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Comelec mulls resetting polls

28 March 2016

The Consulate takes delivery  of the poll paraphernalia..
As a consequence of the Supreme Court’s 14-0 vote for the issuance of voter-receipts, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering the postponement of the May 9 elections.
The probability however looks dim because it requires legislation and Congress is on recess for the campaign period.
Malacanang, Senate president Franklin Drilon and several candidates were quick to oppose the idea of deferring the elections, citing the constitutional provision that sets the national elections on the second Monday of May every six years.
The SC vote on March 8 granted the petitions of senatorial candidates Richard Gordon and Butch Belgica for the Comelec to issue printed vote receipts to individual voters on Election Day in fulfilment of the provision of the election automation law for a voter-verified paper audit trail.
Comelec Chair Andres Bautista said the SC ruling adversely affected the timeline of the election preparations. “This decision will materially affect our timeline. This (Thursday) morning, that (postponement of elections) is one of the options we are looking into and we want to know if we already need to move for the postponement of the elections,” he told reporters after an emergency meeting with the Project Management Office (PMO) and the Comelec’s service provider Smartmatic International.
Bautista said the Comelec will hold a special en banc meeting for the members to decide on specific matters, such as an evaluation of the present election timetable.
The Comelec said it will file a motion for reconsideration to reverse the SC vote as soon as possible, and request that it be allowed to hold a vote counting machine demonstration before the high tribunal for them to understand the voting process.
“What we actually want is for a chance for us to demonstrate our machines to the SC so that the justices can see for themselves how it operates, its features, and the reasons why we believe that it will be complicated or on how the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages of printing voter receipts,” Bautista said.
To enforce the high court order, the Comelec would have to redo the following: reconfigure more than 92,500 SD memory cards; bid out additional thermal paper stock; bid out the procurement of more than 92,500 receipt receptacles; retrain more than 277,000 election inspectors.
Election watchdog groups like the Kontra Daya and the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and some candidates, on the other hand, welcomed the SC decision.
 “It’s difficult but doable. Voters will have to be obedient. The board of election inspectors and the PPCRV pollwatchers should be vigilant,” said PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa.
The voting receipts are mandated by law and the Comelec ignored a non-extendible deadline to argue its case, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.
“When we say that a deadline is non-extendible, it is to be taken seriously… I would like to caution people that when a matter is under litigation before a court, the procedure is to make such communications with the court,” Sereno said when interviewed after a speaking engagement at the Manila Hotel on Thursday.
The high court ruling specifically directed the poll body to enable the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote counting machines (VCM).
In its ruling, the SC said Republic Act 8436 (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.
“So until there is something that is exceptional, we have to apply it as a mandatory requirement,” the Chief Justice explained.
The Comelec deactivated the VVPAT for fear that it might be used for vote-buying activities, among other reasons.
But the high court said the poll body could not simply disregard requirements of the law just “to assuage its fears regarding the VVPAT.”

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