By Evelyn Macairan, Sheila Crisostomo |The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is willing to open the logs of the transparency server at the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) headquarters to dispel doubts on the integrity of the midterm polls.
The transparency server is a system that receives electronically transmitted results from polling precincts to the PPCRV that is doing quick counts for the senatorial and party-list races.
At a media briefing yesterday, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon admitted that the credibility of the elections could be questioned due to delays in transmission. But personally she said she could declare there was no cheating or “magic” that happened.
Guanzon, however, gave assurance that the poll body is open to public scrutiny. “You can verify it. We are willing to have a third party that will do an audit to see the activities of the transparency server,” she said.
Guanzon noted that by accessing the logs of the server, it would be “verifiable” whether there was cheating or manipulation of results.
She added that aside from having electronic records of the transactions performed by the server, there are also hard copies of the election results that could be scrutinized to determine if there were irregularities.
On Monday night, there was a delay in the transmission of votes but the Comelec attributed this to bottleneck of data inflow to the server.
The following morning, a sudden dip was observed in the number of election returns reflected on the server.
The poll body had pointed to “Java error” as cause and assured the public that data posted were updated by just restarting the system.
PPCRV national chair Myla Villanueva said the Comelec should consider looking for a better election system and purchasing new machines amid reports that 961 vote counting machines (VCMs) malfunctioned while 1,665 secure digital (SD) cards were corrupted.
Villanueva made the comment after Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Smartmatic, which supplied the VCMs, should no longer be used in future elections after many of its units malfunctioned during Monday’s polls.
She said the Comelec should open the bidding for new suppliers with global experience. “I think there should be more technical experts who should join in the bidding process so that all the questions would be asked before it is awarded,” Villanueva said.
She said that they are asking the Comelec “a lot of questions” such as the storage and testing of the VCMs and the reason why many of the units malfunctioned.
Villanueva clarified she was not saying that the Comelec failed to prepare for the elections, but they would have to determine, for instance, where to store the extra 10,000 VCMs so these could be immediately delivered to the polling precincts in case machines malfunction.
As to proposals that the counting of votes should be done manually, Villanueva said she does not support the idea since “it is moving backward.”
“Besides, election returns are available for a voter to check if the candidates he voted for were correctly read by the VCM,” Villanueva said.
Comelec records showed that the 961 malfunctioned VCMs only comprised 1.1 percent of the total 86,769 VCMs and the 1,665 defective SD cards only represent 1.9 percent of those used in elections. Had the percentage of problematic VCMs and SD cards reached 10 percent, Villanueva said: “I will really start complaining.”
Villanueva said the public would have to be vigilant until the end of the process. When asked if she was frustrated by the technical problems that arose last Monday, she said she felt tired for their volunteers who had to endure the heat to be able to assist the voters and make sure that the results of the elections would be accurate.
As this developed, Guanzon questioned the National Printing Office (NPO) for subcontracting the printing of voter information sheets (VIS).
According to Guanzon, she got information that a governor became number two on the official ballots but was number six on the VIS.
She said the Comelec had tapped the government-run NPO to print the VIS but she found out that the agency had subcontracted the printing to the Holy Family company.
“We awarded it to NPO because it’s government-to-government, so no bidding needed…and that was the reason why we chose NPO. I want to ask the NPO, is it true that you subcontracted it?” she noted.
Guanzon added that VIS are vital to the elections and any error in the entries “could have confused the voters.”
“It could have resulted in failure of elections. It was good we immediately detected it and the commission en banc ordered to withhold the distribution (of VIS),” she said.
VIS contains information vital to voters on election day like their assigned polling precincts. It should be sent out to voters before election day.
“They are accountable for this. They charged us P4 per VIS for such a small sheet. If you multiply it with more than 61 million voters… it’s a big amount,” she added.
Guanzon is proposing that payments to the suppliers of marking pens, ballot papers and SD cards used in the polls be withheld since an investigation will be done on the problems that occurred during the elections.
Guanzon disclosed the Comelec had not made any initial payment to Triplex, which supplied the marking pens and ballot papers, and also to S1 Technologies & Silicon Valley Computer Group that provided the SD cards used in the VCMs.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez also said they would look into reports that over a million voters overvoted and thus their ballots were not counted.
Clean up, declare expenses
The Comelec likewise advised winners and losers in the midterm polls to clean the streets of campaign paraphernalia and other trash and spend for it.
Guanzon said refusing to clean up would be “bad manners.”
She, however, admitted that the Comelec has not imposed any deadline for candidates to remove all their campaign materials posted on walls and electric posts.
She said the posters could be donated to people in need, like those who were victimized by fire and lost their houses.
Guanzon said the Comelec will get reports about the lists of officials who will not remove their campaign posters, an offense that could lead to disqualification from holding office.
Jimenez also reminded candidates to file their statement of contributions and expenditures (SOCE) a month after the elections.
Jimenez said the rules on filing SOCEs are applicable to all individuals who filed their certificates of candidacy, whether they won or not.
“Failing to do, especially for local government officials, will have problems assuming office. We will coordinate with the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) so they will face the consequences. Otherwise, the law says they will be unable to assume their elective positions,” Jimenez added.
Under a Comelec resolution, no elected candidates can assume office until they file the SOCE.
The resolution said that the office of an elected candidate who failed to file SOCE shall be considered “vacant” until he has complied with and submitted his SOCE within six months from proclamation or face disqualification. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin