THE Commission on Elections asked the Supreme Court Friday to reconsider its order for it to issue receipts to voters, warning that this could lead to a failure of elections.
In a motion for reconsideration filed through Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, the Comelec pleaded for a reversal of its unanimous ruling last Tuesday mandating the activation of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail feature of the vote counting machines to be used for the polls.
The Comelec, which failed to answer the petition filed by senatorial candidate Richard Gordon before the Court-set deadline, urged the justices to consider “the far-reaching implications” of its ruling on the conduct of the elections, including a possible failure of elections.
“There is strong likelihood that the May 2016 elections will fail if the voting receipt feature is enabled by the Comelec at this very late stage of the project,” the poll body said.
The Comelec said the use of the VVPAT would result in additional time of at least two hours and 10 minutes for all voters to leave the counting machines, and longer lines “which may discourage voters from exercising their right of suffrage.”
It also warned that the voting period could be extended to over 20 hours since the issuance of receipts would require four more additional steps in the polling process.
“The hardware and software without a printer/cutter upgrade on the VCMs will not be able to cut the printed receipt automatically, thereby increasing the rate and likelihood of paper jams and printer failures dramatically, as when a voter tears the printed receipt and yanks the existing paper cutter,” the Comelec said.
The poll body said it would conduct a demonstration of the process before the justices, if necessary, for them to realize the repercussions of the ruling.
For these reasons, the Comelec asked Court to allow it to deactivate the VVPAT feature with the “presumption of regularity in its course of action and to afford it wide leeway in choosing the means to perform its constitutional and statutory duties under the law.”
The Comelec assured the justices that it shared their objectives of ensuring transparency in the elections and empowering voters in the exercise of their right to suffrage.
“Nonetheless, this objective should not result in burning the house down and risking a failure of election, a catastrophic result that is too high a price to pay for the marginal improvement sought by petitioners. Progress
requires a sense of proportion, balance and timing,” it said.
In the unanimous decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the Supreme Court said the Automated Election Law was clear when it said receipt-printing capabilities should be put in place as part of the minimum safeguards provided by law.
The Comelec deactivated the VVPAT for fear that it can be used for vote-buying activities, among other reasons.
However, the Court said the poll body could not simply breach requirements of the law just “to assuage its fears regarding the VVPAT.”
The tribunal also cited the Comelec’s failure to file a comment on the petition within the time required by the court.
In remarks to reporters Friday, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said they are unsure if the agency can conduct a credible electoral exercise with so many more preparations to do after the Supreme Court decision.
“We have several fears and reservations given the things we still have to do. With these, we cannot ensure that we can still deliver credible elections if we are forced to print voter receipts. We don’t know any more if we can still have credible elections by May 9,” Bautista said.
He said it pained them to hold an election for the sake of holding it, without ensuring its credibility.
“Our job is not only to ensure there will be an election. It is also our mandate to ensure that there will be credible elections. If that will not happen, then we have failed in our mandate,” he said.
He also said they were not keen on postponing the elections, since they are set for May 9 by law.
“We do not want to postpone the elections. I want that to be very clear. That is the primary mandate of the Comelec, which is to ensure that there will be elections in the second Monday of 2016,” he said.
On Wednesday, he said they were considering a postponement because the Court ruling had put their poll preparations in “complete disarray.”
“The issue here is time. We are really pressed for time. We have only 60 days left. As I said, we are open to enabling the voter receipt feature in the next elections, but not on this one, because what we need is sufficient time to prepare,” he said.
“We are not yet in a crisis mode but the Supreme Court has to make a decision as soon as possible,” Bautista said.
“It is like we are in limbo right now on what we really have to do. So we are hoping that we can be given directions as soon as possible on this important issue,” Bautista said.
An election watchdog group, however, said the Comelec and its supplier of vote counting machines should be blamed for any of the “far-reaching repercussions” that Bautista had warned about.
Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance said if the Comelec and its IT provider Smartmatic had complied with the law and installed the minimum safeguards starting in 2010, there would be no threat of an election failure.
“Now that they are being ordered to implement just one simple legal requirement they point their fingers at the Supreme Court [and are] pressing the panic button,” Tuazon said. With Sandy Araneta and John Paolo Bencito
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