FEARING IT may not be able to hold credible elections in May, the Commission on Elections suggested it may have to revert to manual elections and forego the overseas absentee voters automated elections in April.
These are among the options that the Comelec is considering after the Supreme Court required the poll body to issue vote receipts in the May 9 elections, according to a resolution the Comelec approved after the high court handed down its ruling.
“But in my opinion, we still have to consult [the public] with that. It’s not yet time to talk about manual elections because there is still time,” Bautista said, although the matter was already included in the resolution it prepared after the issuance of the SC decision.
Bautista said the resolution details 15 issues that need to be addressed within the next 60 days to ensure that the elections could push through on May 9 as required by law. It also includes the possibility of reverting to manual elections or postponing Election Day altogether.
“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 ever we are forced to print voter receipts. We don’t know any more if we can still have credible elections by May 9,” Bautista lamented.
“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.
Former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, who was involved in the first automated election, slammed the idea of reverting to manual elections or postponing Election Day.
“The date set is fixed and only the passage of a law by both Houses of Congress can change the date of the elections,” Larrazabal said, noting that the both the Senate and the Congress have already spoken that they will not agree to the passage of a law to postpone the elections.
Larrazabal said the options being suggested by Bautista should not even be entertained because the Comelec was able to hold automated elections in 2010 with very little time.
“So people should forget about even thinking about that option. Section 5 and 6 of the Omnibus Election Code provide circumstances for the postponement of elections and instances where there is a failure of elections,” he said.
He urged the Comelec to just focus on implementing the order of the SC by activating the vote receipt features and the Comelec can accomplish the task if they will start as soon as possible.
“The reality is that the Supreme Court rendered a decision on the matter, and unless it reverses itself completely, there is no option other than to implement it’s decision, whether we like it or not,” Larrazabal said.
He said the Comelec should have explained the technical differences between a Direct Recording Electronic automated voting system and a paper-based automated voting system, like the Optical Mark Reader, but the poll body did not.
He said the VVPAT was meant for a Direct Recording Electronic automated voting system and not for a paper-based OMR.
Lawmakers also denounced the Comelec for trying to blackmail the public with the threat of a failed election just because the SC ordered the poll body to comply with automated election law that they should have observed in the first place.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said it was improper for the Comelec to make any pronouncement about the postponement of the May elections pending because they have not even exhausted all the remedies available.
“[The Comelec] should look for solutions and file a pleading, if necessary, instead of ventilating publicly,” Belmonte told The Standard.
While he acknowledge efforts of the Comelec to ensure credible elections on May 9, Belmonte said the Comelec is now only sowing panic and chaos with its threat of a failure of elections.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate also expressed dismay at the Comelec’s pronouncement that the general elections might not push through because of the SC decision.
“The Comelec actuation is an added disgrace to the institution and only bolsters further distrust in an already clouded automated election process.
“The issue of voter’s receipt has not only been raised now. It has been an issue since 2010,” said Zarate, a member of the opposition Makabayan Bloc.
Zarate chided the Comelec for blackmailing the SC and the Filipino people if it fails to win its appeal against the issuance of voters’ receipt.
“If only Comelec did not choose to be blind, deaf and numb to the demands and proposals for a more transparent process, it could have inspired more confidence in the upcoming elections. It is lamentable that it is resorting to a blackmail or hostage situation if only to cover up its failings,” Zarate said.
Zarate also said the Comelec and the Smartmatic should be held liable for any glitch or delay in May 9 scheduled polls.
‘‘Both Smartmatic and the Comelec are to blame for any glitch, delay or even an election failure. Since 2010, Comelec and Smartmatic have deliberately violated our election laws that expressly require Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail,” Zarate said.
He said high court’s decision is a slap on the Comelec’s defiant stand since 2010.
“This voter receipt is not a new issue,” Zarate maintained. “Comelec and Smartmatic should have been prepared for it. They could not just pull the ‘no-el [no election]’ bogey to scare the electorate and get away with not fulfilling its duty,” he said.
For his part, House deputy majority leader and Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas said the poll body has no option but to comply with the SC decision and prepare contingency plans which it should have done a long time ago.
“Let the SC exercise its mandate. Let the Comelec do its job. At the end of the day, the law should be followed and we should do all means necessary to implement what the law says,” Vargas said.
The Comelec, in a motion for reconsideration filed through Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, 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.
But Bautista said they are already preparing for contingencies and necessary preparations for the use of voting receipts.
But that includes building new configurations for the vote count machines, another mock elections to test them as well as public biddings for the purchase of necessary supplies and services and massive voter education on the new procedure.