THE law is specific and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has no choice but to comply with safety requirements provided by the poll automation law to ensure that the coming local and national elections would be honest and credible.
Former senator Richard Gordon on Sunday pointed out that “there is no room for interpretation in complying with provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9369 or the Amended Automated Election System Law.”
Gordon is author and sponsor of RA 9369.
Section 6 of RA 9369 specifies 15 functional capabilities.
It includes provisions for accuracy in recording and reading of votes as well as in the tabulation, consolidation/canvassing, electronic transmission and storage of results; error recovery in case of non-catastrophic failure of device; system integrity that ensures physical stability and functioning of the vote recording and counting process; provision for voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT); an election management system (EMS) for preparing ballots and programs for use in the casting and counting of votes and to consolidate, report and display election results in the shortest time possible; provide the voter a system of verification to find out whether the machine has registered his choice; and configure access control for sensitive system data and function.
“In the procurement of this system, the commission shall develop and adopt an evaluation system to ascertain that the above minimum system capabilities are met. This evaluation system shall be developed with the assistance of an advisory council,” Gordon said in a statement.
“You have no choice but to comply, you can even extend the voting hours if necessary. Bakit ba ayaw niyong sundin ang batas [Why is it that you don’t you follow the law]? Are you trying to hide something? For the last 20 years, you have not been complying with the law. That is election swindling over and over again,” he added.
On the Comelec’s claim that printed receipts could be used as a tool for vote- buying and vote-selling, Gordon noted that the Comelec is yet to charge anyone with vote-buying, saying the poll body could tap the Philippine National Police to monitor voters who will hand their receipts to anyone.
Gordon pointed out that because of the Comelec’s refusal to comply with the law during the 2010 and 2013 elections, the integrity of the elections has not been restored as the automated law had aimed.
He said there is danger that the results of the 2016 elections would again be compromised if the Comelec was not compelled to comply.
The Comelec is mandated by law to comply with four minimum security requirements, namely: the VVPAT, the digital signature ballot verification or ultra violet detector and the source code review.
But the commission, by a vote of 7-0, has junked the VVPAT.
The VVPAT is designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly through the issuance of a receipt, showing the names of candidates that they voted for.
It serves as a deterrent against possible election fraud and would provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
The security features are part of the contract that Comelec awarded to controversial technology provider Smartmatic Corp. for the supply of 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) counting machines that were used during the 2010 and 2013 polls.
This is the third time since the 2010 elections that the VVPAT would not be used by the Comelec.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista explained that the VVPAT if activated may lead to a lot of problems that can compromise the results of the elections because a printed receipt can be used as a tool for vote-buying and vote-selling and would also result in considerable delay in the election process.
Hepointed out that the Supreme Court has upheld the poll body on the issue in the Capalla vs. Comelec case.
Earlier, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called on the Comelec to restore the four major security features that were removed from the vote counting machines (VCMs) during the 2010 and 2013 polls, which were both marked by widespread allegations of electoral fraud.
Villegas said the Comelec should diligently implement the security measures mandated by the Automated Election Law to insure credible and honest elections in May 2016.
“The credibility of the elections and the stability of our democracy is at risk if the security and sanctity of the every ballot is compromised,” he noted in a pastoral statement.
Clean election advocate and lawyer Glenn Chong pointed out that the Comelec resolution to deactivate the VVPAT feature of the vote counting machines is a violation that would render the coming elections illegal.
“That is a violation of the law. The Comelec is bound to commit the same mistake, similar to what it did in the 2010 and 2013 elections,” Chong said.
“With the 2016 elections, its legitimacy, integrity and credibility are again seriously threatened by the very same controversial removal and/or dilution of the AES security features and the very same flagrant violations of our elections laws by those entrusted with its conduct and management,” he added.