The Manila Times - ‘WE OFFER NO EXCUSES’ Comelec to probe glitches

By William Depasupil | The Manila Times

Defective counting machines and other problems that marred the otherwise successful midterm polls will be investigated, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Tuesday.

“We wanted a perfect election. But it happened, there were a lot of problems,” Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abbas said in a press briefing.

“We offer no excuses,” he added, referring to faulty vote counting machines (VCMs) and secure digital (SD) memory cards that extended the voting process and also the delayed transmission of results.

The investigation will focus on suppliers that had won contracts by offering the lowest bids, which led to the provision of low-quality goods that may have passed controlled-environment tests but failed in actual use.

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, reports reaching the Comelec showed that 961 VCMs and 1,665 SD cards had to be replaced, higher compared to the 801 and 201, respectively, recorded during the 2016 presidential elections.

Abbas pointed out that the defective VCMs accounted for just 1.1 percent of the 85,769 used during Monday’s polls, while the damaged SD cards comprised 4.9 percent of the 85,769 total.

Procurement law requirements calling for separate purchase contracts were also likely to blame, the Comelec said, with compatibility problems more likely to increase given multiple suppliers.

In 2016, all election paraphernalia purchases were “bundled” with the VCMs supplied by technology provider Smartmatic.

Abbas said the Comelec would learn from Monday’s glitches ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.

“We are looking at using the VCMs again or rent new machines or bundle anew to synchronize everything. That’s our decision points,” he added.

Comelec Commissioner Mario Cascolan, meanwhile, pointed out that low-quality SD cards could have been supplied and explained that VCM malfunctions could have
been due to age, the summer heat, and damaged during transit.

With regard to delays in the transmission of results, he said this was due to an application error that has now been resolved.

The delay had raised concerns of cheating in an exercise that — based on an unofficial count — will lead to an overwhelming win for allies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Explanation demanded

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, campaign manager of the opposition Otso Diretso slate, on Tuesday demanded an explanation from the Comelec.

“May niluluto ba na hindi dapat malaman ng publiko? Are you cooking something that the public should not know?),” he said.

“Ang usap-usapan ay may glitch daw sa transparency server kaya may delay. Pati ba mga bibig at labi ninyo hindi makapagpaliwanag dahil may glitch din?” (Talk has it that there was a glitch in the transparency server. Are your mouths and lips that are unable to provide explanations also glitched?),” he added.

Reelectionist Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd, who ranked 11th in the “Magic 12” list, said the glitches were enough to prompt a congressional investigation.

“Why are we still having all these glitches? Cannot Comelec anticipate them?” said Pimentel, who ran under the administration’s banner.

Pimentel, a former Senate President and current chairman of the chamber’s electoral reforms committee under the outgoing 17th Congress, said he would initiate a probe — if he wins — once the 18th Congress takes over in July.

Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian also criticized the Comelec for failing to prevent the glitches despite having been given billions of pesos to conduct the electoral exercise.

“This glitch is so weird. We gave Comelec [a] P10 billion budget for this year. We have the right to know what’s going on,” Villanueva said on Twitter.

Gatchalian, in a separate tweet, said: “600 VCMs, 1,000 SD cards malfunctioned, transparency server malfunctioned. Congress allocated P10 billion for a real time and credible elections.”

Stop using Smartmatic

Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd, for his part, reiterated a call for the Comelec to stop using Smartmatic, the Venezuelan-owned firm that has been tapped to handle Philippine elections since 2008.

“We may learn from the way the Catholic Church is finally facing today the truth about sex abuse of children because of painstaking inquiries conducted into churches in the United States, Australia and Ireland,” he said.

“We should similarly adopt this method to establish incontrovertibly that our people have been repeatedly cheated in their national elections through the corrupt adoption of an electronic voting system provided by Smartmatic Corporation,” Sotto added.

Sotto and Sen. Panfilo Lacson also urged the public to respect the will of the majority.

“In every election there will always be a winner and a defeated foe. It is the lessons we take from whatever is handed to us that makes a difference,” Sotto said in a text message.

Lacson, in a statement, said: “What is important is that we respect the voice of the majority but without abandoning our responsibility to continue our vigilance against abuses and wrongdoings of those given the mandate to serve,” he said in a statement.