Manila Bulletin - Comelec unsure it will use same equipment in next elections

By Jeffrey Damicog | Manila Bulletin

Due to the number of vote counting machines (VCM) breaking down during the recently concluded May 13 midterm polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) remains unsure if it will use the equipment in the 2022 local and national elections.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas disclosed on Tuesday (May 14) that there are more VCMs which broke down this year compared to 2016 considering that the same machines were used in both the 2016 and 2019 polls.

Abas noted that out of the 85,769 VCMs used in this year’s polls there were 961 which broke down compared to the 801 which malfunctioned in 2016.

The Comelec identified one of the reasons causing the problem is the compatibility of the components which is supplied by various suppliers.

“Yung nakita naming problema, hindi masyado nagma-match (The problem that we saw is that the components did not match),” Abas said.

Previously, Abas recounted that Smartmatic supplied the VCM and its components for the 2016 elections after winning the procurement bidding for the “bundled” acquisition of the machines and its components.

However, when the Comelec sought budget for the 2019 elections, Abas said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) gave the poll body funds for an option to purchase (OTP) scheme.

“Ang problema sa OTP is unbundled yung ibang component. So ngayon iba ang supplier ng makina, iba ang supplier ng SD cards, iba rin ang suppliers ng papel and marking pen (Under the OTP, the purchases made is not bundled under one supplier. Because of this, the machines, the SD cards, the papers, and markers are provided by different suppliers),” he explained.

Abas noted Smartmatic also participated in the bidding to supply the other components for the 2019 polls but lost to other bidders.

Because of the problems, Abas said the Comelec will study what it will do in preparation for the 2022 elections.

“It will be our decision point most likely in 2022 because mas malaking preparation yun (because it requires bigger preparations),” he stated.

“So pag-aaralan namin kung una gagamitin pa ba namin sa pangatlong beses yung VCM or maglelease kami ng bago (So we will study if we will buy new VCMs or lease them instead),” Abas revealed.

He added the Comelec may also opt to go back to bundled procurement so that there will be only one supplier and there will be synchronization of the VCM and its components.

In spite of the problems with the VCMs, the Comelec chief stressed the country will not revert back to the manual conduct of the elections.

“Meron tayo standing na batas nagyon, its automated (We have a law that states that the elections are now automated),” he stressed.

“As long as hindi yan ma-amend (as long as the law is not amended), Comelec will always see to it na automated ang election,” Abas pointed out.