THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) cannot delay or postpone the national and local elections scheduled on May 9, 2016 because doing so will violate the law, according to lawmakers and analysts.
The poll body also cannot revert to manual polls because the law mandates the holding of automated elections, they pointed out.
The commission is already facing a surge of public opposition to its plan to delay the polls despite its repeated warnings that it no longer has enough time to implement changes to comply with the Supreme Court (SC) order to activate the voters verification paper audit trail (VVPAT), one of the security features required under the automated election law.
Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said a congressional action is needed to postpone the elections.
“The Comelec cannot do that. There should be a law postponing the elections. Only Congress has the power to do that,” Tugna, a lawyer, added.
The House deputy majority floor leader, however, said the House is not likely to approve the postponement of the May electoral exercise.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said postponing the elections will need congressional action.
“It [Comelec] cannot postpone the elections without congressional action. My own reading is that it will argue with the SC and propose to implement its decision for the succeeding elections after 2016,” Casiple added.
Political analyst Edmund Tayao said even if Congress gave its imprimatur, the elections would be “essentially suspect.”
“What I know is it shouldn’t take so much time for the Comelec to recalibrate the voting machines as it is a feature [VVPAT] that has always been there. It’s only a question of activating it again. Now if they argue that reprogramming will be needed, again this should not take so much time. One, they can just follow previous programming that allowed the issuance of receipts. Two, the machines [are]yet to leave their warehouse, that programming can be done all at the same time, so what will take them so much time?” he told The Manila Times.
“The Comelec should do more than explain why they’re saying there will be delays. If it’s really a technical problem, a credible third party should be asked to determine how much more time is needed if indeed there should be delays. Otherwise we can only second guess the ‘real’ motive behind,” Tayao said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections System, urged officials of the poll body to stop acting like “spoiled brats” and focus on how they will comply with the order of the High Court.
“Comelec commissioners should change their attitude and perspective because they are the only ones task to run the elections,” Pimentel pointed out.
He said his committee will conduct a hearing on March 23 to ask Comelec officials about the updates in their preparations for the holding of the May 9 elections.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista had said the SC ruling turned the election timeline upside down, noting that the commission needs three months to prepare to carry out the SC order to issue voting receipts without compromising credibility and orderliness of the May elections.
But the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said the Comelec is hard-pressed to implement the SC ruling because the poll body and Smartmatic, its election technology provider, never had any intention to follow the law.
Professor Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG director for policy studies, noted that had the Comelec and Smartmatic been complying with the minimum system requirements and safeguards as stated in Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election System Law, there would be no possibility of an “election failure” scenario.
“Now that they are being ordered to implement just one simple legal requirement, they point their fingers at the SC for pressing the panic button,” Tuazon said.
The analyst pointed out that had the Comelec complied with the law, the VVPAT voter receipt should have been embedded in the system.
“Technically and legally speaking, Comelec and Smartmatic caused election failures in both the 2010 and 2013 elections with the poll results being marred by transmission glitches, inaccuracies, program errors and disenfranchisement of big numbers of voters, thus undermining the credibility of those elections,” Tuazon said.
Nelson Celis, also of CenPEG, insisted that the Comelec can easily enable the Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) just like it did during a hearing conducted by the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOC-AES) in February.
He said that enabling the VVPAT capability of the machines is easy and it only needs a switch.
“What the Comelec has to prepare are the guidelines and procedures to ensure that the VVPAT is not taken out of the precinct,” Celis added.
The Comelec said it no longer has ample time to implement results of initial assessment and recommendations in light of the High Court’s directive.
Bautista on Sunday expressed belief that only a reversal by the SC of its ruling can guarantee the holding of automated elections on May 9.
The Comelec, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), appealed the ruling on Friday.
Bautista said three things were raised in their motion for reconsideration — the SC’s backtracking on its VVPAT ruling in the Roque vs Comelec case, reconciling the nitty-gritty of the preparations and their effect on the May 9 polls and allowing the poll body to demonstrate before the SC how the VCMs work.
“The issue really here is lack of time. We have less than two months to prepare before the [May 9] elections,” he pointed out.
Bautista said if the SC will not budge in its earlier ruling, the Comelec may be constrained to recommend the postponement of the elections to an appropriate date before June 30.
He pointed out that under the law, the new President must take over not later or earlier than June 30.
Bautista, however, admitted that postponing the elections does need an act of Congress.
Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim said that while reverting to manual elections is an option, it will result in another complication because of the Automated Election System Law.
Lim expressed confidence that the SC will reconsider its ruling.
The chairman of the Comelec’s Committee on Overseas Voting said the effect of the SC decision on overseas absentee voting (OAV) is more telling.
Lim also pointed out that the one-month overseas voting will start on April 9 but that this timetable will no longer be followed because of the SC ruling.
He explained that the reconfiguration of the 1,400 secure digital (SD) cards to enable the VCMs to issue a voting receipt will take at least 21 days.
“The impact is [that it is]… quite impossible to implement overseas voting with this additional requirement being imposed at this stage because we have already deployed 129 VCMs abroad,” Lim said.