MANILA, Philippines?More ballots may be printed than the number of actual voters with the admission of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Wednesday that the 50.7 million registered voters in the May polls included those who had registered twice or more.
At the resumption of a joint congressional committee hearing on poll automation, Comelec officials could not readily provide the number of double registrants but said it was not as big as the 5 million or 3.2 million being projected by some quarters.
Comelec Chair Jose Melo downplayed the controversy and said that boards of election inspectors (BEIs) would be given copies of double registrants with the instruction to disallow them from casting their votes if they were not registered in their precincts.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate panel in the congressional oversight committee, remained apprehensive after Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino admitted that double registrants were included in the total number of registered voters.
He said he did not understand why if Comelec was aware of the double registrants, it would allow the printing of such number of ballots.
?But if indeed they have a list of double registrants, the Comelec could have motu proprio initiated a petition in court to have these names delisted. They would have evidence to prove it. Why did they not do this?? Escudero said.
?However clean or perfect the automation system is, if the list of voters is not clean, there will be opportunity to pad or increase the votes of any candidate,? he said.
?It?s not going to be one ballot for one voter as Comelec had earlier guaranteed to ensure there will be no more extra or fictitious votes to be cast in the elections,? he said.
Escudero said that the excessive number of actual voters raised the possibility of cheating.
Not flying voters
Melo sought to ease apprehensions by saying that many of those double registrations were not ?flying voters.? They simply forgot to cancel their earlier registration, ending up being enrolled twice in the voter?s list, he said.
?We should not blow this out of proportion,? he said.
Tolentino and Election Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained that the poll body could not delete the names of double registrants because under the law, only the courts could do this.
But both Tolentino and Larrazabal said the Comelec had issued guidelines as early as October last year in dealing with double registrants: If there are two registrations of a voter in the same city, the second registration won?t be considered; if the registration was in two cities, the recent registration would be considered.
3.2M double registrants
Tolentino could not readily give the total number of double registrants, but Howard Calleja, lawyer for the election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said they numbered 3.2 million.
Using a copy of the Comelec?s computerized voter?s list, Calleja said that he extrapolated the figure from the 40,000 double registrants that the group found in Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte.
Larrazabal said that the Comelec was looking into Calleja?s report. He said that the poll body would also like to know more details from retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz about his estimate of 5 million double registrants.
?Plucked from the air?
Melo said that Cruz?s figure was probably ?plucked from the air? and that he did not think the figure was that staggering.
Escudero also disclosed the committee had found that the National Printing Office (NPO) was not using ?24/7? all of its machines to print the required number of ballots for May 10.
He said his committee would not allow that the printing of the ballots be outsourced.
Escudero said the Comelec should have known and prepared for the eventuality that NPO would not be able to do its job.