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Comelec: 300 PCOS machines broke down

/ 02:14 AM May 14, 2013

Hours before the voting ended, the Commission on Elections had placed the number of counting machines that broke down and needed replacement Monday at between 200 and 300, or less than 1 percent of the total—something that the head of the Comelec’s service provider considered typical in any automated polls.

“What I see right now is consistent with what happens in any other country in the world. I mean you will have machines failing during Election Day,” Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores told reporters at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, where the national canvassing of votes was to be held later Monday. The Comelec announced its suspension Monday night.

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In the Visayas, for instance, at least 270 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines bogged down, delaying voting in many areas. But most were later fixed, reports reaching the Inquirer showed.

Besides the PCOS machines bogging down, other hitches that marred the midterm polls included two sets of ballots getting switched between two precincts in Baguio City and Compostela Valley, vote-buying and sporadic cases of violence.

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“In general, the election was OK. But certain reports have been blown out of proportion,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes told a briefing at the PICC.

The nature of hardware

He was reacting to a flurry of complaints from the public and the media on Election Day, particularly about malfunctioning PCOS machines that led to long waits at certain polling places.

Flores said most of the failures would likely to have happened on the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines.

“Any hardware will fail. I guarantee you, if we buy 78,000 iPhones, we will have to send back to the store about a hundred to 200, and during the day, another hundred will fail. That’s the nature of hardware and IT,” he said.

But he conceded that a lot more was at stake with any machine failure during an election. “In regular life, it wouldn’t affect you because you will get a replacement within one or two days, but on Election Day, you have to have that replacement within one hour,” he said.

Standby counting machines

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Flores said the Comelec was doing a good job because it had over 2,000 machines [on standby] all over the country and was able to do replacements.

He noted that the Comelec had a facility called the National Support Center, which would let the agency know “in real time” what was going on and take appropriate steps to fix problems.

But Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Kontra Daya said at a press conference Monday morning that a “lot of voters went home, opting not to vote because of the delay caused by the PCOS machines.”

In Metro Manila, for example, PCOS machine failures such as shutdowns, rejected ballots, back-up memory loss, etc. were reported in precincts in the cities of Caloocan, Makati, Manila, Pasig, Marikina, Parañaque and Quezon.

Cutting ballots

Tapang noted that election officers had to resort to measures like cutting ballots to make sure that they fit into the PCOS machine, rebooting the machines or resorting to manual voting and feeding the ballots later into another machine.

He said that such problems were expected because the machines did not undergo the necessary testing, especially the transmission process.

Fast, credible results

Saying the public should instead focus on the thousands that worked, Flores assured the electorate of fast and credible election results, noting that he only encountered such skepticism over automated polls in the Philippines.

Asked whether he faced as much skepticism about the automated electoral system in other countries, Flores said: “No. It’s only here.”

While visiting the command center of an election watchdog in Manila, Flores said similar technical problems were seen in other countries, including the United States, Brazil, India, Belgium and Venezuela, that used Smartmatic’s technology.

He said 350 PCOS machines, or 0.6 percent of the total, had to be replaced during Election Day in 2010, still below the expected average one to two percent replacement rate recorded in other countries.

As of 11:30 on Monday, Brillantes said, fewer than 100 PCOS machines had been reported to have malfunctioned.

He was pleased with the experience of President Aquino with the PCOS machine. “He made only one attempt and it was done. His statement was that the PCOS machine was an improved machine. Why? In 2010 he waited two hours before the PCOS machine accepted his ballot. Now, he waited only five seconds,” Brillantes said.

He predicted the voter turnout to be “normal” at 70 percent.

“There are small incidents ongoing all over the country. There are reports of oversized ballots. We confirmed one in Bukidnon. They are not being accepted. We instructed them to cut off the sides,” he said.

Wrong delivery

Brillantes confirmed at least one case of “misdelivery” of ballots between a precinct in Compostela Valley in Mindanao and another in Baguio City in northern Luzon, rendering voters in the precincts unable to cast their votes, as “there’s no way we can exchange them within the day.”

“But this involves only one particular precinct and therefore it should not affect the elections in both Compostela and Baguio City—unless the votes in Baguio and Compostela are so close that one particular precinct could adversely affect the results,” he said.

The Task Force Poll Watch Makabayan-Cordillera (TFPWM) led a petition urging the Comelec to conduct special elections in Barangay (village) Lualhati in Baguio.

The polling precincts 0378A, 0378B, 0380A, 0381A at Rizal Elementary School, which have 638 voters, received the wrong ballots.

“The voters were mad at the Board of Election Inspectors,” said Angela Malicdem, a voter from Barangay Lualhati.

Disenfranchised voters

In a statement, TFPWM said there were 638 registered voters in the barangay “that would be bound to be disenfranchised… if the request for special elections would not be granted.”

Tacloban City election officer Karin Cajipo also said that 26 official ballots intended for Cabanatuan were inadvertently sent to Tacloban.

Brillantes said the Comelec had not declared any failure of elections anywhere in the country in spite of some local reports claiming so and in spite of reports of violence in places like Maguindanao.

Heart attack

Across southern Luzon, elections were generally peaceful except for a few cases of malfunctioning PCOS machines, brief power interruptions, long queues in a few polling precincts and two voters who died of a heart attack while voting.

“Except for some glitches in PCOS machines and widespread vote-buying, the election in Bicol was generally orderly,” said Brig. Gen Felix Castro, member of the Regional Election Monitoring Center.

Maj. Angelo de Guzman of the Army’s Task Group Bicol reported that as of 10 a.m., there had been 34 defective PCOS machines out of the total of 5,539 machines in the region.

Malfunctioning PCOS machines were also reported in Batangas (41), Laguna (2) and Marinduque (1).

Senior Insp. Joel Laraya, Batangas police information officer, also said that only 41 out of 2,030 PCOS machines for Batangas malfunctioned.

In Palawan, at least four malfunctioning PCOS machines were reported in El Nido, Coron and various areas of the province.

Two voters suffered a heart attack while casting their votes in Batangas and Marinduque.

In Benguet, lack of pens slowed down the voting process in Barangay Poblacion in Kibungan town, forcing voters to queue for at least two hours.

Flooding in Hagonoy

In Bulacan, residents in the villages of Mercado, Sto. Rosario and Sta. Cruz in Hagonoy town waded through flooded streets to reach their precincts on Monday.

In Mt. Province, voters braved the rains to reach Kilong Elementary School in Sagada town. When they reached their precinct, they learned that the memory card for the transmission of the results was defective.

In Pangasinan, an early morning downpour failed to stop Pangasinan voters from going to polling places, forming long queues even before the opening of their precincts at 7 a.m.

But the excitement turned to restlessness when in many precincts voting did not start due to malfunctioning PCOS machines. “We had lots of problems with the PCOS machines but most were technical and we have done something about it,” said Marino Salas, provincial election supervisor.

In Dagupan City, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting reported that three PCOS machines malfunctioned in three of five cluster precincts at the Doña Victoria Zarate Elementary School.

In Nueva Ecija, 32 PCOS machines in 13 towns and cities in Nueva Ecija encountered problems as of noon Monday, police reports said.

Many voters in the cities of Cabanatuan and Palayan complained that their names were not on the voters’ lists.

More PCOS problems

In La Union, malfunctioning PCOS machines almost ruined the polls in key towns, according to officials there. Machines in Sto. Tomas town would not work so election supervisors collected accomplished ballots in a ballot box instead, Philippine Information Agency reports said.

PCOS problems were also reported in Bacnotan town and San Fernando City.

Problems in malfunctioning PCSO machines were also reported in Isabela and the Central Luzon provinces of Bataan, Pampanga, Aurora.

In Cagayan de Oro City, voters in Barangay Nazareth had to wait for hours as a number of PCOS machines conked out as soon as voting started on Monday  morning.

Elsewhere in Mindanao, the same problem with the PCOS machines happened.

At Bucana Elementary School in Davao City, some voters went home before noontime after desperately searching and failing to find their names on the master list in the precincts where they used to vote.

Crutches

One of the oldest voters at Shamrock Elementary School in Laoag City who showed up on crutches was Exaltacion Natividad, 89.

“I can’t remember how many presidents I have already voted for. I hope to live until the next presidential elections in 2016,” Natividad, who was accompanied by her granddaughter, said.

Natividad and other senior citizens, including persons with disabilities, were given preference in voting.

Saada Pano, 45, went home without casting her vote because she could no longer find her name in her old precinct.—Reports from Julie M. Aurelio and Sunshine Blanco, trainee in Manila; Desiree Caluza, Frank Cimatu, Maurice Malanes, Vincent Cabreza, Villamor Visaya Jr. and Cristina Arzadon, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Tonette Orejas, Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Anselmo Roque, Cesar Villa, Jhoanna Marie Buenaobra and Jun Malig, Inquirer Central Luzon; Mar Arguelles, Juan Escandor Jr., Shiena Barrameda, Fernan Gianan, Maricar Cinco, Romulo Ponte, Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Marrah Lesaba, Jerome Balinton, Madonna T. Virola, Jofel Lancion, Gerald Querubin, Redempto Anda, Janna Golod, Joy Oyardo, Aycel Narvaez, Christian Taduran, Loen Gonzales and Dyna Apatin, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Nestor Burgos Jr., Joey Gabieta, Carla Gomez, Jhunnex Napallacan, Felipe Celino, Carmel Matus, Jani Arnaiz, Karen Bermejo, Alex V. Pal, Jennifer Allegado and Eden Cidro, Inquirer Visayas; and Germelina Lacorte, Bobby Lagsa, Cai Panlilio, Dennis Jay Santos, Frinston Lim, Inquirer Mindanao

See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019

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