SC affirms ruling on printing voter receipts

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATED) - The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed its ruling ordering the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to print voters' receipts in the May 9 synchronized national and local elections.

Voting 13-0 (Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin did not vote), the high court junked the poll body's motion for reconsideration (MR) just minutes after concluding oral arguments on the case on Tuesday.

(The Supreme Court initially announced a 12-0 vote but later corrected itself. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta cast a vote. -- Eds)

Asked point blank by the magistrates if they can finish reconfiguring the SD cards and activate the Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) feature of the vote-counting machines (VCMs) in time for the May 9 polls, Comelec representatives, led by its chairman Andres Bautista, and election systems provider Smartmatic-TIM admitted that they can but with "attendant risks."

These risks, as enumerated during Comelec counsel Solicitor General Florin Hilbay's presentation, include stretching the voting period up to 20 hours or double the original voting hours set by Comelec from 7 a.m. up to 5 p.m.; voters leaving their precincts due to long queues; increased incidence of machine malfunction and failure due to paper jams; new opportunities for cheating, added burden on Comelec personnel and teachers; heightened risk for election failure; and a decrease in the Comelec's ability to conduct honest, credible, and clean elections. 

READ: Comelec: Vote-receipt printing may add 10 hours to polls

'TOO HIGH A PRICE TO PAY'

"We can print the receipt as is but with all the attendant risks which may impact the credibility of the elections… yes, we can physically cram all the activities so we can meet the May 9 deadline but we are taking a significant amount of risks," Bautista said.

"These are too high a price to pay... we don't know if voters are committed to stay in line 'til midnight. The advantages you get in printing these receipts are so marginal.. as to the risks, it makes little sense to implement it in such a short period of time. 

"The reasonable compromise is that they can commit to the court's decision in 2019," Hilbay, for his part, argued.

A demonstration also took place where Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM showed the SC magistrates how the VCMs will behave with the present setup of on-screen verification as against the required printing of the voters' receipts.

Based on the estimate of the Comelec, printing the receipt will add a minute to every voter's voting time.

READ: SC order on voter's receipts shakes Comelec's timeline

PATTERN OF TRICKERY?

Former Senator Richard Gordon, the principal author of the Automated Election Systems (AES) Law, who filed the petition with Bagumbayan-VNP Movement, argued, on the other hand, that the Comelec's "now you see it, now you don't" approach in the automated elections has to stop.

Gordon stressed that as a minimum systems capability requirement under the AES Law, the VVPAT must be complied with by the poll body, adding that during the three years of the law's conception, the poll body never raised issues against the VVPAT.

"There is a pattern of trickery. Nakakapagod na. Kung gusto, maraming paraan, pag ayaw, maraming dahilan. The machine must follow the law; the law is clear. There is really nothing here to discuss… where the law is clear, there's no need to interpret," Gordon said.

The voters' receipts that will be printed at the precincts in May will contain only the votes as read by the VCM, but will not contain the precinct and date.

Several SC justices raised that these security features, among others, may be implemented in the 2019 elections.

As to the training of board of election inspectors (BEIs), setting up of cutters to cut the receipts, and other adjustments the poll body needs to make with the high court ruling, the magistrates stressed that these are managerial and administrative matters best left to the Comelec to implement.

KNOW THE WHOLE STORY