UNLESS something extraordinary happens, the Commission on Election (Comelec) will push though with the 2016 presidential elections using Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines despite calls of some groups to get rid of the machines and go back to supposedly more transparent manual balloting.
Chairperson Sixto Brillantes Jr. of the Comelec said there is no stopping the poll body from conducting automated elections in 2016.
He cited the Comelec being already in the bidding process for procurement of additional 23,000 machines to augment the 80,000 PCOS units in their inventory.
“Definitely we’re not going manual, we have a formal resolution and we’re now implementing our resolution that we are going to buy [new machines]. In fact, our budget in 2015 is for automation,” Brillantes said in an interview after a hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections System (JCOC-AES) on Thursday.
The Comelec chairman added that the only possibility that they will be forced to go back to manual voting is when something extraordinary happens before the schedule national elections.
“Like, for example, if all the machines were bombed, definitely we will be forced to go manual,” he said.
Groups like the Automated Election System (AES) Watch and the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) are among those that are pushing for hybrid form of voting in 2016 or a combination of manual and automated.
Nelson Celis of AES Watch said instead of depending on the PCOS machines to read and tally votes in the precinct level, the Comelec should consider a combination of manual system and automated system wherein balloting and precinct counting will be done manually while the transmission and canvassing will be automated.
The hybrid election system, according to the group, is more transparent because ballots will be counted openly unlike with PCOS machines on which election officers are completely reliant.
Philconsa is also pushing for the traditional manual voting and counting if the Comelec will not be able to fully implement the automated elections system law.
According to the group, the poll body during the 2010 and 2013 elections failed to comply with the four minimum requirements set by law including source code review, which should be done before the elections; digital signatures; voter’s verification; and random manual audit that should be done on Election Day.
Philconsa said Comelec has been insisting on conducting automated elections in 2016 despite its inability to comply with the requirements set by law.
Brillantes admitted that the Comelec was not able to comply with the requirements but he pointed out that their failure to comply did not have negative results where results of the elections were concerned.
According to him, outcome of the 2010 and 2013 elections remained uncontested and, despite allegations of dagdag-bawas (vote-padding and vote-shaving), there is no solid proof that could back the claims.
He advised those elected officials, who are against the use of the PCOS machines, to step down and relinquish their current posts because they were elected using the PCOS machines.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the JCOC-AES said he is open to a proposal to review the automated election system law as policy and if there is a plan to go back to manual, there is a need to amend the law first.
According to Pimentel, going back to manual in the 2016 polls is highly unlikely because, aside from having no time, mandate of the existing law is to have automated elections.