Abas said 961 VCMs or 1.1 percent of those used in the 85,000 polling precincts nationwide malfunctioned. Aside from this, the body also found at least 1,665 defective SD cards that required configuration during election day itself.
Michael Varcas
Poll body mulls replacing VCMs
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - May 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines —  After numerous technical glitches during Monday’s polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now considering replacing the “aging” vote counting machines (VCMs) for the presidential race in 2022.

“Most likely, in 2022, it would require bigger preparations. So, we will study if we will still use the VCMs, or we will lease a new one, or have all the election supplies in bundle,” Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas disclosed yesterday.

At a press conference, Abas said 961 VCMs or 1.1 percent of those used in the 85,000 polling precincts nationwide malfunctioned. Aside from this, the body also found at least 1,665 defective SD cards that required configuration during election day itself.

He surmised the problem stemmed from incompatibility of marking pens, SD cards and paper because these all came from different suppliers.

“The problem with the ‘option to purchase’ is that the other component would be unbundled. So, the supplier of the SD cards and the supplier of the paper and the supplier of the marking pens are different and they did not match,” Abas said.

He explained that due to budgetary issues, they have to go for “option to purchase” to procure the supplies from different suppliers, unlike in the 2016 elections when VCM supplier Smartmatic provided all the other needed materials.

Although Smartmatic also participated in the bidding process for other election supplies, it failed to win.

“As much as we want our preparations to be perfect, problems still cropped up with the SD cards. Although it is only 1.9 percent we are talking about, voters were still involved… We apologize for this,” he said, referring to about 1,665 SD cards that malfunctioned.

During yesterday’s press conference at the PICC-The Forum where the Comelec canvasses the votes for senators and party-list organizations, he said that he already ordered the legal department to look into the possible liability of the SD card suppliers.

“We will ask the supplier to explain. But definitely we will review the penalty and if there were violations in the contract,” Abas declared.

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the SD cards were procured from S1, a sister company of Silicon Valley, which gave the lowest bid at only P29 million.

“We are applying the procurement rules (the lowest bid wins). What do we expect with a P29-million SD cards for that scenario?” Casquejo added.

He also said the cards appeared to be of “low quality” and that the Comelec would look into this and hold the supplier liable if proven true.

Casquejo also cited the age of the VCMs as among the factors that led to the glitches. He would recommend that the Comelec no longer use these in future elections.

Another possibility is that the VCMs and its SD cards were “shaken” while in transit to polling precincts. For Casquejo, this might have “loosened and unsynchronized” the system.

Despite the glitches, the Comelec maintained that the conduct of Monday’s midterm elections was a success.

“Since the number of SD cards and VCMs that malfunctioned was only one percent of the entire 85,000 clustered precincts, we can say that the elections is successful,” Casquejo said.

Abas noted that the Comelec’s contingency plan was actually for six percent. “So that rate (one percent) was actually low,” he said.

 Senate inquiry

But the Senate finds this unacceptable, considering the huge funding Congress gave for the conduct of automated polls this year; it also reflected badly on the capability of Comelec officials to perform their duties. 

Re-electionist Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who chairs the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, expressed disappointment over the reported glitches.

“Why are we still having all these glitches? Cannot Comelec anticipate them?” Pimentel told reporters.

He told TV5 that the Philippines is one of the few countries in the world that has a government agency solely dedicated to supervising the elections, and yet serious glitches occur despite a P10-billion budget and three previous experiences in holding automated polls.

“The people at the Comelec are supposed to live and breathe elections, but what happened? We have asked them several times on the VCMs and they assured us they’ll work,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel, who also chairs the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System with CIBAC party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna, said there is still time to conduct an inquiry when Congress resumes session on May 20.

The 17th Congress will adjourn on June 8.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian lamented that despite the P10-billion fund for the 2019 elections, “600 VCMs malfunctioned, 1000 SD cards malfunctioned, transparency server malfunctioned.”

“This glitch is so weird… We have the right to know what’s really going on? #unbelievable,” Villanueva said in a Twitter post.

 Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was only “95 percent” satisfied with the conduct of the elections. “It’s about time we stop using Smartmatic,” he added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also demanded an explanation from the Comelec, particularly the suspicious delay in the transmission of voting results from the poll body’s computer servers to the media and transparency servers of watchdog groups.

He said Filipinos have become suspicious of the results the Comelec is feeding to public.

“If you can’t release the results, we demand an immediate explanation as to the reasons behind this delay in the release. Nearly zero results. Zero explanation. (This is) completely and totally unacceptable. Surely you can do better than this,” he added.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also expressed alarm and disappointment over the problem, lamenting that this is already the Comelec’s fourth time to conduct an automated poll.

Malacañang is supportive of the move to investigate the glitches.

“Well, anything that will be for the betterment of this country, we always support. Maybe there are many of those complaining against Smartmatic. So, let’s have the probe then by the Senate or by the House of Representatives,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.

Education Undersecretary Alain del Pascua said many teachers appeared to have been “bothered” by the use of defective machines in the last polls.

He added that the department received at least 1,333 reports of problems relating to VCMs.

Del Pascua pointed out that while these side notes were not among those they asked from teachers to report on, the fact that these were reported indicated the teachers were bothered by it.

The Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) said Comelec should not dismiss as minimal the number of malfunctioning VCMs because this is 200 percent higher than those recorded in the 2016 elections.

It noted that with clustered precincts having up to 1,000 voters, the problem could have affected some 600,000 voters.

“It is disappointing that Comelec would dismiss this as ‘small’ amount. This is the fourth iteration of automated elections in the Philippines and we are still stuck with old problems,” it added.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) also claimed that, in many cases reported to them, voters just left the polling places because of dismay after queuing for hours and not being able to vote. 

“The matter also affects the teachers, because voters would normally blame them for every technical glitch that may happen,” it added.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) chairperson Jocelyn Martinez said teachers bore the consequences of the failure and defects of the machines.

“Not only did they have to be resourceful in troubleshooting the machines and in exhausting all possible means to ensure that the voting process continues immediately, but they also had to endure voters’ ire and disappointment in the resulting chaos and long lines in polling precincts,” she added. – With Shiela Crisostomo, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Janvic Mateo

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with