Palace urges Comelec: Fix glitches

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Glitches encountered during last Saturday’s mock elections should be addressed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ensure orderly and credible polls in May, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. noted that the mock polls have brought to light the possible problems the Comelec may encounter during the actual transmission of votes in May.

“It also showed Comelec the potential glitches that need to be addressed in terms of transmission and other technical problems that could hamper voting and the sending of results. All of these concerns need to be addressed to ensure the conduct of honest, orderly and credible elections this coming May,” Coloma told state-run radio station dzRB.

Coloma said the mock election was also beneficial for voters as it allowed them to experience the actual situation in polling precincts and learn more about the process of casting their ballots.

“The exercise underscored the need to create heightened awareness among voters on what they need to do to be able to perform their civic duty properly,” he said.

Coloma cited the need to further enhance the voters’ education program in preparation for the upcoming polls.

“This will also speed up the voting process on the day of the election,” he said.

Last Saturday’s mock polls simulated the voting process from preparation, voting, counting, consolidation, canvassing and transmission of votes from the polling centers to the canvassing centers to the national data center based at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

The accuracy of the vote counting machines was also assessed through a random manual audit.

The simulation was held after the poll body had fixed the glitches discovered last week by SLI Global Solutions, the Denver-based international certifier, on the source codes of the  consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) and the vote counting machines.

SLI had found that the CCS source code was not compatible with the election management system, which has important information like the name of candidates, ballot serial numbers and details about some polling precincts.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said voting during the mock polls was too slow, as most voters took their time in picking their candidates. Voters were also seen arriving in trickles during the first hour of voting, prompting Bautista to call on the public to come early to vote.

Poll officials, nevertheless, claimed incidents of ballot rejection were minimal.

No tampering of votes

The Comelec yesterday allayed fears of possible tampering of the May 9 elections with voters not getting a print out of their votes.

Bautista said there is no reason to worry because safeguards are in place even in the absence of printed record of votes.

“We have safeguards provided under the law so the public can audit and be assured of transparent and accountable elections,” Bautista disclosed in an interview over radio dzBB.

Aside from the safeguards, Bautista said the Comelec is also thinking of posting on their website the election results in each precinct for public auditing.

After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of having a printed receipt of every vote cast, Bautista said the commission decided against it.

Bautista said it would be disadvantageous to have a printed record of each vote cast because it would make the election process longer.

“The elections would take five to seven hours longer if there is a printed record. That would be okay if we conduct our elections for two to three days, but our election is only for a day,” Bautista explained.

“But we are also not sacrificing accuracy for speed,” Bautista said, adding that they decided against having the print out because it could be used in vote buying.

Thus, Bautista said, all the seven members of the commission decided not to turn on the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) features of the computer voting machine that produces print out of each vote cast.

Bautista said the Comelec decision is not against the law since the Supreme Court in its previous ruling declared that the ballot itself is actual printed record of the vote.

The Comelec chief further declared the recent mock elections in selected areas as successful despite the minor hitches they encountered.

The mock election was not perfect, but Bautista said it would enable the Comelec to improve the system long before the scheduled May 9 elections.

He said the Comelec intends to conduct an end-to-end mock election so they could identify the areas where satellite will be needed for the transmittal of results.

The Comelec, Bautista said, will also start printing today of the ballots to be used in the coming polls.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III expressed confidence yesterday that the Comelec would be able to conduct orderly, clean and credible elections despite some problems in its mock balloting last Saturday.

“The Comelec under the stewardship of Chairman Andres Bautista will be able to find feasible solutions to address the glitches in the software controlling the automated voting system,” he said.

“The Comelec still has nearly three months to fix the problems. It is not yet too late for the poll body to do something to address these issues to strengthen the public’s trust and re-affirm its commitment that a no-election scenario won’t happen,” he said.

Albano commended the Comelec for its honesty and transparency in admitting that it found glitches in the automated election system source codes.

He noted that even former chairman Sixto Brillantes lauded the poll body’s report on the minor problems it encountered in Saturday’s mock elections, saying that during his time, such glitches were not revealed so as not to unduly alarm the public.

“I believe in the integrity of Comelec under Chairman Bautista, that it will be able to conduct clean, credible and honest elections in May despite all the reported problems,” Albano said.

During Saturday’s mock balloting, some vote counting machines rejected the ballots, while others did not function properly. The machines in some precincts had difficulty transmitting the votes.

Albano said the Comelec should deputize the appropriate government agencies to ensure adequate supply of electricity on May 9 and during the counting and tabulation of votes by canvassing boards in the municipal, city, district and provincial levels.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed disappointment over the technical glitches in the mock polls conducted by the Comelec.

Marcos said the poll body should act vigorously to correct all technical glitches in the automated elections system and make sure they are solved at least a month before the May 9 elections.

“We are quite disappointed that the Comelec has not been able to streamline their operation and in every step of the way, it seems there are problems,” Marcos said.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri would focus on security preparations for the upcoming elections during his final months in the service, his spokesman said over the weekend.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Iriberri has been visiting field units to brief them about his experiences in securing polls.

Iriberri, a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1983, assumed as military chief on July 10, 2015. He will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on April 22, a few days before the May 9 polls.

There have been speculations that Iriberri’s stint as military chief would be extended because of the ban on appointing officials during the election period.

Padilla said it would be up to the President to decide whether Iriberri’s term would be extended. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, Perseus Echeminada

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