House blames Comelec for low party-list votes
MANILA, Philippines — Less than half of the voters took part in the party list election on May 13, a low participation rate that the House of Representatives blames on the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The dismal voting results led to the defeat of 20 “reelectionist” party list groups, according to Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr.
At a hearing conducted by the House committee on public accounts, lawmakers on Wednesday scored the Comelec for not making the public aware of voting for sectoral representatives.
Only 27 million votes were cast for party list groups, or a mere 43 percent of the 63 million registered voters, said Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, chair of the committee. It was 46.5 percent in the 2016 presidential polls, according to Comelec data.
The low turnout and the glitches that marred the automated polls impaired the credibility of results for the party list election, the lawmakers said.
They said the Comelec did not wage an information campaign to inform voters that they were supposed to vote for sectoral candidates.
At back of ballot
Garbin called the electoral exercise a failure for the party list system. He claimed that Ako Bicol lost some 600,000 votes, blaming the Comelec for deciding to print the names of the party list groups on the back of the ballot.
Placing the party list candidates on the back was meant to minimize the length of the ballot, according to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.
Voters were to choose only one from among 134 party list groups listed on the back of the ballot.
On May 22, the Comelec, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, proclaimed 51 party list organizations that won this year’s midterm elections. Eight groups received at least 2 percent of the votes cast in the party list election, while 43 others were awarded one seat each despite getting less than 2 percent.
Under the Constitution, 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives (now equivalent to 61 seats) are allotted for sectoral and marginalized groups.
Garbin said the voters “usually look only for their chosen candidates in the local races and would normally miss voting for the party list if they are not made aware because it is not mainstream for them.”
The votes for Ako Bicol were lower by 600,000 than what it got in the 2016 elections, according to Garbin.
Waste of funds, effort
He expressed disgust that party list groups might have just wasted funds and effort in the campaign, as many voters missed shading their vote for the groups “only because of circumstances.”
Agri Rep. Orestes Salon, whose group failed to land a seat in the 18th Congress, said the “unexpected” results, coupled with the reported glitches in the automated elections, had left losers perplexed.
“We don’t know what hit us. We don’t even have extreme recourse [to contest the results],” Salon said at the hearing.
House members also scored the Comelec for the seven-hour transmission glitch, and for supposedly choosing “low quality” materials for the elections despite a P9-billion budget.
“Despite being the fourth automated elections, it was failed by dangerous problems such as the delay in the delivery of supplies and equipment,” Suarez said.
He said the procurement law was not solely to blame. “The Comelec has a habit of dismissing audit findings and recommendations of procurement.”
The lawmaker expressed dismay at the Comelec for using “low quality” and “defective” supplies despite the availability of funds. The supplies came from winning bidders who submitted amounts way below the approved budget for the contract.
Helen Flores, Comelec deputy executive director for administration, said the poll body spent about P4 billion of the P5-billion allocation.
Records showed that a total of 1,665 storage cards were corrupted, while 961 vote-counting machines malfunctioned on Election Day.
“The election is a very sensitive process because it involves the right of our people to choose their leaders. We hope this inquiry does not end up with mistakes getting committed all over again in the next elections,” Suarez said in Filipino.
Jimenez said the seven-hour technical glitch did not interrupt the electronic transmission of results but only the relay of results to media terminals.
“Internally, we were able to confirm that data continued to be transmitted from the field even during that seven-hour period,” he said.
He maintained that data from precincts that were transmitted to the transparency server, which were used as bases for the proclamation of many local races, were “intact and untouched.”
Arwin Serrano, director of the poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said the group helped the Comelec in the voters’ education, emphasizing the importance of voting for party list groups.
Merely data reporting
Jimenez said the Comelec stood by the results as these were reported.
The seven-hour glitch, he said, could not be used to manipulate the results, as what had not been seen was only the reporting of data.
“If this was manipulated, it could easily be discovered, as the data are supported by hard copies at the precinct level,” he said.
According to Jimenez, the Comelec has an ongoing “forensic investigation” to determine the cause of the 1,665 storage cards that were “corrupted.”
“We have held the remaining payments to the supplier (of the defective SD cards) so that we will be able to enforce some accountability,” he said.
Lawmakers will summon service providers such as Smartmatic, as well as election paraphernalia suppliers in the next House hearing.
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