THE Commission on Elections warned Sunday that elections may be moved to June 9 if vote counting machines issue printed receipts as required by the Supreme Court, and said chaos might ensue if it is unable to declare any winners by June 30, when the terms of incumbent officials end.
“With the new configuration for the voting machine because of the vote receipts, we need at least a month to prepare,” said Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, who said his agency was in “crisis mode” as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Bautista said he has yet to seek congressional approval to move the election date from May 9 to June 9.
He added that the Comelec’s technology provider, Smartmatic, has informed them that voting could take as long as 20 hours to finish with the activation of printed receipts.
“We are in limbo as to what direction to take. We are in an emergency crisis mode,” he said.
Under the old manual system of voting, it was the counting of votes that took a long time to complete, but under an automated system, it would be the voting itself that could take up to 20 hours, Bautista told dzBB.
He said the Comelec could meet the May 9 date for elections, but could not guarantee they would be credible and orderly, given the need to activate the printing of receipts.
“We are looking for a best case in a worst-case scenario. I am opposed to reverting to manual voting but we have to put it as one of our options… once chaos will erupt due to this printing of vote receipts,” Bautista said,
But lawmakers led by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Philippine Constitution Association president and senatorial bet Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez rejected the suggestion that the country return to a manual system.
“The mandate of the Comelec is to implement automated elections and not to return to the manual system. We should not be also talking about a no-election scenario at this stage.... No elections and changing the rules of the game at this stage are unacceptable,” Romualdez said.
The Comelec found an ally, however, in Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, chairman of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, who described as “a reckless mistake and crazy” the Supreme Court’s decision to deny a three-day extension being sought by the Comelec to conduct a demonstration of the voting process for the justices.
Bautista said that unless otherwise provided by law, the Constitution says regular elections for president and vice president must be held on the second Monday of May.
“We need legislation from Congress for any postponement. We were told we would need at least a month of postponement,” he said.
“June 9 is cutting it close to June 30 when all incumbents step down. We have canvassing to do for president, vice president and senators and we need to proclaim a new president and vice president before June 30,” Bautista said.
“Our biggest challenge is the time. We are running out of time. The Supreme Court decision brought everything to a stop,” he said, noting that machine testing has been put on hold to accommodate the new configuration.
But Castro said a postponement was out of the question, noting that with the election campaign in full swing, he did not expect senators and congressmen to attend special sessions to tackle a postponement.
He also cited the danger of extending voting hours.
“We know elections take up to evening to finish. And when it becomes dark, it becomes dangerous to voters and members of the Board of Election Inspectors,” he said.
Castro urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and accept it has made a wrong decision and correct it by overturning itself.
On Monday, Bautista said, experts from the Department of Science and Technology will explore the options open to the Comelec to prevent chaos.
Members of all political parties would be briefed afterward, he said.
The election watchdog Kontra Daya on Sunday urged the public to assemble in front of the main office of the Comelec in Intramuros, Manila on Tuesday to protest its defiance of the Supreme Court order.
Kontra Daya convenor Rick Bahague denounced the Comelec for floating different scenarios as a result of the Supreme Court order.
“Kontra Daya calls on the people to gather in front of the Comelec on Tuesday to protest the poll body’s refusal to activate the voter receipt feature of the vote counting machines despite a Supreme Court order,” Bahague said, in a statement.
He also condemned a Smartmatic statement last week that warned of a failure of election.
“Kontra Daya vigorously protests the threats of a failure of election by a foreign company, like Smartmatic. It has no right to tell Filipinos how to conduct elections in our country,” Bahague added. With Rey E. Requejo
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