Comelec to critics: It’s either PCOS or manual polls

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials asked critics yesterday to choose between automated or manual polls on May 13, following criticisms of the mock elections held last Saturday.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said there is no more time to order a new automated system as he assured the people that computer glitches would be addressed.

Brillantes said if critics could not accept the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, then the country would revert to manual elections.

He said that at this point, it is impossible for the Comelec to hold a bidding and procure another automated election system.

“If they want to replace PCOS, we should just go back to manual because we have no time to buy new (machines),” he said.

The Comelec had declared a success last Saturday’s mock elections in 20 voting centers in 10 areas nationwide despite some glitches and a small sampling of voters.

Some of the glitches were the rejection of ballots by the PCOS machines, delay in initialization, and the difficulty experienced by the board of election inspectors (BEIs) in inputting their pin codes.

Several poll watchdogs and information technology experts have challenged the Comelec to guarantee that the PCOS machines would not jeopardize the May 13 polls.

Brillantes gave assurance that the glitches would be addressed while voter education is being intensified to encourage voters to come out and vote.

He added that the Comelec did not expect the mock polls to be “perfect” because the aim was to have an idea of what might happen on election day.

“We do mock polls to really find possible faults in the system so that we can correct them before election. If our critics are looking for loopholes, we are also looking for them,” he emphasized.

He said that there will be enough spare PCOS machines on election day to replace those that malfunction. The Comelec had bought more than 81,000 for close to 78,000 precincts.

Bobby Tuazon, director for Policy Studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, said the Comelec pronouncement is deplorable since the group had been opposing the PCOS machines since the 2010 polls.

“Since 2010, we have been providing the Comelec with documents and cases of program errors. They had three years to prepare and assess and evaluate and plug the loopholes but it is unfortunate that they are beginning to realize the problems just now,” he said.

Asked about possible alternatives to PCOS, Tuazon claimed that the Comelec could use the “hybrid” technology that is used in the United States and Japan.

Tuazon added that with this system, voting would still be manual using the ballots printed by the Comelec for PCOS machines but the counting will be done manually by the BEIs while the transmission would be done electronically using ordinary computers.

Meanwhile, government officials have challenged the Comelec to conduct the polls with results that cannot be questioned even down to the local level.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino and other officials of the administration had met with Brillantes and the Chief Executive had expressed his desire to have credible elections.

“The President has already indicated that the election should be conducted with full integrity. And so we expect Comelec to ensure that the elections in 2013 will be devoid of irregularities,” Lacierda said.

Aquino is the first president to win in automated polls. But his running mate and now Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II filed a protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal questioning the victory of Vice President Jejomar Binay. There were other electoral protests filed despite the automation.

The poll watchdog Kontra Daya has warned that Saturday’s mock polls conducted by the Comelec showed the same glitches observed during the 2010 elections and proved that the Comelec was not prepared for another automated vote.

Lacierda said the Comelec had already spoken on the matter and it had committed to address the glitches.

“We expect them to do so. Certainly, we hope that by election time, these glitches will be resolved and there would be no glitches that would raise questions on the integrity of the elections,” Lacierda said. – With Aurea Calica

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