The Philippine Star – Hybrid voting system pushed anew by lawmakers

By Delon Porcalla | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the House of Representatives have renewed their call for the conduct of a hybrid voting system in the May 2022 presidential elections to avoid a repeat of the seven-hour transmission glitch in the midterm polls.

“(The younger generation) will all suffer for the consequences of our inaction. I believe we must act now. We would like to have a reform because we are not happy with the election results,” Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza of party-list Buhay said.

In a recent speech in Tokyo, Japan, President Duterte asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to terminate its engagement with automation service provider Smartmatic and look for another vote-counting scheme that is fraud-free.

“Let’s have a manual vote, a manual count but the transmission should be electronic,” Atienza proposed, pointing out that with all the technology, it took the Comelec more than a week to proclaim the winners in the senatorial race.

“How can you question a machine? Anyare? (What happened),” he added.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez supported the call and backed investigations led by the Senate and the Comelec over what transpired in the seven-hour lull where 961 vote-counting machines (VCMs) malfunctioned and 1,665 secure digital (SD) cards were corrupted.

Suarez noted that the budget for the supply of SD cards was approved at P80 million.

“But the winning bid was only P29 million. That is considerably less than 40 percent of the approved budget. We may ask, what happened to the remaining budget? With all the mishaps in the recent election, we got what we paid for,” he said.

“Automated elections have been implemented for the fourth time in the country. Still, issues regarding the machines and other supplies arise despite being given the time and ample budget for procurement,” Suarez maintained.

The House opposition bloc is calling for a review of the procurement process.

“We understand the intent of the laws, however, this should not lead to the deterioration of the quality of the supplies provided to the government, especially when it involves activities affecting the fundamental rights of the citizens,” Suarez said.

“It is unfortunate that the election has fallen prey to the flawed process,” he added. “We emphasize the importance of securing the inviolability of the ballot, which is reflective of the sovereignty of the people that is ultimately protected by the Constitution.”

Two other opposition lawmakers – Reps. Tom Villarin and Gary Alejano of party-list groups Akbayan and Magdalo – who belong to the so-called “Magnificent 7” expressed the same sentiments.

Akbayan lost in the recent polls after 21 years but Magdalo managed to get one seat.

“This is the worst elections ever with glaring irregularities in its conduct from normalizing massive vote buying, entry of (party-list) groups with no sectoral constituencies nor track record and unconscionably record-high campaign expenses outspending candidates running for senators,” Villarin said.

Alejano, for his part, wanted a return of the manual election system.

“I suggest that we go back to manual counting at the precinct level to do away with malfunctioning VCMs and SD cards and possible manipulation of codes in the SD cards,” Alejano said.

“This provides a way for poll watchers at the precinct level to verify the counting of votes. Transmission to municipal and national levels will still be done electronically to ensure fast processing,” the former Marine captain added.

Local companies

Even with the exclusion of Smartmatic International, the chances of local companies winning the bid to supply the required VCMs appeared bleak.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said local companies may not qualify under the Poll Automation law.

“The law itself requires that the system to be used (should) have been used in a previous political exercise,” Jimenez noted.

For the past nine years, Jimenez said local suppliers did not have the experience required by the law.

The Poll Automation law mandated that the Automated Election System (AES) to be used must have demonstrated capability and had been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.

Jimenez stressed that the Comelec is open to local companies joining the bidding process. He denied that there is preference for international companies to provide the AES.

“We are not averse to inviting local suppliers,” Jimenez pointed out. But it is not legal nor the right solution to limit the option only to them, he added.

Critics of Smartmatic have been calling on the Comelec to review or stop the partnership with the London-based company. They are pushing for local service providers, claiming that information technology professionals in the country are capable of developing their own AES. – With Mayen Jaymalin

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