Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Tuesday called for a congressional inquiry into reported vote counting machine glitches that caused delays during Monday’s midterm polls.
Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, questioned the Commission on Elections for lacking the foresight to anticipate the widespread malfunctioning of VCMs in different areas of the country.
“Glitches are enough to call for a congressional investigation. Why are we still having theses glitches? Can’t COMELEC anticipate them?” Pimentel told reporters in a text message.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it was time for the country to stop tapping Smartmatic for the elections.
Smartmatic International has been providing the VCMs used in the all four automated elections—2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019.
COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez said the number of VCMs that malfunctioned in Monday’s polls—estimated at about 600—was still within the “acceptable” range, given the use of 85,000 machines.
“What we see right now is 400 to 600 machines and instances it could go higher. I don’t know yet but so far that’s all that has been reported to me. That is a small figure out of 85,000 VCMs. So it seems to me it’s still within the range,” he said in a press briefing at the National Board of Canvassers headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
But the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections declared that violence, machine malfunctions and other irregularities could affect the integrity of the election results in specific areas.
NAMFREL volunteers reported incidents of violence in Datu Piang and Matanog in Maguindanao that made it impossible for people to vote.
In Sulu, violence was reported in Panglima Estino, Patikul, Talipao, and Panamao. Reports of altercations between voters were also received from Basilan and Lanao del Sur.
Volunteers in Davao Oriental and Davao Occidental also reported that voters just went home when they were unable to locate their precinct numbers, or could not find their names in the precincts where they have previously voted.
In Davao, Lanao del Sur, Cagayan de Oro, and Basilan, there were reports of failure of the Voter Registration Verification Machines in pilot areas.
NAMFREL also said the vote counting machine malfunctions in San Dionisio, Iloilo, and specific clustered precincts in various cities in Metro Manila resulted in manual voting.
In areas with defective VCMs, voters would no longer be around when their votes were finally cast, although they were given the option to wait, Namfrel said.
Malfunctions took several forms, the group said. VCMs would freeze, overheat or turn themselves on. Sometimes, there were paper jams or ballots would be rejected. All of these resulted in delays.
In Dinagat Islands and Surigao del Norte, volunteers reported that VCMs failed to produce voting receipts.
NAMFREL volunteers also reported lack of some election paraphernalia, as well as poor crowd management in many areas.
In Santolan Elementary School in Pasig City, political party watchers handled the transfer of filled-out ballots from the precincts to a room on another floor of the school building without the accompaniment of independent election observers.
Vote buying was also reported in Cagayan de Oro, Lanao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, and Zamboanga del Norte, and in Metro Manila.
NAMFREL also said their volunteers reported that in many areas, Emergency Accessible Polling Places for persons with disability, senior citizens, and pregnant women were not provided.
NAMFREL deployed about 25,000 volunteers across the country to observe the voting, counting and consolidation processes on Monday.
The volunteers used observation forms that reflect NAMFREL’S more than 35 years of experience in monitoring Philippine and international elections.
Another election watchdog, Kontra Daya, expressed alarm over the failure of the Commission on Elections transparency server to provide current results to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and media for some seven hours.
The Computer Professionals’ Union also expressed disappointment over the technical glitches that marred the elections, and said COMELEC and its technology service provider Smartmatic Inc. be held accountable.
Timely results from the transparency servers are vital in affirming the accuracy, credibility and cleanliness of the election, so problems in the transmission of votes was a major issue, the group said.
“The COMELEC should have done more rigorous quality assurance and preparation as these are critical,” the group added.
With Nat Mariano and PNA
Kontra Daya said assurances from the COMELEC showed a lack of commitment on the part of the poll body to fulfill its mandate to the people.
The COMELEC said it would conduct a review to see if problematic VCMs could still be used for the 2022 presidential elections.
In a press briefing, COMELEC chairman Sherif Abas said the COMELEC would have to evaluate if the same VCMs purchased in 2016 can still be used for the third straight elections which will be held in 2022.
The COMELEC purchased the VCMs for use in the 2016 polls from Smartmatic for P2.1 billion.
The same company supplied precinct count optical scan machines in 2010, which also suffered failures in the transmission of votes.
In 2013, transmission failures hit 23 percent of PCOS machines, theoretically disenfranchising 8.6 million voters.
Abas said some of the problems might be due to the use of different suppliers for the SD cards, ballot paper and marking pens.
Although Smartmatic submitted a bid for the SD cards, the COMELEC bought them from another supplier that turned in a lower bid, COMELEC Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said.
“You have low-quality SD cards due to lowest bid...so what would we expect?” Casquejo said.
Despite the problems, the COMELEC said the election was “generally successful.”
James Jimenez admitted that several glitches were experienced throughout election day and during the transmission of election results to the transparency server, but said the recent elections underscored the gains demonstrated by the automated election system.
With 94.94 percent of the election returns processed or a total of 45,588,177 out of 63,662,481 votes counted, the midterm elections are almost complete, he said.
Casquejo said that despite the glitches, only 1 percent of the 85,000 VCMs encountered problems.
He also said transmission was faster compared to 2016 and 2013.
Both Abas and Casquejo blamed the problems on low-quality SD cards and the age of the VCMs.
Abu said the COMELEC would investigate to see if any of its suppliers violated the terms of their contracts.
The COMELEC said some 1,665 SD cards were defective. With each card used to store 1,000 registered voters, that would mean 1.6-million voters were affected by the glitches.
The Palace congratulated the COMELEC for delivering timely results but said it would support a congressional probe into the technical problems that beset Monday’s elections.
Still, he said this year’s performance was “a big improvement” over previous elections. With Nat Mariano and PNAREAD: Many machines malfunctionREAD: Pre-poll glitches, vote buying bared
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