Twin SC petitions threaten automated elections

MANILA, Philippines – Election watchdogs filed two separate petitions before the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday, July 7, to thwart the poll body's last known stop-gap measure to ensure automated elections in May 2016. 

In their petition, members of the group Automated Election Sytem (AES) Watch requested the SC to stop the Comelec's parallel bids for vote-counting machines.

"Simultaneous bidding finds no support in law and is contrary to public policy," the group said in a statement.

AES Watch is pushing for a semi-automated or "hybrid" election system, which their critics said is prone to cheating. (READ: Manual poll counting? 'Well return to Jurassic Park'

Another group, composed of critics of President Benigno Aquino III, asked the SC to stop the Comelec's P12.6-billion ($278.48 million) lease of more than 93,000 vote-counting machines for the 2016 presidential elections. AES Watch members also criticized the lease. 

Sought for comment, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez has yet to release an official statement. 

These petitions come after the SC, in April, issued a ruling feared to delay next year's elections.  

'We don't want to lose options'

Back then, the SC nullified a contract for the repair precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, which the Philippines used in its first two automated elections in 2010 and 2013. 

Because of this ruling, the Comelec said it will pursue two tracks at the same time: to repair and supplement its existing vote-counting machines, or to buy 100,000 new ones for the elections in 2016. 

The Comelec will conduct simultaneous bids for both tracks, and choose one of these options in the end. (READ: 2 bids, 1 choice to seal fate of 2016 polls

In a news conference in May, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said, "We don't want to lose options as we go nearer the presidential elections so we would like to pursue these in parallel."

If granted by the High Court, the new petitions would remove even these two options.

The Comelec only has roughly 10 months to prepare for the 2016 elections. 

Aquino 'illegitimate,' group says 

The other set of petitioners, for their part, slammed the proposed lease of 93,977 vote-counting machines or optical mark readers or OMR as illegal. (OMR is a generic name for PCOS machines.)

In their petition, the group said the lease is illegal because it is based on Comelec Resolution No. 15-0444. This Comelec resolution supposedly realigned the Comelec's budget to fund the lease of new OMRs. 

The group, mostly Catholic bishops, pointed out that the SC already barred the realignment of funds similar to Aquino administration's Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The SC has declared that allocations for unfinished programs cannot be realigned to other programs or activities within the fiscal year.

Referring to the Comelec, the petitioners told the SC, "Suffice it to stress that if permitted, the Commission will be permitted not only to undermine Congress’ spending power but more importantly, to wreak havoc to the budget, the system, as well as desecrate the fundamental law of the land." 

The petitioners include the following:

Many of these petitioners belong to the National Transformation Council, an anti-Aquino group that includes allies of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (READ: 'Aquino quit' group: We have no leader, financier)

Chong, however, clarified that this is not an NTC initiative, as a number of petitioners are not members of the NTC. 

The NTC believes the Aquino administration is illegitimate because it was elected using PCOS machines.  

Because of this, the group wants a transitional council to take over the government. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P45.25

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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