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150 machines bog down; voters complain of long wait

Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Despite reports of technical glitches, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared yesterday’s elections as generally smooth, with the winning national candidates likely to be proclaimed in a week’s time.

“Of course there were problems encountered, but overall the election was smooth and peaceful compared to the past two elections,” Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said.

At a press conference, Bautista said a total of 150 vote counting machines malfunctioned yesterday, but he maintained that the figure was much lower than the number of  VCMs that bogged down in previous elections.

He noted that in the 2010 elections, a total of 205 machines malfunctioned and 171 in the 2013 polls.

“As you can see, the replacement rate of VCM in this election is lower than in the two previous automated elections,” Bautista said, adding the Comelec recorded fewer number of calls complaining about the VCMs this election.

Due to glitches at various polling precincts, the Comelec opted to extend voting by an hour, up to 6 p.m.

The poll chief said that the Comelec has so far not received reports of a failure of elections.

But Bautista admitted that the Comelec received calls from 2,500 polling precincts about problems concerning the VCMs, but these were immediately addressed.

The most common complaints, Bautista said, were machines not accepting the ballots, the machines not printing receipts or running out of paper for receipts.

“Although we have received reports of violence like in Marawi and Cavite, the elections there still continued,” Bautista pointed out.

Bautista said the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) informed the Comelec that the number of cases of election-related violence were lower compared to past elections.     

There were also reports of misdelivery of ballots in Cebu, but Bautista said the problem was corrected in time.

“We are trying to outperform what the Comelec has done in previous elections,” Bautista said.

Proclamation of winners

According to Bautista, the Comelec is also trying to match the time in which the winning national candidates were proclaimed in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

“One week is a good target, but we will try to outdo it,” Bautista said, but stressed that the proclamation will depend on how fast the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) would be able to transmit the election returns (ERs) and certificates of canvass (COCs).

Two hours before the closing of voting centers, the seven-member commission convened as the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) in preparation for the transmission of election results.

Bautista said the NBOC would canvass a total of 165 COCs for both local and overseas votes. After the completion of the official canvassing, the 12 winning senatorial candidates and party-list organizations shall be proclaimed.

The commission sitting as NBOC shall canvass electronically transmitted COCs for senatorial candidates, party-list elections coming from voting centers here and abroad.  

However, the NBOC had to suspend the canvassing and adjourned session due to lack of electronic transmission of results an hour after they convened.

Bautista said the NBOC would resume official canvassing at 11 a.m. today.

“The Comelec has endeavored to bring the most transparent and credible elections in our history,” Bautista said, but added that they would not sacrifice accuracy for speed.

“We do not want a mistake of double counting, we have to ensure that the results to be counted are accurate,” Bautista pointed out.

Bautista said they expect transmission of election results to start last night, but these will not be considered official until the NBOC resumes counting this morning.

Some of the winning local candidates, however, were expected to be proclaimed last night.

Bautista said there are over 300 unopposed local candidates and they can already be proclaimed shortly after the closing of voting centers.

Malfunctioning VCMs

Malfunctioning VCMs and reports of alleged cheating reminiscent of past polls marred the automated elections yesterday.

An hour before the scheduled closing of all voting precincts, Bautista said the commission agreed to extend voting to 6 p.m.

Bautista said cases of malfunctioning VCMs other technical problems prompted the poll body to extend voting by an hour at precincts that opened after the official 6 a.m. schedule.

“We have agreed that in precincts that opened later than 9 a.m. voting hours shall be extended until 6 p.m.,” Bautista announced an hour prior to the supposed closing of all voting precincts nationwide.

But he said all voters near the premises of voting precincts would still be allowed to cast their ballot even after 6 p.m.

Over a hundred polling precincts failed to open as scheduled after the VCMs malfunctioned and had to be replaced.

Kontra Daya had urged the Comelec to extend the voting time in all polling precincts nationwide by two hours due to the glitches.

The poll watchdog reported that over 100 VCMs malfunctioned, which delayed voting and raised concern that many voters would be disenfranchised.

It recorded 119 cases of VCM error or failure as of 4 p.m. yesterday, based on the verified reports of their volunteers deployed at different polling precincts nationwide.

The Comelec’s Central Luzon regional election monitoring center reported more than 40 VCMs malfunctioned in Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Tarlac.

In Bataan, 25 counting machines failed while in La Union 14 VCMs malfunctioned.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said the VCMs malfunctioned “basically because of the long journey” that they had to go through when they were brought to their destination.

“The VCMs were transported through trucks, boats, jeepney, carriage, so of course, they are bound to (malfunction),” she added.

She gave assurance that the machines underwent Final Testing and Sealing before they were deployed to their destination.

“Stay calm. We tried to anticipate all of the problems. There are problems that could not be anticipated but they can still be resolved,” Guanzon said.

Asked about teen movie stars Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo who caused an uproar after their photographs with their ballots were circulated in social media, Guanzon said it seems the pictures were not taken by them.

Three hours to cast votes

A technical glitch in a VCM at a polling center in Barangay Valencia, Quezon City left around 700 voters waiting for more than three hours to cast their ballots.

Michael Valdez, a registered voter, lined up for about two hours but was still seated halfway through the queue for clustered precinct 1020 by 5:10 p.m.

Election supervisor Guilliver Van Zandt said that the VCM in the clustered precinct had been having problems accepting the voters’ ballots since the morning, resulting in the long line.

The ballots had to be fed at a different orientation three times before the machine accepted them, Van Zandt noted.

The VCM technician assigned to the precinct was reportedly advised to keep the elections going without a replacement as the machine was still working.

Despite the long line, Valdez waited to exercise his right to vote.

Valdez said this is the first time that he encountered this long a wait, as he had finished voting during the 2013 elections within ten minutes.      

Meanwhile, Chief Supt. Edgardo Tinio told The STAR that the overall situation in Quezon City during the election was assessed as generally peaceful.

Election watchdogs Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), Kontra Daya and Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) received reports of incidents of vote buying, “forced” voting and deliberate disenfranchisement of voters in various areas all over the country during the general elections.

PPCRV, the accredited citizens’ arm of the Comelec, received from its volunteers reports of vote buying in Agusan and Lanao provinces.

PPCRV chairperson and former ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta de Villa said their volunteers reported that voters in Agusan and Lanao were paid P1,000 each so they would not vote.

She said indelible ink was put on the fingers of these voters to make sure they would no longer go to their respective polling precincts and vote for their candidates of choice.

In Cotabato and Maguindanao, the PPCRV earlier reported that cheating was so massive that they decided to pull out their volunteers from the two provinces.

De Villa later clarified that they did not pull out their volunteers in Cotabato and Maguindanao.

She said there were only isolated cases in some precincts in Cotabato City and certain parts of Maguindanao after a PPCRV officer, Fr. Dave Procalla, received reports of massive cheating in favor of local candidates.

“I would like to clear those impressions that we are protesting against the Comelec by pulling out all our volunteers. We are not pulling out. This is an isolated case in Cotabato and Maguindanao for the safety of our volunteers,” said De Villa.

She said their volunteers in Metro Manila also reported several irregularities, including official ballots with shaded presidential bet distributed to voters in Parañaque City.

The PPCRV also received many reports of disenfranchisement of voters in Quezon City, Caloocan City, Camarines Sur and San Mateo in Rizal.

Most cases, De Villa bared, involved ink blotting of official ballots that were not counted by election officers.

Kontra Daya recorded incidents of vote-buying from reports of its volunteers.

The watchdog said a candidate for councilor in Quezon City was reportedly distributing P200 each to voters in Rajah Matanda Street in Project 4.

An incumbent and re-electionist mayor in Quezon province, on the other hand, was arrested along with his wife due to vote buying at around 10 a.m., the group said.

Kontra Daya convenor Giovanni Tapang expressed alarm over the incidents as it could disenfranchise voters who were not able to vote because of the problems.

Tapang blamed the Comelec and Smartmatic for the malfunctioning VCMs, rejected ballots, paper jams, overheating and machine shutdowns.

The VCM failures were reported amid other incidents such as widespread vote buying, harassment and disenfranchisement, said Tapang.

He also noted incidents of members of the BEIs who asked voters to just leave their ballots in precincts where replacement VCMs had not yet arrived.

Irregularities

Kontra Daya’s biggest criticism, apart from vote buying, was the reported incidents where election officers asked voters to leave their ballots while malfunctioning VCMs were being fixed.

”Due to VCM failures and delays in replacements, some BEIs are asking voters to simply leave their filled ballots and let BEIs insert them later. This defeats the purpose of having a receipt that you can use to verify your vote,” the group stressed in a statement.

LENTE, for its part, reported an incident in Maguindanao where voters were forced to vote for specific candidates.

Tin Borja, of the group’s national secretariat, said their volunteers found that voters in Benolen Elementary School in Datu Odin Sinsuat town were “forced” to vote for candidates of a particular party while some people looked over their shoulder as ballots were shaded. It was not clear, however, how many voters were involved in the incident and if they were also paid.

Borja said they also monitored poll fraud in Occidental Mindoro, particularly the confiscation of pre-shaded official ballots in Camilmil Elementary School in Calapan City.

The group cited reports of vote buying in Lipa City in Batangas where voters were given sacks of rice and up to P3,000 in cash for them not to vote anymore - just like in Agusan and Lanao.

It added that several violations of election laws were committed in other provinces like Cavite, particularly in Julian Felipe Elementary School where sample ballots and campaign posters were seen at precincts despite prohibition during the polls.  

But as to how massive was the fraud in this year’s polls, all three groups said they have yet to consolidate their data.  

Re-electionist municipal Mayor Celso Olivier Dator of Lucban, Quezon requested the Comelec to declare a failure of election in their town due to more than 4,000 registered voters unable to cast their votes yesterday.

Dator said he was saddened when he learned that thousands were not able to vote as of 11 a.m. after some problems in the polling precincts, including the VCMs that bogged down and missing names from the voter’s master list.

Dator added he couldn’t understand why the municipal Comelec office failed to explain the situation.

PPCRV communications director Ana de Villa-Singson said that there were also reports of vote buying in Camarines Sur, Lanao, Agusan and Marikina in favor of a particular presidential candidate.

Singson, however, declined to name the presidential candidate.

When asked if this information has to be verified, Singson explained that the reports were given by their regional coordinators, most of whom were from the religious.

The PPCRV also received reports of a new mode of vote buying in Agusan del Sur where a voter is given P1,000 in exchange for no longer voting.

Singson said the one who gave the money reportedly works for a candidate running for a national position.

In Lanao del Sur, there are voters who have been receiving P6,000 monthly to support a candidate.

“This is not just a one-time payment, they no longer have to look for a job,” Singson said.

Barangay tanods arrested a son of a candidate for councilor of Bagac, Bataan for alleged vote-buying on Sunday afternoon.

Insp. Jennifer Cruz, Bataan police information officer, identified the suspect as Jaybee de la Cruz, son of Armando de la Cruz who is running for councilor of Bagac.

The barangay tanods nabbed the young De la Cruz while distributing 55 envelopes containing P100 pesos each in Barangay Saysain.

The PPCRV said there were also reports of election-related violence.

In Cagayan de Oro, supporters of two mayoralty candidates have allegedly raised tension in the area when they stormed each other’s campaign headquarters.

In Maguindanao, one 1 mm mortar was reportedly fired in one barangay, but the sketchy report did not mention any casualty.

The Catholic church-based PPCRV also received reports of an “emerging trend” in some areas in Ilocos Sur and North Cotabato where some VCMs bogged down after being fed at least 50 ballots.

A computer technician later fixed the machine but after receiving new ballots the machine malfunctioned again.

In San Mateo, some VCMs rejected the ballots that were fed into the machines.

There have also reported disenfranchisement of voters in parts of Quezon City, Marikina, Caloocan, San Mateo in Rizal, Puerto Princesa in Palawan and other areas.

There were complaints of paper jam in the VCMs in Infanta, Quezon; Dumaguete City and Jaro, Iloilo.

In the Dioceses of Calbayog and San Carlos in Negros Occidental, there were instances when PPCRV volunteers were not allowed to enter the polling area because they were required to have a Comelec-issued sticker.

“This makes me mad… Comelec chairman’s office (said) there is no such thing (sticker for PPCRV volunteers). Let our poll watchers do our job,” Singson added.

A power failure also delayed voting in sitio Pulong, Barangay Mahamadiong in Taysan, Batangas. The voting resumed when power was restored.

In Hiniganan, Negros Occidental voters failed to vote because the wrong ballots were sent to some polling precincts.

The ballots they received were intended for Borongan, Samar.

This could mean that somewhere in Borongan there are also voters that failed to vote because they have the wrong ballots.

She said in some areas poll watchers have reported ink blotting in some of the ballots that registered an over voting in the voter’s receipt.

As early as 8:15 a.m., there were places in Mindanao that stopped the voting process because there were no more “forms” or ballots, according to Singson.

“Are we alarmed? Yes, because early in the day we see a lot of issues, especially disenfranchisement. Too many people were deprived of their right to vote. But let us be fair… I think more than a million voters did not register with the VCMs, for biometrics,” she said.

“If they did not register for biometrics, they will not find their names in the EDCVL (Election Day Computerized Voter’s List).”

However, there were also instances where the voter showed identification card (ID) with biometrics but was still not allowed to vote.

“There are many strange things happening… It’s time to be vigilant.”

Carlo Francis Palma, PPCRV Lingayen-Dagupan media desk officer, said some polling precincts proceeded with the voting even after the VCMs conked out in Barangay Bolingit, San Carlos City and San Fabian town.

Palma said it would have been better if the elections were suspended while they were waiting for the spare VCMs from the Comelec to avoid suspicion of vote manipulation.

He added that they also received reports that the voter’s receipts were dropped in an ordinary box, not in a Comelec-assigned box in San Carlos City. With Edu Punay, Evelyn Macairan, Jose Rodel Clapano, Janvic Mateo, Amie Shaw, Raffy Viray, Eva Visperas, Ric Sapnu, Ed Amoroso

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