The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday did not waver in its ruling on the issuance of printed receipts to voters as it denied with finality an appeal of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that the tribunal reconsider its decision.
After hearing oral arguments from opposing parties for three hours, the magistrates voted 13-0 to dismiss the Comelec’s motion for reconsideration.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin are on leave.
During the oral arguments, the Comelec was represented by Solicitor- General Florin Hilbay.
Former senator Richard Gordon, the petitioner in the case, maintained that the Comelec should activate the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) in compliance with the Automated Election law.
“Several safeguards were put in place to ensure the sanctity of the ballot. Among these safeguards was the VVPAT.
A voter verified paper audit trail consists of physical paper records of voter ballots as voters cast them electronically.
The voter-verified part refers to the voter being given the opportunity to verify that the choices indicated on the paper records correspond to the choices that the voter has made in casting the ballot,” Gordon said.
“Under Section 6(e) of Republic Act 9369, which amends Section 7(c) of RA 8436 [The Automated Election System Law], one of the minimum systems capabilities of the automated election system is that there must be a provision for Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT is therefore a critical and indispensable security feature of the automated voting machines. Regrettably, however, the inclusion of this mandatory requirement under the automated election law was previously and flagrantly violated by respondent during the 2010 and 2013 elections,” he added.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said they presented two options to the High Court–holding the May 9 polls as scheduled without a new trusted build and postponing the elections to May 23 with a new trusted build. He said the SC chose the first option.
“It was clear. The justices asked what will happen if there is no trusted build, and we said the machine will print simple receipts which the VCMs [vote counting machines]can do right now,” the poll chief added.
“So what will happen after casting your ballot [is that]you will review it on the onscreen verification for 15 seconds and after you tap the [green]button, a printed receipt will come out without [the security features]with the Republic of the Philippines and the Commission on Elections printed on it, without the precinct number, without a hashcode and without the security features,” Bautista explained.
In its earlier ruling, the SC ordered the poll body to issue voters printed receipts because this is one of the security features mandated by law.
The tribunal said the receipts will be deposited “in a separate ballot box and not taken out of the precinct.”
The Comelec had questioned the SC ruling, saying implementing it will derail the election timetable.
Bautista, said the commission will comply with the SC ruling and proceed with the elections on May 9, 2016.
He, however, warned that without a new trusted build for the source code, about 20 percent or 116,503 units of the 97,519 VCMs that will be used during the polls may malfunction.
“Smarmatic [the technology provider]has told us that based on their estimate, 20 percent of the machines will probably malfunction if there is no new source code. According to [Senior] Commissioner [Christian Robert] Lim, we only have three percent safety. So how about the 17 percent? What will happen to the elections?” Bautista said.
The source code is provided by Smarmatic.
It is a voting software customized for Philippine elections that will be installed in the VCMs.
The Comelec chief explained that the malfunction may be triggered by paper jams or delays in the loading of thermal paper that could lead to longer voting hours.
These risks, he also warned, may lead to failure of elections in certain areas.
Without the security features, like hash code, precinct number and location, the voting receipts, according to the Comelec chief, would serve no legal purpose, except to give comfort to the voter that his or her vote was counted by the VCMs.
“What we will do is to study the risks and how to best mitigate these risks,” Bautista said.
“The Supreme Court has already decided and we submit, and basically we will comply and we will try do our best to still ensure clean elections in 2016.”
Malacañang said the poll body is required to inform the public on how to implement the printing of voters’ receipts now that the High Court has issued a final ruling.
“Comelec is duty-bound to take all necessary steps to ensure the conduct of orderly and credible elections in accordance with its legal mandate and in compliance with the Supreme Court’s judgment on the manner by which such duties should be performed,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO