FORMER Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez on Friday called on Congress and the judiciary to adopt measures that will give priority to resolving election protests.
In his speech delivered by Philippine Constitution Association Deputy Secretary General Romulo Lumauig, Romualdez said despite several election protests before the Commission on Elections or the Supreme Court, “none has been resolved.”
“There have been electoral protests but not a single election protest has been resolved,” said Romualdez who is also PhilConsa president.
“The Congress and the Judiciary must adopt measures to prioritize deciding election contests.”
Romualdez said those measures would protect the credibility of automated elections and help prevent electing “pseudo officials” in office.
He said the 2016 national automated elections spawned serious and credible doubts in the country’s electorate and deprived the supposed elected candidates to work and serve due to the slow resolution of election protests.
In a forum, former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong said PhilConsa was set to propose “a complete overhaul” of the Automated Election System law.
Chong, who is also a spokesman of the Reform Philippines Coalition, said Philconsa vice president for the National Capital Region Rodolfo Reyes, former Comelec commissioner Guz Lagman, Namfrel election observer and Philippine National IT standards Foundation president Maria Corazon Akol, and other IT experts had started crafting the reform bill since March 2017.
“This is not an amendment of the current AES law. It’s a complete overhaul or revision of most provisions,” Chong said in Philconsa’s monthly meeting at the Manila Golf and Country Club.
The proposed reform bill would focus on the revision of most of the provisions of Republic Act 9369, the act of amending Republic Act 8436 that authorized the Comelec to use the AES.
Chong said it would also provide stricter provisions on compliance with the law by Comelec officials.
He said the bill would also include longer imprisonment penalties and higher fines for violations of the law and shift the burden of proof to the violators in cases of violations of the law.
“In other words, we give the proposed law more power against violators because the current law is really inutile,” Chong said.
Akol said the group particularly wanted to change the current AES to a hybrid system in which the vote counting was manual while the transmission was automated.
Since 2010, Lagman has been pushing for a Hybrid System or what was called Precinct Automated Tallying System or PATAS of elections, where the voting is done manually by writing either the name or assigned number of the chosen candidate.
Once they fill up the ballots, the voters will then drop the ballot into the ballot box. Once the voting period ends, the volunteers will then manually tally the votes on blackboards.
The automation part only occurs when the Board of Election Inspectors transmit the total tallied votes to the main servers using laptops with broadband technology.
However, Lagman’s Hybrid System proposal was rejected by the Comelec after it was deemed “raw” and “costly” by several stakeholders.
The poll body also said it was only mandated to implement a “full automated” electoral process.
Akol said the election reform bill would be sponsored by Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque and Senator Richard Gordon.
She said they planned to finish the draft before President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 24.
Chong said there were 68 pending poll protests since the May 2016 national elections.
In the national level there are two: The protest filed by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo that is now pending before the Supreme Court acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, and the protest filed by losing senatorial candidate Francis Tolentino against Senator Leila de Lima that is pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
There are 16 poll protest filed before Congress, 10 provincial protests and 32 city protests to be resolved by the Comelec, and eight municipal protests to be decided by the Regional Trial Courts. These pending protests, according to Chong, have raised more doubts on the credibility of the last automated polls.
Meanwhile, Marcos, in an ambush interview said he was hoping that the PET would resolve his protest by late this year or early 2018.
“Kahit isang taon, mahabang panahon ang isang taon at kung titignan natin sa mga rules, lagi sinasabi na dapat mabilis ang patakbo ng mga protests,” Marcos said.
“The ultimate way of doing that is to open the balot boxes and count the votes... because counting the ballots is easy and quick. Two months is the longest period of counting.”
The preliminary conference on Marcos’ election protest against Robredo will start on July 11.
Marcos has requested the PET to assign at least three hearing officers to assist the tribunal in the resolution of his election protest against Robredo.
Marcos lost to Robredo by roughly 200,000 votes and has filed a protest assailing the election results in over 39,000 clustered precincts.
As ordered by the PET, Marcos paid P36 million, the first installment of a fee for recounting the contested ballots. He has to pay a second installment of P30 million on or before July 14.
Robredo, on the other hand, paid an initial P8 million and has until July 14 to complete the total P15.44 million payment.
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