Lawmakers to Comelec: Don't let problems in 2019 polls happen in 2022

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers called out the Commission on Elections (Comelec) over defective election materials in the May 2019 polls, saying these could have disenfranchised voters who were forced to wait hours to cast their ballots.

During a hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the Automated Election System, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the poll body to ensure the problems will not happen again in the 2022 elections.

"This has to be avoided because this is a disenfranchisement in the sense of the number of voters [affected] and [it can] affect the overall results.... It has to be in check, it has to be looked into," Pangilinan said.

"We may look at the small percentages, but in the end, I'd like to think given all of that put together, we can't have something like this happen in the 2022 presidential election. We might have a revolution," he added.

Defective election materials

During the hearing, Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body recorded a total of 1,051 vote-counting machines (VCMs) and 2,246 SD cards that had to be replaced on election day.

Jimenez said the figures account for 1.21% of VCMs and 1.31% of SD cards used during the polls.

These numbers are higher than what the Comelec initially reported a day after the elections, when it announced that 961 VCMs and 1,665 SD cards malfunctioned and were replaced.

"These machines that were originally pulled out had to be deployed and had to be replaced. I can understand why we would want to know how many voters were affected, but to draw that line firmly? I think we need to take into consideration the fact that these were replaced," Jimenez said.

Aside from malfunctioning VCMs and SD cards, there were also bleeding markers as well as delayed transmission of results to the transparency server which the media and watchdogs accessed.

Pangilinan said that despite the defective materials being replaced, voters who were forced to wait may have decided to forego voting instead of waiting for replacements to arrive.

"When you have to wait 5 hours for the replacement, would you still vote? This is not the reality on the ground," he said.

System audit

Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago also urged the Comelec to review its preparations for voting day.

"I'd like to reiterate a need for a system audit which the JCOC is mandated to do...and 'yung seryosong pagtingin ng Comelec sa mga non-automated aspects na malaki rin ang epekto sa resulta ng halalan (and for the Comelec to seriously review non-automated aspects that can also have a big effect on the results of elections)," Elago said.

"We do not want to inherit the same problems that have long hounded the Philippine elections, from guns, goons, gold, and now glitches," she added.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas earlier said the poll body will withhold payment for suppliers of defective election materials as it reviews their contracts.

The Comelec also said it is conducting "extensive forensics" to find out what happened, but stressed the 2019 elections remained a "success." – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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