A word war has flared up between Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Juan Andres Bautista and former Senator Richard Gordon over the decision of the poll body not to implement the safeguards required by the poll automation law.
By refusing to implement the law, Gordon said, the Comelec is acting like Joseph Stalin, who headed the Soviet Union and the country’s Communist Party Central Committee from1920 to 1953.
“The Comelec appears to be working with Stalin in mind, particularly his words, ‘It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything,’” Gordon said.
He added that the people want to be sure that their votes are counted correctly and the VVPAT (voters verification paper audit trail) will ensure this but the Comelec deactivated the said feature.
But Bautista said Gordon was out of touch with reality because Stalin ruled long before the computer was invented.
“Hindi pa automated ang election nung time ni Stalin (Election was not yet automated during Stalin’s time.),” Bautista told The Times.
The VVPAT is among the minimum security requirements mandated by Republic Act (RA) 9369 or the Automated Election Law, and also part of the contract when Comelec awarded the contract to the technology provider for the supply of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) counting machines that were used during the 2010 ad 2013 polls.
The VVPAT system 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. It serves as a deterrent against possible election fraud and would provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
The other features of the vote counting machine (VCM) include the digital signature, ballot verification or ultra violet detector and the source code review.
But the Comelec en banc disapproved the use of the VVPAT system.
It said that the use of VVPAT will delay the election process and open the floodgate to vote-buying.
Instead, the Comelec opted to activate the VCM’s onscreen verification functionality to compensate for its decision disallowing the issuance of voting receipts.
The onscreen verification system allows a voter to check the correction of his or her vote for 15 seconds and thereafter the VC will automatically cast the ballot if no correction is made.
Gordon pointed out that the Comelec had already defied the law in the past two automated elections, even hoodwinking the Supreme Court in the Roque vs Comelec case into believing that the actual ballot will suffice as the paper audit trail required by the poll automation law.
“You [Comelec] are not Congress. Congress put it there because we wanted to protect the votes of the public. Both laws have it. Why are you not following the law? You are not protecting the votes. Please protect the votes,” he said.
Gordon also pointed out that enabling the VCM’s screen verification feature does not sufficiently meet the requirements of the law which calls for a combination of screen, paper audit trail.
Bautista said they were not closing the door on the use of the VVPAT but Congress would first have to amend the election law.
He noted that a longer election time would allow the Comelec to print out the voter receipts.
“Why can’t we have elections for several days?” Bautista said.
But Gordon refuted Bautista’s claim that longer voting days would allow the Comelec to use the VVPAT in future polls.
“That’s not true. The machines already have the VVPAT feature, it would only extend the voting hours by a few hours. Kung gusto maraming paraan, kung ayaw maraming dahilan,” [You can either find a way or you can make a lot of excuses] he stressed.