Re-engineering the Comelec
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2019 - 12:00am

There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is one thing we say to Death: Not today.” This is what the character Syrio Forel told Arya Stark in Season 1 of the “Game of Thrones” when this Emmy-awarded TV series first aired in 2011. Forel is the character master sword-fighter and instructor hired by the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark to train his daughter Arya.

Eight years later, the Red Priestess Melisandre repeated Syrio’s wisdom to Arya about what she should say to the god of Death during the Battle of Ice and Fire in Season 8 of the just ended “Game of Thrones” HBO TV series. To which Arya responded: “Not today.”

Perhaps, James Jimenez, the official spokesman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), is still captivated – like millions of the global fans of the “Game of Thrones” or GOT for short that ended its series last Monday. The next day, Jimenez waxed the same line of the GOT in his press conference in the National Canvassing Board at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Riding on, obviously with this now famous GOT line, Jimenez announced the proclamation of winning senators and party-list groups was postponed anew yesterday.

“What do we say to the gods of proclamation? Not today,” the bearded Jimenez doing his own GOT line. 

Jimenez declared this without batting an eyelash. Or should I say, without proper attribution.

As of this writing, the seven-man poll body was still canvassing the results of the overseas absentee voting from Saudi Arabia and from the state of Washington, which represent some 200,000 voters, according to Jimenez. Out of 167 certificates of canvass (CoCs), they are the only two remaining CoC results that were not included yet in the final, official tally of the Comelec.

Actually, it was the second postponement already. The proclamation was initially scheduled last Sunday when re-electionist Senators got the Comelec alert to prepare for their proclamation. But then again, it was postponed to Tuesday when the CoCs from the province of Isabela, which has more than one million registered voters, got delayed by the burning of vote counting machines (VCM) in the town of Jonas. Comelec conducted special elections in Jonas last Monday.

Nonetheless, nine of 12 Senate seats contested in last May 13 mid-term elections have been firmly sealed by administration-backed candidates of President Rodrigo Duterte. The rest of the winning senatorial candidates in the “magic 12” are either “independent” or belong to other political parties.

To be fair to all concerned, the Comelec had earlier given itself a self-imposed timeline of within two weeks after the national and local elections, the poll body will proclaim at one time together the entire 12 winners in the Senate race.

But these postponements of the proclamation of the Senate winners only add to the already bad publicity that the Comelec continues to reap.

The just concluded automated election system (AES) we had last week in our country – actually it was the fourth one already – should have been a walk in the park for the Comelec. But as it turned out, the Comelec still grappled anew with almost the same problems they encountered in the past.

The latest problems were largely due to the 961 VCMs – the same ones used in the previous May 2016 presidential elections – conked out. These came from the same VCMs purchased from Smartmatic, the original AES technology-provider of the Comelec.

Worse, a total of 1,665 secured digital cards, or SD cards, purchased by the Comelec from another supplier delivered defective units.  

No worries, the Comelec reassured the public. They have been able to immediately replace all the rundown VCMs and faulty SD cards. Certainly, however, it took a lot of time to replace the malfunctioning VCMs and install another one. While the Comelec allotted longer voting period of 12 hours within which all precincts remained open, the delays may have turned off voters and left instead without waiting for their precincts to restart the VCMs. 

Despite all these problems and challenges, Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas cited all elections went through and completed, done and over with. None of the reported glitches and bugs caused any failure of elections in the affected precincts, the Comelec chief added.

Except of course in the town of Jonas where the Comelec decided to hold “special” elections since the results could not be recovered from one VCM precinct – with about 700 voters – that was totally burned. Thus, the election results from the whole province of Isabela could not be transmitted to the Comelec not until the results from that precinct are counted in.

This best demonstrated the weakest links of the entire AES system and procedure that the Comelec should cure this early for the bigger elections ahead that will include the presidential race in 2022. This was precisely the calls made by veteran election lawyers George Garcia and losing Otso Diretso senatorial bet Romulo “Romy” Macalintal during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last week at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate.

Garcia first made use in public of what is now known as “meet-me-room” during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. According to Garcia, the “meet-me-room” is actually just another term for “queue server” that the Comelec has been using since the first use of the AES in our country but has obviously been kept “secret” to the public. He asked the Comelec to be transparent about it and explain this highly technical matter if there is really nothing sinister about its operations.

On long-term basis, Garcia floated the idea of removing the quasi-judicial functions and powers of the Comelec. “How could Comelec be a disinterested party in election protests where they have to rule on alleged election frauds? Of course, we cannot expect the Comelec to declare themselves at fault,” he argued.  

But this proposed re-engineering of the Comelec will need amendments of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

1987 CONSTITUTION COMELEC ELECTIONS
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