Comelec, Palace: No cheating
Sheila Crisostomo, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Administration and poll officials yesterday assuaged public fears of cheating in the May elections, saying safeguards against fraud are in place and electoral reforms continue.

The assurance came in response to a Pulse Asia survey showing four in 10 Filipinos expressing concern over possible cheating in the general elections on May 9.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. admitted “doubts and fears” about the credibility of the elections should be promptly addressed as the country’s polls have been automated since 2010.

He said the elections must also be orderly and peaceful aside from being clean.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista said the poll body is working hard to ensure the sanctity of the ballot as well as the credibility of the outcome of the elections.

“We all know that Comelec, traditionally, has had a not so good image. When I was appointed, it was one of my priorities. I want to improve the image of Comelec,” he said in a radio interview.

But Bautista emphasized, “This is a work in progress and change does not happen overnight.”

“Hopefully, the public will see that we are working for reforms here at the Comelec,” Bautista said.

This was the reason, he said, that the Comelec was doing a roadshow of the vote counting machines (VCMs) – to “show our people and allow them to practice and tinker with the machines.”

Understanding VCM

He stressed it is important for the people to understand how the VCM works.

“I won’t say that cheating is impossible because there is no system that cannot be hacked. But I can say that since 2010, there is no evidence that there has been cheating using the PCOS machines,” he maintained.

PCOS is short for precinct count optical scan machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections and basically works the same way as VCM. The Comelec has opted to use the term VCM for the May 9 polls to distinguish it from the PCOS.

Coloma said the people were apparently still expecting improvements in the automated election system. Automating the elections was meant to prevent manipulation through faster counting of votes.

In the Pulse Asia survey, 65 percent of respondents believe vote buying would be the most prevalent form of cheating during the election period, followed by tampering of PCOS at 37 percent, changing of actual vote count (32 percent) and flying voters (31 percent).

Other forms of cheating cited by the respondents were hoarding of votes and the replacement of ballots inserted in the PCOS machines, at 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Eighteen percent cited harassment of voters and election officers while 16 percent cited stealing of PCOS machines.

Fewer than one percent cited power outage as a possible form of cheating in the May 9 polls.

Coloma said voters’ education must also be strengthened to make them fully aware of the automated polls and ultimately erase their doubts on the system’s integrity.

He also discussed the Comelec’s explanation regarding its decision not to print voting receipts. The Comelec earlier said printed receipts might be used for vote buying and that the printing process would also eat up time at polling booths.

Reelectionist senatorial candidate Richard Gordon has asked the Supreme Court to order the Comelec to allow the printing of voting receipts or the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).

“As an independent constitutional body, the (Comelec) is tasked with ensuring the integrity and credibility of elections. Now, it is up to the Supreme Court to act as final arbiter in disputes of this nature,” Coloma said.

Gordon was one of the main sponsors of Republic Act No. 9369 or the automated election system law and co-chairman of the congressional oversight committee on poll automation.

He said two automated elections have been held since RA 9369 was passed and yet Comelec continues to ignore the law’s requiring the activation of VVPAT and other security feature.

Saddening, with basis

In San Miguel, Bulacan, Liberal Party presidential candidate Manuel Roxas II called the Pulse Asia survey “saddening” and vowed not to resort to cheating as he is “not a cheater, a thief nor a liar.” 

He said he himself had been a victim of cheating.

“I was the one who was cheated in the past elections,” he said, referring to his loss in the 2010 vice presidential race to Vice President Jejomar Binay.

He said his track record in his over 20 years in government was unblemished “and the people know that.”

In Baguio City, vice presidential candidate Sen. Francis Escudero said there is basis for the public to expect electoral fraud on May 9.

Speaking at a press conference, Escudero cited statements from presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda regarding a classmate of Senate President Franklin Drilon and a nominee of Roxas now among the officials of the Comelec.

“Elections must not only be clean and honest, it must also be credible. What is saddening is that they let that opportunity pass them by,” Escudero said, referring to Comelec officials.

He is running in tandem with Sen. Grace Poe who is contesting before the Supreme Court her disqualification by the Comelec on questions regarding her citizenship and residency status.

Escudero said President Aquino’s campaigning all out for Roxas may be giving wrong signals to the public.

“What I am saying is that it is likely that the impression of the 30 something percent is coming from the fact that the administration and he himself is endorsing (Roxas),” he said.

Poe, for her part, said her own experience with the Comelec does not make her very confident about the impartiality of the poll body.

The opposition United Nationalist Alliance, which has Binay as standard-bearer, has also expressed concerns over the strong public perception of cheating.

“UNA has received raw reports that some quarters associated with the administration party will cause the printing of extra ballots other than what is required by the Comelec,” Rico Quicho, campaign spokesman for Binay, said.

“This is a possible form of cheating that also needs to be addressed immediately in order not to cast any more doubts in the results of the upcoming elections,” he said.

But for another presidential candidate, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, he has no reason yet to fear the likelihood of cheating on May 9.

“There’s no basis of cheating, in fairness to the Comelec, but we would like to add security measures and I leave it to the experts. There will be people who will do it for us. Those IT (information technology) experts,” he said during a sortie in San Fernando, La Union.  – Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Helen Flores, Artemio Dumlao, Jun Elias

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