Bets raise concerns over Comelec ballot printing
MANILA, Philippines — The lawyer of a presidential candidate has called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow representatives of poll watchdogs, political parties, and candidates to examine around 32 million ballots for the May 9 elections that have been printed since Jan. 23 despite the absence of accredited observers.
Romulo Macalintal, counsel of presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo, proposed that three to five ballots per city or municipality be checked to determine if these contained the requisite security features and would be recognized by vote-counting machines.
He decried the poll body’s lack of transparency in the printing of ballots which he said was in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.
“Comelec should conduct a random sampling to test and examine the official ballots already printed in the presence of the representatives of the political parties and candidates,” Macalintal said in a letter to the poll body on March 16.
He suggested that the ballots be examined using ultraviolet light or dark light to “dispel the wild impressions made by some alleged experts that some [were] preshaded with invisible marks to favor certain candidates.”
Call for full audit
A coalition of religious groups led by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace, however, called for a full audit of the printed ballots.
“We at Halalang Marangal 2022, together with all concerned parties, request that these printed ballots be subject to a 100-percent audit by qualified auditors who are knowledgeable on the ballot’s specifications and security markings,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.
This, they added, would “erase any doubts that the printing did not follow agreed specifications.”
The coalition also asked Comelec to allow the audit of the formatted secure digital (SD) cards to be used for the vote-counting machines. At the same time, the groups wanted the poll body to hold accountable those behind the decision to print ballots and configure the SD cards without the presence of accredited observers from citizens’ arm groups and political parties.
“This a direct assault on the principle of citizen’s participation and consultation embedded in the Philippine election laws,” they said.
1 month left
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, the one in charge of the ballot printing committee, was identified as the official who disallowed observers at the National Printing Office (NPO) in Quezon City to supposedly avoid any delays in printing amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in January.
But even after Metro Manila was placed on the least restrictive alert level 1 on March 1, the poll body still refused entry. When it finally opened a viewing room at the NPO on Tuesday, it said that close to 50 million ballots had been printed since Jan. 23.
However, only 31,996,605 of these were verified to be “good ballots,” representing 47 percent of the 67,442,616 total ballots needed on May 9.
Another 5,228,260 ballots were found “defective” while the rest of the printed ballots had yet to be checked, according to Comelec.
The poll body has about a month left to print the rest of the official ballots to meet its target to start deploying the ballots by April 20.
Vice presidential candidate and Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would personally look into the matter and also meet with the members of the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) on the elections to be apprised on the details.
“Depending on what I will be briefed on by the JCOC, if I don’t like what I hear or what I see, especially if documented, I will go straight to the President and tell him about it,” Sotto said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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