MANILA—The camp of Senators Grace Poe and Francis “Chiz” Escudero is pushing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold a dialogue with stakeholders to discuss the status of the preparations for the May 9 polls amid negative reports on the results of its initial testing of the vote-counting machines (VCMs).
Poe and Escudero are running for president and vice-president, respectively, under the banner “Gobyernong may Puso.” Both are frontrunners in various voters’ preference surveys for the forthcoming elections.
In a letter to the Comelec full session, George Garcia, the election lawyer of the Poe-Escudero tandem, said such dialogue would address concerns over glitches in the VCM system, as well as other poll-related issues that may hurt the credibility of the electoral exercise.
“The foregoing appeal is interposed purposely to dispel said negative reports and to affirm that the Comelec is doing its best to ensure that the forthcoming elections will be free from technological glitches and other similar irregularities,” Garcia said in the letter dated Feb. 11, 2016 and addressed to the Comelec en banc.
Garcia said he “fervently hopes for an immediate and favorable grant of his request considering that the same are in line with the ‘clean, honest and orderly election’ campaign of the Comelec.”
The election lawyer was particularly concerned on the statement made by a representative from international certifier SLI Global Solutions that one or two percent of ballots were rejected by VCMs during a ballot verification testing held at the Comelec’s storage facility in Laguna earlier this week.
“Unfortunately, the results of such testing are hounded by undesirable feedbacks such as but not limited to, failure of the VCMs to recognize ballots, failure of the VCMs to count the votes, and the fact that the report of SLI Global Solutions, which was tasked to conduct the required review and certification, the source code is unavailable for inspection,” Garcia said.
Garcia also found it “quite alarming” that barely three months before the elections, the poll body’s Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) has yet to issue a certification or report required under Republic Act No. 9369, otherwise known as An Act Amending R.A. 8436 or the Election Modernization Act of 1997.
He said Section 11 of said law provides that “not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercise,” the TEC shall have successfully conducted a field testing process; completed audit on the accuracy, functionality and security controls of the automated election system or AES software; and completed a source code review, among others.
“With all due respect, the undersigned cannot overemphasize the importance of the strict compliance with the provisions of R.A. No. 9369 taking into account that the success of the 2016 automated election truly depends on it,” Garcia pointed out.
Meanwhile, Poe’s spokesman Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian said that while they reserve judgment on the reported problems in the VCMs to be used in the May elections, it gives them enough reason to be cautious.
“It’s a reason for us to be wary of or to put reservations,” Gatchalian said. “I think that’s unfair to our democracy. That’s unfair to all candidates and unfair to the electorate in those areas because their votes will not be counted.”
Gatchalian also took note of reports that six officials of the National Printing Office, who were previously dismissed from service by the Office of the Ombudsman for graft, still report for work and are in fact assigned to handle the printing of election ballots for the May polls.
Other issues that worry Poe’s camp are the prospect of having elections in some parts of the country postponed due to possible delays in the printing of ballots, as warned by the Comelec, thus leaving voters unable to exercise their right to vote despite having been cleared by the poll body through their biometrics and registration
“All these things are somehow adding up and causing some alarm already to the different parties,” Gatchalian pointed out, as he called on election officials to address the issues to ensure the credibility of the political exercise.
“We are calling on the Comelec to be more vigilant, get their acts together. We are watching. The moment they start inviting political parties and those of the candidates to observe closely, we will see to it that we will look into these reports,” Gatchalian said.