Jiggy Manicad to Comelec: Let poll watchers monitor backup VCMs

MANILA, Philippines – Three days before the May 13, elections, senatorial candidate Rodrigo "Jiggy" Manicad Jr filed an urgent motion before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow poll watchers to monitor backup or reserve vote-counting machines (VCM) in the conduct of the polls.

In a 3-page Urgent Ex-Parte Motion filed on Friday, May 10, Manicad urged the Comelec to allow his poll watchers as well as those of political parties "to witness an inspection of, testing and sealing of, and to monitor" the reserve VCMs "if they will be utilized for the elections, and to monitor the said machines until the final completion of the counting of votes."

A veteran journalist, Manicad also asked the Comelec to "make an inventory of all the reserve machines and disclose" their locations.

Senatorial bet @jiggymanicad files urgent motion for Comelec to allow poll watchers to monitor back-up vote-counting machines. @rapplerdotcom #PHVote pic.twitter.com/nkccsqxrdj — Michael Bueza (@mikebueza) May 10, 2019

"Kailangan talaga ma-preserve ang integrity ng elections. Ang labanan kasi ngayon, sending, transmitting 'yung boto through the airwaves," said Manicad, who said he filed the motion on his own, "as a taxpayer, and as a Filipino." 

(It's really important to preserve the integrity of the elections. The battle right now is the sending or transmission of votes through the airwaves.)

"Ang goal natin dito ay, kapag dumating 'yung time na pumalpak 'yung mga makina at gagamitin ang backup machines, kailangan 'yung publiko, kailangan 'yung bawat political party, walang duda sa isipan nila na hindi ito nagalaw, hindi ito nasingitan ng data," he added.

(Our goal here is, if the VCMs fail and the backup machines will be used, the public and the political parties must be assured that these backup machines weren't manipulated, and do not contain any data.)

He said he based this motion on glitches in past elections, as well as his own experience, when he reported about a "12-0 sweep" in favor of the then-administration's senatorial bets in Maguindanao in the 2007 elections.

Asked about the timing of his motion, Manicad hopes the Comelec will make a decision in time for Monday's polls. "I hope and I pray that the Comelec will give attention to this, because this is in everyone's interest... to preserve the integrity of the elections," he said in Filipino. 

In his motion, Manicad cited Comelec Resolution No. 10487 which outlines the procedures for poll workers concerning VCMs during the final testing and sealing and on Election Day.

'Policy-level decision'

In a chance interview, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said he would have to read Manicad's request. 

He pointed out that all VCMs are stored in Comelec's regional hubs.

"That will be a policy-level decision [of the Comelec en banc]. Kasi iyong regional hubs na iyan, operationally, sa amin lang iyan (Because the regional hubs, operationally, it's for us only)," said Jimenez. "In fact, it's a secure location, precisely because we want to protect the integrity of the equipment that we're using." 

As for the usage of backup machines, Jimenez said, "All of that will be witness-able by them at the polling stations."

"When the backup device arrives at the polling station, before it's used, it would generate a 'zero report' which means they could see whether the machine has data or not," he added in a mix of English and Filipino. "Then the movement of backup machines is logged, so you know exactly where it came from, and where it was sent to."

He also said, "Ii-inform naman ng BEI [board of election inspectors] 'yung watchers na kakailanganin ng replacement devices, so pwede na nilang ma-coordinate iyon doon." (BEIs will inform the watchers that replacement devices will be needed, so they can coordinate it there.)

Jimenez said that poll watchers may also join the pick-up and deployment of backup VCMs. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.