Credibility in the country’s voting system again takes center stage, as former Senator Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon has asked the Supreme Court to order the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to issue ‘receipts’ after qualified voters have cast their votes on May 9, 2016.

Earlier, the COMELEC said it is doing away with one safeguard in the conduct of honest elections, the “Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail” or VVPAT, reasoning that the issuance of the VVPAT or simply a “voter’s receipt” would delay the election and counting processes by at least five to seven minutes per voter.

But Gordon and other political observers are doubting COMELEC’s move, which in effect deliberately sacrifices accuracy and verifiability of the vote count. Its decision thus puts into serious doubt its credibility, as it should be the ‘guardian’ and ‘safekeeper’ of people’s voting rights.

COMELEC’s reason to omit the VVPAT is not only unacceptable, it is ridiculous and laughable, yet nobody is laughing.

Most observers see this move by the COMELEC as a sick joke. And those laughing are them who are making money for hijacking the real will of the people.

Electronic voting in the Philippines is suffering from credulity issues.

For instance, during the last 2013 elections, the COMELEC has reported that Senator Grace Poe was leading the senatorial race, citing more votes than already counted. When keen observers pointed out the anomaly, the COMELEC immediately stopped the count, to douse off a major scandal. It became obvious that some hands in the COMELEC during the May 2013 elections wanted to make sure Poe would end up as the topnotcher.

Another case in point was during the 2010 presidential elections, where VP Jojo Binay overwhelmingly won over Mar Roxas, earning the title of “the greatest upset of all time.” Months prior to the 2010 elections, Binay was a tail-ender in the race for vice president, with Roxas and Sen. Loren Legarda leading the surveys. “Binay’s win would only have come from a magic on the new voting system,” political observers said.

It did not help any that groups were going around selling a win to candidates using the PCOS machines. In fact, “Hocus Pcos” was coined after many results in the elections were put to doubt. Candidates who barely campaigned won by a landslide.

Reacting to almost furious accusations by the people on the cheating using the PCOs machines, the COMELEC has now resorted to using better, more advanced vote counting machines (VCMs). The choice of the new VCM system was not without controversy and suspicions of corruption.

Oppositors of the electronic voting system said corruption in the COMELEC runs into billions of pesos, including overprice and ‘insurance’ that the favored candidates are assured of a win by manipulating the VCMs.

To douse off the issues raised by oppositors, the COMELEC announced that it added several ‘security features’ on the new VCMs, one of which is the VVPAT.

However, the COMELEC then reneged on using the VVPAT, citing an obvious fib: the receipts could also be used in “vote-buying,” said COMELEC chairman Andres Bautista.

In a joint congressional hearing on February 16, 2016, Bautista pointed out that aside from the use of the receipts for vote-buying, issuing them can add five to seven hours to the voting time in election precincts.

“…There might be losing candidates who might question the results, basically instructing their supporters that when the machine prints out the receipt, regardless of what the receipt says, they will say that it’s not correct,” the COMELEC chairman explained. “And this kind of organized conspiracy of a losing candidate can really cast doubt on the credibility of the elections.”

COMELEC’s move, however, is in itself already casting doubt on the credibility of the elections.

Senatorial candidate Richard Gordon has even gone to the extent of filing a petition for mandamus at the Supreme Court to force the commission to activate the VVPAT system for the 2016 elections.

By declining to activate the VVPAT system, the COMELEC and Smartmatic-TIM, the official automation service contractor for the 2016 polls, are disregarding the provisions laid down by Republic Act No. 9369, or the 2007 Automated Elections Systems Law, Gordon said in his petition filed on February 22, 2016.

“The COMELEC has been a ‘recidivist’ in violating RA 9369. The last two automated elections in the country had not been credible because of its failure to implement the safeguards,” Gordon said, as quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in February 23.

He cited Section 6(e) of the Automated Elections Systems Law, which mandated the provision for a VVPAT system in an automated election. “The VVPAT is therefore a critical and indispensable security feature of the automated voting machine,” Gordon said. “Regrettably, however, the inclusion of this mandatory requirement under the automated election laws was previously and flagrantly violated by the COMELEC during the 2010 and 2013 elections.”

Moreover, COMELEC’s excuse – that the VVPAT system would result in massive vote-buying – will just have a miniscule effect compared to the “massive” cheating that might occur due to its failure to implement safeguards for the voting machines, Gordon added.

“[The COMELEC’s] speculative yet baseless fear of vote-buying in case of the implementation of the VVPAT cannot be used as a valid excuse to disregard the clear language and mandate of the law. There is a greater risk of cheating on a massive scale if the VVPAT were not implemented because digital cheating would be difficult to detect by those uninitiated in the world of information technology, than cheating by isolated cases of vote-buying,” Gordon argued.

He pointed out that the COMELEC simply has no right to renege on implementing the VVPAT system, as this is clearly codified in the 2007 Automated Elections Systems Law.

Those provisions and safeguards were clearly included in the law to ensure a credible and honest automated vote-counting. Unfortunately, the COMELEC itself has willingly broken the same provisions again and again – and yet again in this year’s polls, Gordon said.

With this current scenario, it is not surprising that Filipinos are already doubting the credibility of the May 2016 polls.

A recent survey released by Pulse Asia revealed that 39 percent of Filipinos do believe that cheating will take place, 37 percent of which believes it would come in the form of tampering with the vote-counting machines.

By refusing to implement the VVPAT, the COMELEC risks losing its credibility, as well as raises the chances of those willing to manipulate the elections for their own ends.

Fortunately, though, there are people like Dick Gordon who are willing to take monumental challenges to ensure that the votes of millions of Filipinos are safeguarded against political maneuverings.

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