Shape up, Comelec by Solita Collas-Monsod

May I ask why it is that nine days after elections, the PPCRV’s tally still covers barely 90% of the election returns? Surely by this time all 76,000 PCOS machines should have been able to transmit the results electronically. That is, after all, part of what an Automated Election System is all about. After all, the Comelec itself had originally stated that two days after the elections, the tally would be complete.

PPCRV has a lot to answer for, as far as I am concerned, particularly because it opposed (successfully) the accreditation of Namfrel which has more than 27 years and at least eight national elections’ worth of counting experience under its belt, compared to PPCRV’s zero experience. At the same time, Comelec also has a lot to answer for because it allowed PPCRV to conduct a public count, even if its accreditation — at least originally anyway, was limited to a count for internal purposes only. If I remember correctly, Comelec’s reason for not accrediting Namfrel was because the elections would be automated, and everybody would have access to the transmitted election returns, so Namfrel raison d’etre was gone. Or some such rot.

Moreover, in the non-automated days, Namfrel had to depend on its volunteers (PPCRV among them) to transmit the manually accomplished official ERs — which was an inherently difficult task because it was entitled to only the seventh or eighth copy which was barely legible — remember, those were the days of carbon copies. Yet it still was able to come up with 80% of the count before the official canvassing took place. Now, PPCRV had access to the fourth PRINTED copy of the ER, aside from, of course, the ERs transmitted to the Pius Center’s server as well as those provided by the Comelec Central Server. Surely it should have been able to do better than 90%? Or is one asking too much?

By the way, Comelec Commissioner Larrazabal told me last Friday night (May 14) that, actually, 98% of the ERs had already been transmitted and received — but the problem was that they were in different servers (Comelec Central Server, Pius/KBP server, City/Municipal Server). This is because there were transmission problems, and some ERs would transmit to one but not to the others, and vice-versa. When I asked if that meant that we would have the results of the 98% available on Saturday, he said no — but they would be available on Sunday (May 16). But as of 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 19, only 90% of the ERs have been tallied, with the PPCRV ready to close shop. Couldn’t the PPCRV have tried to latch on to that additional 8%? Or more to the point, why couldn’t the Comelec download that additional 8% to the PPCRV the way it did the other 90%? Whatever happened to Comelec’s boast that with an automated system, the public would know the results, albeit unofficially, within two days (pardon the nagging)?

Moreover, it was my understanding that the PPCRV was supposed to have been in-charge of monitoring the Random Manual Audit or RMA — of the five precincts per congressional district chosen at random with great fanfare the day before election day. These precincts were to have their ballots manually counted (by a different BEI) right after the machine count. It was a process that should have taken two hours (if three names were counted — President, Vice-President and Mayor) according to the time and motion study conducted by the IT experts. And it was important because it would be an indicator — although not a foolproof one (a hash test of all the machines, I am told, would be the best) — of possible internal rigging of the PCOS machines.

Well, here we are, nine days after election day, and the RMA results aren’t out yet. Reportedly, only 600 of the 1,100 or so precincts have already been audited — this was supposed to have been done on election day, you understand. Why didn’t the PPCRV, which was supposed to be monitoring this, scream about it? But then again, the political parties should have been screaming their heads off, too. The PPCRV was supposed to be watching out for the interests of the voters — to see that their choices were recorded faithfully. The political parties were supposed to be watching out for the interests of their candidates — to see that they would not be cheated.

But in the final analysis, while the PPCRV and the political parties may have fallen down on their jobs, the main responsibility for free , fair and honest elections lies with the Comelec. And even as the Comelec seems to have equated speed with honesty, it has itself fallen down even just on the speed part.

Because, let’s face it: The only reason we are now so sure that Noynoy Aquino is our president-elect is not because of Comelec’s speed, but only because the margin between Noynoy and his nearest rival, with 90% of the votes tallied, is a little over five million, which is about the same as the number of still uncounted (or more accurately, unreported votes), assuming a 75% voter turnout ratio. Which means that even if all the uncounted votes went to Erap Estrada, there would be at most a tie. And again, let’s face it — surely at least some of those unreported votes will also be going to Noynoy.

Or put it in another way: If the presidential race had been closer, the way the Roxas-Binay contest has shaped up to be, the public would still, at this point, have no idea, even with an automated election system, who the winner would be — because at least five million votes have still to be counted/reported, nine days after the election. Of course, if the majority party Lakas-Kampi, and the dominant minority Liberal Party had all the municipal and city certificates of canvas, they should themselves know by now. But we are, after all, talking about what an automated election system should be able to produce in terms of speed, as far as the public is concerned. They are entitled to that, having forked over P11 billion for the project.

The Comelec should be commended? Please. And I am just talking speed. The honesty or accuracy of the results (accurate in terms of reflecting the people’s will) is even more important, and the Comelec hasn’t even begun to resolve that issue, if only through the RMA. Already, talk is rife about politicians having been approached by people offering them specific election results in their favor (complete with percentages for each candidate) in exchange for monetary considerations (P15 million for mayor, P50 for governor, negotiable, 20% down, 80% on delivery). Merely a scam? Maybe. But those who refused to deal ended up on the losing side — in spite of favorable surveys done by credible organizations) — and claim that the winners won with the same percentages offered them, and they lost with the same percentages specified.

Shape up, Comelec.

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