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Pimentel hits slow pace of Comelec’s PCOS probe

/ 07:32 AM December 05, 2014
Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) expects to complete this month its probe of the mysterious “digital lines” that appeared on ballots which could have affected the counting of votes through the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in the 2013 elections.

But the chair of a joint congressional oversight body was disappointed at the seemingly slow pace of the inquiry.

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Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Thursday said he was disappointed that the Comelec has not finished its inquiry into the questionable digital images of ballots, noting that the issue would not go away soon because the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated election system, which he chairs, will keep its focus on the matter.

During the last committee hearing in September, Pimentel asked the poll body to create a committee to study this issue, to which the Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes agreed.

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Digital lines

The digital lines had reportedly appeared in some of the ballots and could have affected the counting of the votes because these had touched or bisected some of the ovals that voters had to shade to indicate their choice of candidates.

Because of these lines, a vote could have been counted for a candidate even if no oval was shaded, or it could have been nullified because of overvote. When extra ovals are shaded for a particular position, the PCOS machine does not count the vote.

Pimentel said it was crucial to get to the bottom of the matter because digital lines could have significant effects on the polls. He also said this “weakness” of the machine—an expensive one—worries him.

“They can affect the results in closely contested elections. And which candidate would not want an accurate count of his votes?” he told reporters.

He said there had been a lot of allegations of fraud coming out, but he has not seen a lot of proof.

Guidelines first

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Brillantes yesterday said the Comelec had to complete the guidelines for its inquiry on the digital lines before it could begin.

But he told the committee the probe could begin today or the next day and could be completed before Christmas.

He said the Comelec’s critics, including the poll body’s former lawyer Melchor Magdamo, could participate in the inquiry and witness the decryption of files.

Magdamo had accused the Comelec of trying to conceal the discovery of the digital lines but the Comelec chief said it was actually the poll body that brought the matter to the public’s attention.

Magdamo, however, disputed this.

The Comelec, based on its study, plans to initially cover 383 PCOS machines spread throughout provinces and cities in the country. The areas to be covered are those that do not have electoral protests, because the poll body wanted to see if results of the elections had really been affected, said Brillantes.

“Initially, we think it has no affect, but we’ll see,” he told reporters.

“They said there were a lot of digital lines. I say there are digital lines, maybe they are many, but they don’t affect the results because if the digital lines don’t hit the ovals, they won’t interfere with the count,” he said.

Filipinos will return to the polls in 2016, and will be choose a new set of public leaders.

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TAGS: 2013 elections, Comelec, Commission on Elections, PCOS machines, precinct count optical scan machines, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Sixto Brillantes
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