THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it will ask the Supreme Court (SC) to reconsider its order to the commission to issue paper receipts to voters on election day.
Comelec Chairman Juan Andres Bautista said a motion for reconsideration (MR) will be filed at the High Court today.
Officials of the poll body had maintained that the SC ruling skewed the election timeline, prompting them to consider postponing the national and local elections scheduled on May 9 this year.
On Thursday, the Comelec held an emergency meeting to discuss implications of the SC ruling.
Bautista admitted that poll officials intensely debated whether to postpone the elections.
He refused to categorically say if the May 9 electoral exercise will be delayed.
“Yes, we discussed the postponement in our meeting. All options are being considered,” the Comelec chief told reporters.
Although the commission will appeal the SC ruling, Bautista said the poll body will continue its preparations to enable the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines, one of the security features mandated by law.
The poll body chairman said the commission has the authority to postpone the elections but he admitted that the SC ruling was not among the justifications provided for under the Omnibus Election Code.
“The grounds are specific under the Omnibus Election Code and it appears that the Supreme Court decision is not among them. We will have to get a law [passed],” he added.
Under Section 5 of Batas Pambansa 881 or the Omnibus Election Code, the Comelec may only postpone an election “when for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision.”
“Before the [SC] decision [was made], we were right on track in our goal and objective of orderly, honest and credible elections. But the decision has created a curve and we are now assessing what to do,” Bautista said.
But even with the difficulties presented by the SC ruling, he added, the commission “will do everything humanly possible to meet our objective.”
“We’re very professional. We will pursue our mandate of holding orderly, credible and honest elections. That is our Holy Grail, that’s our focus,” Bautista said.
On March 14, the Comelec en banc will meet with members of the Comelec Advisory Committee and the Technical Evaluation Committee to get their advice regarding the election timetable and preparations for the coming polls.
Comelec officials will on the same day meet with representatives of political parties and of the candidates to give them an update on the extent of their preparations as well as a situationer regarding the impact of the High Court’s ruling.
The poll body, Bautista said, had started the bidding process for the procurement of more than one million rolls of thermal paper needed for the voting receipts and thousands of receptacles where voters will drop their receipts before leaving their voting precincts.
“We need to renew our source for the VCMs [vote counting machines],” the poll chief added, noting that the machines were not programmed to produce receipts.
Amid the resistance of poll officials to accept the SC ruling, Chief Justice Maria ourdes Sereno also on Thursday defended the tribunal’s ruling and lambasted the Comelec for its failure to submit its comment to a petition filed by former senator Richard Gordon on time.
“When we say that a deadline is non-extendable it is to be taken seriously. I would like to caution people that when a matter is under litigation before a court, the procedure is to make such communications with the court,” Sereno said in an interview at the sidelines of the 21st annual convention of the Philippine Women Judges Association at the Manila Hotel.
The Office of the Solicitor General submitted the Comelec’s answer only on Monday.
The High Court issued the questioned ruling on Tuesday.
Sereno said there was reason behind the five-day non-extendable deadline given by the SC for the Comelec to answer the petition.
“We don’t usually give such an order. I hope everyone can understand because we want to be helpful to the success of the 2016 elections and not serve as obstacle to its successful conduct,” she explained.
In his petition for mandamus, Gordon said the Comelec and technology provider Smartmatic must implement the security features required under Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Elections System Law.
Gordon is the principal author of this law.
The Comelec en banc unanimously ruled against using the VVPAT because it could be used as a tool for vote-buying and would also extend the voting period by seven hours.
The VVPAT system allows the voters to verify if their ballots were cast correctly through the issuance of a receipt.