By Llanesca Panti, Johanna M. Sampan, Bernice Camille V. Bauzon And Ritchie Horario Reporters
HUNDREDS of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines turned out to be defective on election day, prompting calls to ban the use of the equipment in future polls.
Poll watchdog Kontra Daya co-convenor, Dr. Gani Tapang, said the technology for the ballot counting machines provided by Smartmatic should not have been re-used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Reports of malfunctions and other defects trickled in as soon as precincts opened.
“The fact that we are seeing numerous cases of PCOS failures, malfunctions and delays only underscores the long-held observation that we were duped by Smartmatic,” Tapang said.
He said there is no more reason for the poll body to use the PCOS system in the 2016 presidential elections.
“Taxpayers paid P1.8 billion for these PCOS machines. Comelec allowed the electorate to be shortchanged. This should be the last time we use these machines,” Tapang pointed out.
Monday’s elections proved to be frustrating for thousands of voters who were affected by the PCOS malfunctions.
Tapang said that based on the reports they gathered, there were cases where the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) merely collected shaded ballots. Malfunctioning machines also caused long queues in polling places, angering some people who left without voting.
Tapang said there were also cases of PCOS machines that short-circuited while other units rejected the ballots.
“The PCOS malfunctions reported today were widespread and had a major effect on the conduct of the elections,” he lamented.
The group also reported that there was a switching of ballots intended for precincts in Benguet and Compostela Valley which affected 858 voters from Clustered Precint 22 at Brgy. Gabi Elementary School, Compostela, Compostela Valley and an undetermined number of voters in Benguet’s Clustered Precinct 122 at Rizal Elementary School in Baguio City.
“Voting has been temporarily suspended in both precincts,” the Kontra Daya official said.
The start of voting in clustered precincts Nos. 0536 and 0537 at Hulo Elementary School in Mandaluyong City was also delayed due to the late arrival of election paraphernalia.
The head of Smartmatic-Asia Pacific said malfunctioning PCOS machines were expected on election day because such problems usually occur with an automated election system (AES).
“Of course it’s uncomfortable because when that happens, everybody will be thinking like the precinct is collapsing and you have people in line. It’s unfortunate but that’s the nature of an automated election in any country,” Cesar Flores said.
Flores said in other countries, around 200 to 300 PCOS machines were replaced on the day of the polls.
The Smartmatic official said they allocated over 2,000 PCOS units as reserves as part of their contingency plan.
“We want things to be perfect but when we have to do these things [replacing of the PCOS machines], we realize it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s very complex . . . it is important that people manage their expectations,” he pointed out.
Smartmatic is the provider of at least 80,000 PCOS units deployed nationwide.
Meanwhile, Deputy Executive Director for Operations Teopisto Elnas said they have already addressed the malfunctioning units.
He said they ordered the immediate sending of replacement units, with some coming from their main warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.
“Our standby units are always prepared if the need arises,” Elnas guaranteed.
As for polling precincts that required PCOS unit replacements, the Comelec official said voting should not be delayed, although feeding the ballots to the machines will be different. He explained that once the substitute machines arrive, “batch feeding” of the ballots will begin.
Because of these reported PCOS glitches, Rep. Neri Colmenares of BayanMuna party-list pressed for a manual counting of ballots in the aftermath of the poll body’s admission that hundreds of PCOS machines bogged down.
Colmenares, who is vice-chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, noted that voters whose ballots were rejected by the PCOS machine should insist that their votes be recorded, and that all rejected ballots must be counted by the BEI and canvassed by the Board of Canvassers.
“Comelec must order the BEIs to count the votes of those rejected by the PCOS. The people’s constitutional right to suffrage should be the main concern of Comelec. It must do its utmost that all votes are counted, and only a manual counting can remedy this situation,” Colmenares said in a statement.
“It’s not the fault of the voter but of the machine,” Colmenares added.
But Secretary Ricardo Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office downplayed the reported glitches, saying the malfunctioning of 200 PCOS machines will not be enough to alter the results of the election.
“Based on what we’re seeing, the number isn’t large enough at this point to affect the votes. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to be alarmed, the incident seems to be isolated. But we should remain vigilant,” Carandang said in a press briefing at the Team PNoy headquarters in Makati City.
An isolated case, Carandang said, means that glitches are happening in one town or one precinct, and do not have impact on the other areas.
“Let’s leave it to the experts to decide when it becomes a cause for alarm. So far, the conduct of the elections had been generally orderly and generally peaceful. Of course it’s not over yet, but we hope it stays this way,” he added.
Failure of elections
Acts of terrorism and violence were the reasons for the “failure of elections” in Barangay Kulambo, Talayaan, Maguindanao, according to the Parish Pastoral Council on Responsible Voting (PPCRV).
“We confirmed it with Comelec and our lawyers… as of 12 noon, the failure of elections was already declared,” PPCRV said.
PPCRV also cited that other than “rampant vote buying” in Cagayan De Oro, there were reported 13 defective PCOS machines there.
Meanhwile in Taguig City, the elections were marred by the delisting of voters, PCOS glitches, brownouts and violence.
The city has been placed under the “areas of immediate concern” by the Comelec.
The local PPCRV was swamped with complaints from voters who were de-listed from the Computerized Voter’s List of the Comelec.
Bro. Emmanuel Grajo, head of the PPCRV monitoring team in Taguig City, said more than 100 voters who sought assistance from them complained that their names were not in the voter’s list.
Cases of missing names of voters were reported in Ricardo Papa Elementary School in Barangay Tuktukan, Eusebio Elementary School and Taguig Elementary School.
“That is already a common problem, but for this year, we received a lot of complaints from the voters,” Grajo told The Manila Times.
Also, about 10 PCOS machines malfunctioned in several polling precincts, affecting at least 1,000 voters, who were instructed to shade their ballots and be on standby until the PCOS technicians have fixed the machines.
At the Taguig National High School, a PCOS machine at Cluster 131 refused to accept accomplished ballots, forcing BEIs to simply collect the ballots and place them on a cardboard box while awaiting the restoration of the downed machine.
The same incident was reported in Cardones Elementary School in Barangay South Signal.
In the Bicol region, at least 29 PCOS machines were found defective or had malfunctioned.
Of this number, 9 were from Albay, 7 in Camarines Sur, 6 in Sorsogon, 4 in Camarines Norte and 3 in Masbate.
Zenaida Balmacio, chair of the board of canvasser in Hindi Elementary School, told reporters that the PCOS machine delivered to her precinct was not functioning.
Also in Albay province, the town with the highest incidents of vote-buying is Malinao while the hottest spot was Tabaco City.
In Bataan province, 11 PCOS machines malfunctioned in different clustered precincts, causing long lines of voters who came as early as 7 a.m. to cast their votes.
Delay in voting due to defective PCOS machines were reported in Balanga City and in the towns of Pilar, Orion, Mariveles, Samal, Abucay and Dinalupihan.
“We fall in line as early as 7: a.m. and it is already 1 p.m. and yet we are still far from where we will cast our votes,” one voter said.
Lawyer Gilbert Almario, provincial elections supervisor, said he has informed the National Support System of the defect of the machines mostly in back-up memory card.
“Despite the delay, we are still hopeful that voting will be finished as scheduled at 7 p.m.,” Almario said.
PCOS technician Fernan Lazada said the PCOS machine at the Camacho Elementary School in Balanga City rejected the ballots.
In Nueva Vizcaya, many precincts had to go manual because of PCOS glitches. In some instances, even the “reserve” machines turned out to be defective too.
Technicians were called in for repair work but none appeared.
“I came to my precinct as early as 7 a.m. It is past 1 p.m. and yet the Comelec has not decided on whether we go manual,” Pastor Alex Repalda of a Born Again Christian based in Bambang town, said.
Many of the voters said they have stayed and waited for six hours for the Comelec to decide whether or not to go manual.
In Kawit, Cavite, a PCOS machine malfunctioned in a polling precinct at the Binakayan Elementary School. Reports said the machine malfunctioned from 10 a.m. and started working again by noontime.
Officials have to temporarily put the ballot boxes into a safe container before manually feeding it into the machine when it was fixed.
Also, some of the precincts were only able to accommodate eight voters per batch because of the problem with the PCOS machine.
At the same time, reports of vote-buying were also rampant in the polling precincts where several voters, who refused to be identified, told the Times that they were paid P300 each to vote for a particular mayoralty candidate in Kawit, Cavite.
The voters who received the P300 had to provide their voting serial number to the person handing out the money.
The candidates in the town are incumbent Mayor Reynaldo “Tik” Aguinaldo, a scion of General Emilio Aguinaldo, under the Liberal Party and Vice Mayor Gilbert Gandia under the Lakas Party. The vice mayoralty candidates are Paul Plaridel Abaya Jr. and Medel Caimol, respectively.
In Baguio City, elections were suspended in four precincts in Barangay Luahati.
According to Lawyer Nick Mendros, regional director of the Comelec-Cordillera, they “had to postpone the conduct of election in cluster precinct of Barangay Lualhati due to the switching of ballots.”
Mendros said that the ballot boxes arrived on Sunday night but they were not aware that it was intended for Compostella Valley.
With reports from Shiela Mañalac, Kristyn Nika Lazo, Rhaydz Barcia, Leander C. Domingo, Thom Picana and Ernie B. Esconde