By Rey Panaligan | Manila Bulletin
The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the petition to compel the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to review the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), to employ another method of digitally signing the election results, and to remove the supposed prohibition on capturing devices while inside the polling place during the 2019 elections.
In a full court resolution written by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez, the SC said that while the petition filed last April 24, 2019 or days before the May 13, 2019 elections has become moot and academic, there was no abuse of discretion on the part of the Comelec in deciding how to implement the automated election system (AES).
Among the petitioners were the AES Watch, Buklod Pamilya, Capitol Christian Leadership, Citizen’s Crime Watch, Connecting Businessmen in the Marketplace to Christ, Latter Rain Harvest Ministries, One Vote Our Hope, Upper Room Brethren Church and several other individuals.
The petition-in-intervention filed on May 2, 2019 was lodged by the United Filipino Consumers & Commuters, Froilan M. Dollente, and Teofilo Parilla.
The SC said that in the conduct of the 2019 elections, the Comelec substantially complied with the court’s 2016 ruling on the matter of the VVPAT requirement.
The 2016 SC ruling directed the Comelec to enable the vote counting machines’ (VCMs) verification feature which prints the voter’s receipts showing the voter’s choice.
The ruling also allowed the Comelec to issue guidelines regulating the release and disposal of the voter’s receipts. It also held that the VVPAT requirement is substantially complied with when the voter’s receipt is printed, and the voters can physically verify their votes.
In dismissing the petition, the SC said that on top of being moot, the Comelec “complied with the Court’s directive…, enabled the VCMs printing capability of the voter’s receipts and provided the mechanism for objections on VVPAT discrepancies.”
But the Comelec, it said, “prohibited voters to ‘use capturing devices, including, but not limited to, digital cameras or cellular phones for whatever purpose while inside the polling place’ during the casting of votes.”
“The conclusion of the 2019 National Elections rendered the petition academic,” the SC ruled.
Despite the mootness of the petition, the SC said that the petitioners failed to prove that the Comelec abused its discretion and unlawfully neglected any duty enjoined by law.
It said: “The VVPAT reflects the votes of a voter. Allowing the poll watcher or even the voters to take a picture of their VVPATs during the casting of votes may run contrary to the constitutional policy of keeping the ballots’ secrecy and sanctity.”
“The Comelec exercised its judgment to ensure free, orderly and honest elections and to protect the secrecy and sanctity of ballots without grave abuse of discretion. To be sure, the Court will not hesitate to exercise its jurisdiction to compel the performance of a duty provided by law in appropriate cases,” it stressed.