THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is no longer certain if the national and local elections will be held as scheduled on May 9, 2016 because of the Supreme Court (SC) order that the commission should issue voting receipts.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista on Wednesday said the SC ruling turned the election timeline upside down.
“We have no problem on the printing of ballots. It will be finished as scheduled on April 25. But with this new development, I can’t assure anything with respect to the elections. But we will come [up]with a more studied position,” Bautista added.
“Under present conditions, it would be really hard for the Comelec [to stick to the original timeline],” he said, citing the complications and effects of the SC decision.
Commissioner Arthur Lim admitted that the SC ruling will derail the elections.
Lim said the commission will have to make “critical decisions” in the coming days.
Bautista, however, expressed hopes that the Comelec can still convince the High Court to reverse its order for the poll body to activate the voters verification paper audit trail (VVPAT), a security feature that allows voters to check if their votes were entered.
He also could not say if the ruling will also affect the start of the overseas absentee voting on April 9.
On Wednesday, the Comelec called an emergency meeting with Smartmatic and other election stakeholders to discuss the impact of the court decision.
Bautista said the Comelec is not against the VVPAT but he scored the SC for issuing its order too close to the elections.
“Why come [up]with [the]decision 62 days before the elections? Why not, say six months before?” he added.
The Comelec chief said the commission was surprised because the High Court reversed its ruling on the Roque vs. Comelec case issued in 2009 wherein the tribunal said the ballot is already a paper audit trail.
“The Comelec was not told by the Supreme Court to issue a receipt during the 2010 and 2013 elections even as the [counting]machine is capable of issuing a receipt,” Bautista said.
He added that they will make their course of action final, including filing of a motion for reconsideration, during a special en banc meeting today.
“We believe that the justices may not have read the comment filed by the Office of the Solicitor General [OSG] on our behalf explaining the Comelec’s decision on the non-reactivation of the voters verification paper audit trail [VVPAT],” Bautista said.
He added that Comelec officials are willing to argue their case before the SC so that the justices would be made aware of the practical, technical and operational difficulties in holding an election.
“Unlike in the case of Senator Grace Poe [that]only dwells on the legal aspect, the issuance of receipt [has]operational, practical and technical considerations, which we hope the Supreme Court will give due deference on the decision of the Comelec not to issue voting receipts,” Bautista said.
The Comelec, according to him, will have to reconfigure the 92,500 secure digital (SD) cards because the counting machines have not been configured to produce the voting receipts.
The commission will also need to acquire additional thermal paper and more than 92,500 receipt receptacles as well as retrain the more than 277,000 teachers who will serve as members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) on election day.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. also on Wednesday said instead of complaining, the Comelec should immediately start preparations to comply with the SC ruling.
“The High Court has spoken and the Comelec must comply. No matter how the Comelec feels about it, the body should immediately begin preparations in accordance with the ruling,” he added.
“The Comelec should look at possible solutions,” the Ilocano senator said.
While the SC decision may have presented more difficulties to the poll body, according to him, these considerations “pale in comparison with the imperative to have honest and credible elections.”
“With ballot receipts, our voters would have some degree of confidence that the voting machines indeed counted their votes properly,” the senator explained.
Given the limited time available before the May 9 elections, Marcos said the Comelec should immediately reconfigure the vote counting machines, obtain the necessary supplies and address other logistical problems to comply with the SC ruling.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero said the Comelec cannot postpone the elections in May.
“He [Bautista] cannot legally do that. The Constitution specifies that the day of the elections is every second Monday of May,” Escudero pointed out.
The senator said neither the poll body nor Congress has the power to postpone the elections, the more the Comelec should start making the necessary preparations to activate the VVPAT.
“They should just comply with the order of the Supreme Court instead of making excuses. They should stop wasting time,” Escudero added.
Senator Grace Poe said the Comelec should stop issuing threats of poll postponement.
The presidential aspirant said she understands that the SC ruling put pressure on Bautista but he has no choice but to comply with the SC order.
Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesman, also on Wednesday said postponing the May 2016 elections is unacceptable.
“Holding the elections on a later date will damage our democracy, confuse the electorate and tarnish the integrity of the elections,” he said.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA