MANILA — Amid few concerns on possible election cheating and postponement, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday assured that the commission is working hard to make the upcoming May 9 polls as the most transparent election in the Philippines history.
During the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOC-AES) public hearing on the election preparation at the Philippine Senate, Comelec chairman Andres Bautista said all safeguards are in place as provided by Republic Act No. 9639 or the Automated Election Law.
“All the safeguards will be in place for the 2016 elections and, in fact, we will endeavor to make this election as the most transparent election in the Philippine history,” Bautista told the JCOC-AES panel.
Bautista’s statement was in response to the recent Supreme Court (SC) final decision requiring the activation of the voter verified paper audit trail (WPAT) or the vote receipt printing feature of the vote counting machines (VCMs).
“For sure the SC decision created curveball in our preparations for the upcoming 2016 elections but that is past, we have to move on and we are looking to catch up,” Bautista said.
Bautista said the Comelec, however, will only use ‘simple receipt’ as allowed by the SC ruling.
“Comelec to print only simple voters’ receipts for election. It will have no identifying marks, hashcode and security marks such as precinct number and time stamp,” Bautista said.
However, Marlon Garcia of Smartmatic technology manager said the simple receipt will have a date to be found on the left corner.
Bautista said they will also propose in the Comelec en banc to adjust the voting hours from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. although the election staff including Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) can start preparation as early as 4 a.m..
“We are doing this to take advantage of the daylight. We want to start and finish while there’s still daylight,” Bautista said.
Pimentel advised the Comelec to do massive information about the voting hours to make the voters aware of the need to vote early.
The Comelec chairman explained that the SC decision would extend the voting time per voter from 20 seconds to at least one minute due to the time to be consumed for on-screen verification and printing of the receipts.
JCOC-AES co-chairman Senator Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III found ‘overkill’ the security features having receipts and on-screen verification.
Bautista agreed, saying “it might be an overkill if we will use both on-screen verification and voters’ receipts.”
Bautista has expressed some concerns on the timeline for the procurement of thermal paper since it has to go through regular procurement procedure that requires public bidding.
“The Comelec earlier asked government Procurement Police Board to allow emergency procurement for thermal paper and forego public bidding,” he said.
The Comelec chairman said asked the JCOC-AES to certify that the procurement of thermal paper is an emergency matter.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga of lone district of Dasmarinas City said the JCOC-AES has no jurisdiction to make recommendation to forego the public bidding requirement for the purchase of thermal paper.
Pimentel believes the Comelec is already in emergency situation, saying the commission has limited time to meet the deadline for the purchase of thermal papers that have to be delivered in 81 provincial treasurers in time for the May 9 elections.
Commissioner Robert Lim said the Comelec has already started retraining Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) regarding the SC decision requiring the printing of the voters receipts.
“The retraining or training is critical because if you give a person without knowledge at all how to operate the machines, even the simplest procedures would not be implemented,” Lim said.
Bautista said the Comelec has to use PHP200 million from its savings to purchase thermal paper, scissors and receptacles.
Bautista, meanwhile, assured also the persons with disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens will be given priority while medical assistance will be provided on elections day.
Pimentel also questioned why the VCM has no capability to cut paper properly, prompting the Comelec to purchase scissors.
Pimentel, however, said he will pursue the issue in the regular hearing of the Senate committee on electoral reforms under his stewardship.
On the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV), Lim informed the panel that more than one million Filipinos abroad have registered for the AOV, surpassing the 2013 mid-term election’s numbers of 700,000 registered voters.
Lim said all systems go for the AOV set from April 9 to May 9.
Susan ‘Toots’ Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, however, said only few Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) got information about the AOV due to lack of Comelec’s efforts to reach out the Filipinos abroad.
The Comelec officials told the JCOC-AES that their target is 100 percent transmission of the election results during election day. Transmission test is set April 25 to 29.
In the country’s only third computerized election, the Comelec will use 92,509 VCMs, excluding 3,535 contingency VCMs to be distributed in different municipalities depending on the size of the area. PNA / northboundasia.com