While saying it remains open to a “hybrid” system of elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has admitted that it is more inclined to use the law-mandated automated system, which requires the use of Optical Machine Readers (OMRs) or the controversial Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) counting machines for next year’s polls.
“In terms of what we’re going to use, I think it’s pretty obvious that our primary track is automation, but we’re looking at the hybrid as possible back-up if ever,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told The Manila Times,
The preference was apparent in the Comelec recently conducting biddings for procurement of 70,977 OMRs worth P7.867 billion and another 23,000 of the same counting machines worth P2.503 billion.
The hybrid system or PATaS (Precinct Automatic Tallying System) is being proposed by former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman.
Under PATaS, voting and counting will be done manually, while the transmission and canvassing of ballots will be automated.
A demonstration of PATaS in Bacoor, Cavite, last month got negative feedback.
Since the counting was manual, every ballot was challenged, Jimenez cited one drawback.
The Comelec, he said, believes that the hybrid system would be much more expensive in the long run because it needed more personnel for the manual counting.
Jimenez explained that clustering of precincts that can accommodate up to 800 voters is simply not possible in manual counting.
“Imagine counting 800 [votes]by hand. It would take you almost one and a half day to finish, [and by the]time insecurity mounts. One in automated counting means three in manual [counting], which means the manpower also triples,” he pointed out.
“[One-hundred thousand] in automated [polls], you’re looking at 300,000 in manual.
Three [members of the]board of inspectors in automated, you’re looking at nine in manual. 300,000 times three, you’re looking close to a million only for [members of the]board of inspectors,” Jimenez said.
He added that PATaS will need 300,000 technical people to operate personal computers.
“It’s hard to imagine how it [hybrid system]can be cheaper and [how]you can do that every other three years,” Jimenez said.
He added that the use of such system, is the ultimate fallback “if there is no other option” in order to hold elections.
Lagman has estimated that the entire PATaS would only cost the Comelec between P4 billion and P5 billion, which, he said, is much cheaper than the P12.897 total cost of 93,977 OMRs and the P2.88 billion for repair, refurbishment and upgrade of 82,000 existing PCOS machines.
He explained that the system is completely different in the sense that counting is still going to be manual but simultaneous with the manual counting is an automated one through a laptop computer attached to a projector and a big screen so people could see the progress of the counting as it is happening.
“Because it [laptop counting]is simultaneously done with the manual counting, election return can be printed by the laptop, eight copies as required by law, then transmit the ER for canvassing. Since it is already in a digital form, it can be transmitted electronically without the need to encode the ER,” Lagman said.
He, however, admitted that there is no assurance that the system is 100 percent foo-lproof even as he pointed out that election cheating, like dagdag-bawas [vote padding-vote shaving], happens at the canvassing level, not at the precinct level.
“The system cannot assure that but the system will improve the accuracy of the manual system. What we are weighing here is transparency against speed. Would you sacrifice transparency [for]speed?” Lagman asked.
He said PATaS might be slower by 12 to 24 hours compared to the counting done with the PCOS machines but added that nobody knows how the machines count the votes.
Lagman noted that during the 2010 elections, 9 percent of the PCOS machines failed to transmit and 23 percent during the 2013 polls.
As to the legality of the system, he expressed belief that it is not against the law even as he pointed out that Republic Act 9369 does not mandate the Comelec but rather authorizes it to conduct fully automated elections.