News: Manual count rule out today; issues cited

BusinessWorld Online: THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) releases today its unanimous decision on the proposed parallel manual count for national and local positions, with officials hinting an adverse ruling.

“It is not the number of positions involved… Is it proper? Is it legal?… It is of doubtful legality,” said Comelec Chairman Jose A. R. Melo in an interview.

Comelec spokesman James Arthur B. Jimenez said in a separate interview the unanimous verdict considered the input of the commission’s field officials who will conduct the count.

For his part, Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento said that their field officials were against the proposal due to operational and logistical concerns.

Aside from field official feedback, he said the Comelec Adivsory Council’s (CAC) opinion was also considered.

CAC member Ramon C. Casiple earlier said that the parallel manual count should be conducted by an independent body such as the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and not by the Comelec.

But Mr. Sarmiento said the parallel count goes against the principles of the random manual count (RMA) as provided for under the automated election law or Republic Act 9369.

“[The law] does not forbid [or] allow [parallel manual count]. [But] it goes against the principles of random manual audit… [In] parallel manual count, all would be counted. Random would be selective. The process is different,” Mr. Sarmiento said.

In a minute resolution of the full commission meeting last April 5, the poll body increased the number of precincts that would be subjected to RMA to five per legislative district from one as provided for by law.

A total of 1,145 precincts would be audited for 229 legislative districts, the resolution read.

Representatives of various groups such as the Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Alyansa Agrikultura, Philippine Bar Association of the Philippines and information technology professionals held a dialogue with the full commission last Monday to present their proposal for the parallel manual count.

In a letter submitted to the Comelec, the groups said April 29 is the cutoff date to decide on whether or not to hold a parallel manual count.

Compromise

Meanwhile, Namfrel council member Maricor K. Akol said in a separate briefing that the group is willing to trim the positions covered by the manual count to one — the president — from three to include the vice-president and a local position.

“If they are saying that it is going to be expensive and will delay the proclamation, we are willing to bend what we are demanding and limit it to just one candidate,” she said.

Ms. Akol said the law is silent on the random parallel count of votes.

“The Comelec has argued originally that there is a legal bar in this proposal. If you recall, when they said that they used the wrong UV (ultraviolet) ink, their solution was to buy UV lamps to manually verify what was originally an automated activity. They decided on this matter without the benefit of the law. They purchased 80,000 handheld UV lamps to manually verify the ballot. This is the same principle in the parallel manual count,” Namfrel council member Guillermo M. Luz explained.

The commission, he claimed, is printing manual forms for 30% of all the precincts in case there is a failure of automated polls. “What we and the IT professionals are suggesting is for them to already print forms for 100% of the precincts for this verification run.”

The Namfrel has also called for the release of the final guidelines for the random manual audit which have been left pending at the Comelec technical committee.

“We have been asking the Comelec for the GI (general instructions) because this will be the guidelines and basis of the Board of Election Inspectors to proceed with the parallel verification run,” said Namfrel national chairman Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

In a related development, all precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for Visayas and Mindanao have been shipped out from the main warehouse in Laguna province east of Metro Manila, while over half (57%) of the machines assigned for Luzon have been delivered, Comelec said.

A total of 17,077 units were sent to Visayas while 18,202 were delivered to Mindanao.

As of 10 a.m. of April 27, the official ballots deployed totaled 3,594 (21%) for Visayas and 12,936 (71%) for Mindanao.

The ballots are either in transit or have been delivered to the provinces and municipalities.

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