A lawmaker on Monday said he is open to a proposal to make balloting and precinct counting in the 2016 presidential elections manual as long as the system would not be prone to manipulation and cheating.
Although use of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines in the election has greatly helped minimize cheating, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he remains open to other proposals that may further improve the credibility of the elections.
“I’m open to any type of combination on how we will do the elections [but]the most important thing is that we must make sure that whatever system we will choose will not be prone to cheating,” Cayetano said in an interview.
The senator, however, pointed out that there is a law, which was implemented in 2010, mandating the conduct of automated election system (AES) aimed at curbing poll fraud, particularly dagdag-bawas (vote padding-vote shaving).
“Although there were glitches, the automated system [did not lead]to automated dayaan [cheating]. Smartmatic is a world-renowned technological provider and it would not allow anything or anyone to besmirch its reputation,” Cayetano said, referring to the company that supplied the PCOS machines.
In September, a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the AES and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) investigated incidents in the 2013 elections where the PCOS machines were reported to have inaccurately counted the votes cast.
The JCOC-AES particularly cited the case involving some ballots from a precinct in Nueva Ecija that were supposedly not correctly counted by the PCOS machines during the 2013 mid-term elections.
Comelec Chairperson Sixto Brillantes Jr. during a congressional hearing, admitted alleged discrepancies in some senatorial votes but noted that those were caused by improper use of ink in a component of the machine.
Cayetano said there is no doubt that automated elections are better than manual balloting but added that while the past two automated elections in the Philippines were credible, they were not perfect.
But when asked if he is also open to the proposal of former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman to make the balloting and precinct counting manual while maintaining transmission and canvassing automated, he said it can also be done especially with support of currently available technology.
Cayetano said manual voting and precinct counting can be done with the help of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and camera phones that could closely monitor the process and make sure that there will be no cheating.
Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Escudero in a separate interview said unless Congress passes a law before the 2016 elections, the country will implement the automated election system.
He, however, refused to give his position on which system would be better for the 2016 presidential elections but that he is willing to listen to recommendations of the JCOC-AES
“It [manual voting proposal]should be looked into and studied further especially by the JCOC before I can take a position for or against it. Besides, it’s the Comelec, as an independent body, that will decide on this matter unless we pass a law to the contrary,” Escudero said.
The JCOC-AES headed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd has set a meeting this November where the proposal of Lagman’s group will be heard.
Pimentel, however, said his committee could only make recommendations but has no power to impose on the Comelec on what the poll body should do in the 2016 elections.
Lagman’s group has been asking the Comelec why it is spending billions of pesos on a system that only cuts down the election process by half a day but removes transparency in the counting process.
Another critic of the Smartmatic urged the Comelec to ban the multi-national company from participating in the bidding for the procurement of additional 23,000 automated election system (AES) for the 2016 polls.
Engr. Hermenegildo Estrella Jr., a co-convenor of C3E, said it is the moral duty of the Comelec to exclude Smartmatic from participating in all aspects of the electoral exercise after the documented technical glitches in the two previous elections.
“There is a great possibility of a large scale electronic manipulation of the 2016 elections if Smartmatic remains to be the supplier of automated election systems,” he said.
Smartmatic provided the automated election systems (AES) used in the 2010 and 2013 polls.
Pablo Manalastas of election watchdog AES Watch said Smartmatic should be disqualified from bidding in the procurement of additional machines because of its inefficiency and for its procurement of substandard markers and ballots.
He said the poor quality of the marker ink and paper caused some debris to be left on the mylarfilm, a layer that covers the reader, which caused the PCOS to miscast votes.
National Labor Union’s Dave Diwa, also a co-convenor, meanwhile cited earlier statements made by Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. indicating that the poll body was inclined to get a negotiated contract with Smartmatic for the refurbishing of the 82,000 PCOS units used in 2010 and 2013 elections.
He explained that this is a process that should go through proper bidding, and the negotiation shows how the Comelec is favoring Smartmatic, which put other would-be bidders at a disadvantage.
Also on Monday, AES Watch Spokesman Nelson Celis said in a forum that their group is preparing to file a petition at the Supreme Court for the blacklisting of Smartmatic.
“We will file the petition in due time. For now, we are already prepared with our draft of the petition. We will be asking the SC to blacklist Smartmatic,” Celis said.
He also reiterated their opposition to the Comelec’s plan to use the old PCOS machines for the third straight automated elections in the country.
“Hindi po reliable ang mga makinang ginamit. Ang mga safeguards na supposedly nakalagay dapat sa makina ay hindi na-implementa like yung ultra violet [UV] lamps,” he said.