glitches similar to Hong Kong,” Jimenez said.
“Replacement machines would be placed in strategic areas so that PCOS that will break down on election day can be replaced within two hours so that there will be no disruption in the electoral exercise,” Jimenez pointed out.
Flores added that members of the Board of Election Inspectors had been notified of the steps to undertake in case of operational glitches.
Flores said the OAV in Hong Kong and Singapore should be considered a success.
Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said over 2,000 Filipino migrants in Hong Kong have already voted and more are expected to follow.
Larrazabal also brushed aside the possibility of PCOS machines breaking down on election day on a massive scale.
“Contingency measures are in place and what is important on election day is that the voters will go out to vote and the winning candidate is proclaimed,” Larrazabal said.
Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Susan Ople also appealed for vigilance.
“We are very happy that the start of the OFW voting went on smooth and generally okay… It’s a good omen and sign of confidence among OFWs that the first ballot cast was for the tandem of Senator Villar and Senator Legarda,” Ople said.
“I believe that this will be replicated many times over because I believe we are the only party with a very complete OFW platform and a record of assistance even before the elections started,” she added.
Ople revealed that the NP is prepared to deter election fraud.
NP vice-presidential bet Loren Legarda, for her part, challenged Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas II to respect the outcome of the national elections, regardless of who comes out the winner.
Legarda made the statement after the two LP bets warned of possible people power should Villar and Legarda win the national elections.
“The concept of people power should not be abused and derogated to a tool for achieving political ambitions. For our country to mature as a democracy, we have to start respecting our institutions and upholding the rule of law,” she said. “Should there be any doubts as to the conduct of the national elections, the proper recourse should be through Comelec, and not to the streets,” Legarda said.
“We should respect the voices of the Filipino people and respect the result of a clean and honest elections,” Legarda said.
“The outcome of the national elections this year decides the future of our country, whether we will move forward or continue being Southeast Asia’s laggard. This calls for a strong and united government, of leaders who are willing to set aside their political ambitions for the good of our country,” she pointed out.
Legarda pointed out that another people power would be disastrous for the country. “It will send out the wrong message that losing parties can have their way by protesting on the streets, thus permanently crippling our chances for political stability in the Philippines,” she said. — With Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin and Christina Mendez