News: If machines fail, teachers not ready for manual count

A teacher reviews the manual for a PCOS machine during a trial run Monday at Marikina High School. The device registered “thermal paper error” 20 times, forcing her and other election inspectors to ask for a replacement.

Inquirer.net: MANILA, Philippines—Teachers manning precincts on Election Day will be at a loss on what to do in case the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines still do not function properly.

The teachers are not prepared for manual counting, Abelardo Brutas, secretary general of the Teachers in the Philippine Public Sector (TOPPS, said.

Brutas said one of the hindrances to manual voting is the clustering of precincts. A clustered precinct could have up to a thousand voters.

Manual elections would only be possible if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) restores the original number of precincts, which is quite impossible at this time, he said.

“Definitely, we cannot handle the clustered precincts, where we have to deal with about a thousand voters per precinct,” Brutas said.

A total of 229,020 teachers is to be deployed for Monday’s elections as members of the board of election inspectors.

Even Alkhadam Sakandal, an election supervisor of Zamboanga City, acknowledged that it would be difficult for the Comelec to return to the manual process.

Too late

“Our efforts were focused on automation,” he said.

Sakandal said that even if measures were taken to adopt manual voting as a contingency measure, it was already too late with less than a week to Election Day.

“Besides, we need to appoint more BEIs (board of election inspectors) to go back to the manual process,” Sakandal said.

In Basilan, the local Church-backed watchdog group Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said reverting to manual counting would be confusing.

Fr. Santiago Agoo, PPCRV chair in Isabela City, said nobody had expected the glitches to occur because both the Comelec and Smartmatic had issued assurances the machines were working fine.

The Comelec has halted the deliveries of the machines to the provinces and ordered a recall of the compact flash cards after tests showed that the names of local candidates would not be recognized by the machines.

“We didn’t expect this to happen. We are all geared up for automation and we still do not know how to go about [manual counting] if automation will not push through,” Agoo said.

He said going back to the manual process at this time “will be very tedious, very dangerous and logistics wise, we cannot cope with.”

But Education Undersecretary Franklin Sunga said the teachers were prepared to do their job in case the Comelec holds special elections in far-flung areas, or reverts to manual count.

No guidelines

The Comelec has not issued guidelines for manual counting, Sunga said.

“There are still no guidelines. There is a need for guidelines before we can proceed with this. But we cannot say that our teachers will not know what to do because there are no guidelines,” he said.

Besides, Sunga added, the counting by the PCOS machines would be automated and the election results would be electronically transmitted, saving time and avoiding ballot-snatching.

Helen Aguila-Flores, the Comelec head in Western Mindanao, however, said the agency had no alternative to automation.

“I am sorry to say this, but the Comelec has no contingency measures if automation failed,” Flores said at Thursday’s meeting of civilian, police and military officials at the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

“That Comelec has no contingency plan in case automation fails is a reality that I want everyone to wake up to,” she said. “Hopefully, we can cross the bridge when we get there.”

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