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A Smartmatic worker inserts one of 76,000 CF cards recalled for glitches and formatted in its warehouse in Laguna. The Comelec assures that all the cards would have been tested by Friday and delivered before the May 10 polls. NINO JESUS ORBETA


May 10 elections still a go

Arroyo accepts poll lawyer resignation

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:20:00 05/06/2010

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines?It?s the last two minutes and the ball is not in their court. But it?s still all systems go for Monday?s elections, Malacaang and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) asserted.

The Comelec Wednesday announced it was pushing ahead with the country?s first automated balloting despite eleventh-hour glitches in the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that required recalling and replacing 76,300 compact flash (CF) cards.

?Right now, what I?m looking at, almost expected, what would happen is that the elections will go through,? Comelec Chair Jose Melo said.

Malacaang supported the Comelec position against postponement of the vote and underlined this in a statement Wednesday announcing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s acceptance of the resignation of her election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal.

?The Palace respects the independence of the [Comelec] and defers to its judgment and decisions on all matters regarding the conduct of elections,? said presidential spokesperson Ricardo Saludo.

He said that no official authorized to speak for the President had suggested any change in the election date.

Saludo said that having taken a position in favor of postponing the elections, which was not in line with the Palace stance, Macalintal requested that he be allowed to resign as Ms Arroyo?s lawyer.

?Now, in areas that are island barangays or mountain barangays where the testing would not be finished, [elections] might be postponed. And then we will hold special elections,? Melo told reporters.

?We have a mandate, we will have elections on May 10. I don?t even want to think about postponing,? Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said at a joint news conference with the Comelec?s partner, Smartmatic-TIM.

Smartmatic-TIM spokesperson Cesar Flores expressed optimism that the company would be able to replace all the defective CF cards before the precincts open on Monday morning.

?It can be done?

?The cost is irrelevant. We?re going to do this no matter how much it costs. It will be our expense. We?re telling you it can be done and it will be successful,? he stressed.

Preparations suffered a serious setback after the testing and sealing process on Monday revealed that the CF cards in the PCOS machines incorrectly read the names and votes for local contests.

Flores explained that the cards, which contained data on specific precincts, contained wrong ?instruction? regarding the local contests that caused the PCOS machines to give ?contradictory? readings.

During the printing of the ballots, the spacing in the local contests was adjusted to double space from single space, the formatting used for the national races.

This change was not included in the CF card, Flores said. As such, the PCOS machine read the local ballot face as if it had a single-space format, causing the machine to wrongly allot votes to certain candidates or skip other names.

Corrected instructions

As of Wednesday night, Smartmatic-TIM said it had finished testing the corrected instructions, which will be installed in the PCOS machines.

Larrazabal said subsequent tests showed that the voting machines read the ballots correctly.

Smartmatic-TIM has around 31,500 CF cards available for reconfiguration. ?Tomorrow morning, we will receive 13,000 cards from Taiwan and 30,000 cards from Hong Kong,? Flores said.

As of Wednesday, the company had reconfigured 25,000 memory cards, he said.

Smartmatic-TIM aims to send all compact flash cards with the correct instructions to the 1,600 municipalities by Saturday. Deliveries were to start Wednesday night. All the CF cards that the company recalled and reconfigured were tagged and identified, Flores said.

Other unused cards might be turned over to the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, the Comelec?s citizens? arm.

The Comelec is eyeing to destroy these cards ?to show the people that they will not be used,? Larrazabal said.

Massive air deployment

He said the delivery of the cards entailed a massive deployment of air assets from various government and private institutions that had pledged to help the Comelec.

Companies like San Miguel Corp. have promised to lend to the Comelec 13 helicopters to ferry the cards to remote provinces. The Philippine Air Force also offered all its air assets to the poll body, Larrazabal said.

Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno, spokesperson for the Armed Forces Task Force Hope, said the military was keen on lending its helicopters, watercraft and trucks to the Comelec.

The CF cards will be sent to the municipalities to save time and resources, Larrazabal said. The various boards of election inspectors will get the new CF cards, along with the other election paraphernalia from the municipal treasurers.

The testing and sealing of the machines, a process mandated by law and which was supposed to end Friday, was expected to start at noon Thursday.

Larrazabal said the Comelec had authorized the extension of the testing until the early hours of May 10. ?It still can be done. What is important is before elections, the machines will be tested.?

Machines that do not pass the testing will not be used, he said, and the board of election inspectors (BEI) can use spare PCOS machines. Around 6,000 spare PCOS have been leased to the Comelec.

?The BEIs (boards of election inspectors) are already trained in changing the cards,? Larrazabal said. PCOS machine technicians will be on standby to assist the teachers.

Ruling party bucks delay

The administration party Wednesday said it would not settle for anything less than automated elections and steered clear of speculations about postponement and a return to manual voting.

?We joined this campaign because we know the elections are going to be held on May 10, and they?re going to be computerized,? Lakas-Kampi-CMD president Francis Manglapus said by phone.

?You can?t keep on changing the rules at the end of the game. Postponing the elections will be disastrous for this country. And manual counting has no legal basis,? he said.

Jose L. Cuisia Jr., chair of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), said the elections must push through, but the Comelec must ensure that safeguards were in place to preserve the integrity of the results.

For instance, Cuisia said all recalled CF cards and the replacement cards, including those of the spare machines, must be subjected to an audit process to determine the configuration and check for programming errors.

Expanded audit proposed

Cuisia said the random manual audit must also be expanded to 5 percent of precincts and not just five per congressional district to arrive at a reasonably sound statistical conclusion whether they can rely on the machine count or not.

Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Adel Tamano warned that postponing the elections would set a ?dangerous precedent? for future governments to hold on to power.

?The 1987 Constitution is very clear that elections are held on the second Monday of May, unless otherwise provided by law,? Tamano said.

Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima said in a text message that the automation law allowed manual counting of votes ?should there be massive systems breakdown or failure.?

But she warned that if the reconfigured memory cards would still fail during the testing on May 7, the Comelec ?will not be prepared for a full, nationwide manual system by May 10.?

?They only prepared for a 30-percent manual count. New guidelines or general instructions need to be crafted and issued. More election returns, SOVs (statements of votes), and COC (certificates of canvass) need to be printed. All these take time,? she said.

Presidential candidate Eduardo ?Brother Eddie? Villanueva said the elections should be postponed for two weeks ?to resolve discrepancy problems.?

Potentially disastrous

But Sen. Benigno Aquino III, the presidential front-runner, opposed postponement.

?Each postponement increases the possibility of yet another postponement, bringing us closer to a potentially disastrous crisis of a leadership vacuum on June 30,? he said.

Said Sen. Manny Villar, the Nacionalista standard-bearer: ?I hope the Comelec can fix all their problems. I hope we will have an orderly election on May 10 because this is essential to our democracy.?

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is seeking reelection, said: ?There is a big difference between postponement of elections and declaration of failure of elections. In the case of postponement, the law allows it only in a political subdivision, such as a town or a province. In the case of a failure of elections, the law allows it nationwide.? With reports from TJ Burgonio, DJ Yap, Leila B. Salaverria, Christine O. Avendao, Gil C. Cabacungan, Marlon Ramos, Jocelyn R. Uy, Edson Tandoc and Dona Z. Pazzibugan; and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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