Comelec eyes buying 100,000 PCOS machines

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering to buy 100,000 new vote-counting machines for the 2016 presidential elections, newly appointed Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said on Tuesday, May 5.  

"We need to pursue automated elections," Bautista said in a news conference during his first full day as the Philippines' elections chief. (READ: Open up, Comelec chair once told 'gods of Faura')

The Comelec will need P14.5 billion ($324.97 million) to purchase the new 100,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, he added. "We have the budget." 

Bautista, who took his oath as Comelec chairman on Monday, May 4, said buying PCOS machines is one of two options the Comelec is considering.

The other option is to "upgrade the existing" 81,000 PCOS machines, and to supplement these with an additional 20,000 PCOS machines. 

Bautista stressed that both tracks "require public bidding."

The Comelec is weighing these options after a Supreme Court (SC) ruling thrust the poll body in an unprecedented crisis. 

On April 21, the SC nullified a contract for the repair of PCOS machines because it didn't undergo public bidding.  

The nullified contract might render more than 81,000 PCOS machines useless. This is because the Comelec vowed not to use PCOS machines that haven't been repaired. 

The Comelec, in 2012, bought these PCOS machines from technology provider Smartmatic for P1.8 billion ($40.36 million). 

Open to semi-automated process

Comelec critics, led by former poll commissioner Augusto Lagman, have also proposed an alternative to a fully automated elections.

Lagman's group pushes for a semi-automated process that involves a "laptop count."

In Lagman's proposed Transparent and Credible Election System, votes will be counted manually on a blackboard – the system the Philippines employed for decades until 2010. At the same time, votes will be encoded in a laptop in the voting precinct. The laptop will be connected to a projector, to allow the public to double-check the votes.

The automation would come in during canvassing in towns and cities.

Lagman said cheating, anyway, "happens in canvassing, not in precincts."

Bautista said the Comelec didn't discuss this in its meeting on Tuesday, but he is "still interested to hear" Lagman's proposal. 

The law dean of the Far Eastern University for 16 years, Bautista pointed out, on the one hand, that there "might be logistical issues" and teachers prefer a fully automated process. On the other hand, he said, it is also "important for the people to see how voters voted" – the tallying, that is. 

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez earlier said the Comelec has ruled out manual elections for 2016, which will elect the successor of President Benigno Aquino III. – 

*$1 = P44.62