Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, who is now consultant of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said the Commission on Elections cannot postpone the May 9 elections as it is being floated now.
He said there is only one option for Comelec: “To conduct automated elections on May 9, 2016.”
Former Senator Richard Gordon, principal author of the Automated Elections Law who is vying again for a Senate seat under the Ang Partido ng Galing at Puso of Grace Poe, also finds unacceptable the reasons put forward by Comelec officials why they cannot comply with the High Court’s decision. ““Kung gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw maraming dahilan,” he said.
The idea of postponing the May 9 elections (election lawyer Romulo Makalintal mentioned June 9 as the alternative date) followed the order of Supreme Court last week to the Comelec to “enable the vote verification feature of the vote-counting machines which prints the voter’s choices…”
Comelec has raised a number of reasons why they cannot comply with the High Court decision among them the reconfiguration of the machines will take time, it will delay the voting process by several hours, and the ballot receipts will be used for vote buying.
Some have raised as an alternative going back to manual election and in the worst case scenario, postpone the elections scheduled on May 9.
In a telephone interview, Larrazabal, who oversaw the first automated polls in 2010, said going back to manual elections on May 9 is out of the question.” Aside from the fact that it’s illegal, there is no more time to prepare for a manual elections,” he said.
At the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel, Gordon said, “First, it’s not true that they don’t have enough time to bid or purchase thermal papers. The Comelec can conduct Emergency Purchase under the Government Procurement Act, specifically Section 48 (e) in relation to Section 53 (b) for thermal papers. They can even make a negotiated procurement. Next they claim that they have to purchase new receptacles. But the Comelec has close to 330,000 old, yellow ballot boxes and only 92,509 will be needed for the upcoming elections.”
As to the claim of Comelec that there is not enough time left to reconfigure the software or the source code and to reactivate the VVPAT feature of the VCMs, Gordon said, “Again this is not true. Remember when the final trusted build of the Election Management System was suddenly found to have interconnection problems with the rest of the System? They were able to recompile it in just two days, from Feb. 8 to 9.”
He recalled the 2010 elections, the one supervised by Larrazabal, when the Comelec was able to recall, reconfigure and redeploy more than 76,000 CF cards in just five days.
Gordon said,” At present, the voter receipt feature is already hardcoded into the software of the system but only disabled, reactivating it by recompiling the final trusted build of the software will simply take as short as a day or two. There is no cogent reason why the Comelec cannot do so now with more than 50 days to spare. They can add manpower and facilities to address this contingency. Experts as they claim to be, they should not be heard to complain.”
Larrazabal has something to say about the Supreme Court opinion but stressed that the solution is to get on with working towards holding the elections on May 9.
He said:“Much has been said about the Supreme Court decision re: VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) in the past few days. However, many fail to understand that the decision was a unanimous 14-0 in favor of the utilization of the function of the counting machines.
“Do I agree with the decision of the Supreme Court mandating the activation of the functionality? With due respect to the Supreme Court, No. I believe that the VVPAT was and is for a DRE (direct-recording electronic) automated voting system, as compared to the OMR (paper-based) automated voting system, which is what’s being used in the Philippines. I believe that the Justices of the Supreme Court could have voted differently had they been appraised of the technical differences of the two voting systems, specially considering that the VVPAT was not used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
“But the reality is that the Supreme Court rendered a decision on the matter, and unless it reverses itself completely, there is no option other than to implement its decision, whether we like or it. Whether we agree with it, or not.
“In life, we always face challenges and problems masked as obstacles in achieving our goals. Small or big, difficult or easy. Key in approaching solving or overcoming challenges we face is knowing what problems and challenges are under control and which one’s aren’t. Even within the challenges we face, some aspects of it are under our control. Some aren’t. Knowing how to differentiate between the two is key in overcoming the challenge.
“In this case, the COMELEC has filed a Motion for Reconsideration. This is the right step in trying to reverse the decision of the Court. However, as to the aspect of the Court reversing itself, the COMELEC has unfortunately no control over. What the Commission, has, however, is control over what it does to adjust to the decision of the Court. Adjustment of the training schedule, procuring thermal paper for the receipts, reconfiguration of the SD Cards, etc. These are some matters the Commission can do something about.
“Will it be easy to comply with the decision of the Supreme Court? It won’t be a walk in the park, that’s for sure. And it may be a gargantuan task. But the mandate of the Commission is clear: Conduct a Sychronized National & Local AUTOMATED Elections on May 9, 2016.
“The date set is fixed and only the passage of a law by both houses of Congress can change the date of the elections. Leaders of both houses have already spoken that they will not agree to the passage of a law to postpone the elections. So people should forget about even thinking about that option. “
Larrazabal said Sec. 5 & 6 of the Omnibus Election Code provide circumstances for the postponement of elections and instances where there is a failure of elections. They do not apply in the current situation.
He further said: “There is a task and goal at hand: To conduct fair, honest, credible, accurate elections on May 9, 2016. I think people should focus on that. And by helping Comelec overcome the challenges ahead, we become part of the solution to this problem. “
“This administration enjoyed a lot of political capital specifically because of how the automated elections was conducted in 2010, despite the numerous problems and challenges. I hope by having a credible, accurate and honest elections in May, the next administration will also benefit from the same political capital,” he added.