Something is very wrong with the Philippines’ Commission on Elections. After failing to submit its comment on a petition by former Senator Richard J. Gordon to compel the Comelec to issue receipts to voters after casting their votes in the May 9 polls, it now blames the tribunal for not giving them a chance to give its side.
Instead of submitting their reply to the petition as ordered by the court, the Comelec lawyers asked for a five-day extension. But the tribunal wouldn’t have any of their delaying tactics. After all, the election is less than two months away. The poll commissioners had ruled unanimously, 7-0, against Gordon’s petition and it shouldn’t be too hard for them to give their side if they indeed discussed the petition lengthily before making that unanimous ruling.
And so the Supreme Court, also unanimously voting 14-0, reversed the Comelec ruling and ordered the poll body to activate the Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) component of the automated poll counting machine, which gives voting receipts to voters after they had cast their vote.
The Comelec didn’t stop in blaming the Supreme Court for not granting it a five-day extension to air its side. The poll body appealed for reconsideration, and now Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista warns everybody that if the May 9 election fails, it is the result of the SC’s decision ordering the poll body to issue voter receipts.
And now, he says, the Comelec may have to move the elections to June 9 and also warns that chaos might ensue if it is unable to declare any winners by June 30, when the terms of incumbent officials end. Bautista says the Comelec may also be forced to shift to manual voting if it cannot postpone the polls by one month.
Why Bautista would even suggest a return to manual voting when the law clearly mandates automation in elections, including the May 9 polls, is beyond me. Do the election commissioners even understand or respect the law?
The Comelec is basically resorting to blackmail by putting the pressure on the tribunal to reverse its decision.
I don’t think the Supreme Court would reverse its unanimous decision based on these virtual threats from the Comelec. After all, the law is very clear on the need to activate the VVPAT.
Twice, the Comelec did not implement this provision, during the first automated election in 2010 and again in the senatorial and local elections in 2013. In the 2010 presidential elections, it used the discredited Precinct Count Optical Scan machines minus the paper audit trail. In 2013, it used the same PCOS machines also without the VVPAT.
And in the coming May elections, Comelec had again decided against using the VVPAT because, Bautista said, it could be used as a tool for vote buying and would also extend the voting period by seven hours. But it has been almost nine years since Automated Election Law was passed in 2007. Surely, the Comelec could have come out by now with a reliable system to implement the provision on the voting receipts.
It would seem that there never was any effort by the Comelec to enforce the VVPAT provision, which, according to Gordon, allows every voter to confirm whether or not the machine cast the vote correctly based on the choice of the voter, thereby ensuring the integrity of the elections.
“Several safeguards were put in place to ensure the sanctity of the ballot. Among these safeguards was the VVPAT. A voter verified paper audit trail consists of physical paper records of voter ballots as voters have cast them on an electronic voting system. The voter-verified part refers to the fact that the voter is given the opportunity to verify that the choices indicated on the paper record correspond to the choices that the voter has made in casting the ballot,” Gordon stated in his petition.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the Comelec’s actions are a disgrace and only bolster public distrust in the election process. 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 coming elections,” he said.
Instead, the Comelec is now holding the nation hostage with its threats of a failed election.