MANILA - One former commissioner and one incumbent commissioner of the poll body on Friday admitted that there is a serious flaw in the revised General Instructions (GI) for Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) that maybe exploited to rig the May 9 elections.
Retired Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal noted that the GI now allows voters to change their ballots if these are rejected by the machine and it is not their fault, something that was not done in previous elections.
Larrazabal said this rule allows candidates or their operators to have their supporters come in early and cause the invalidation of the ballots so that when the voters of their opponents come in, they will no longer be able to vote anymore.
"In previous elections, once the ballot is given to you, it cannot be replaced, 1:1 kasi. And the printing of the ballots in 2010, 2013 and 2016 was always 100% of the registered voters in the precincts. Walang extra," he said.
"The innovation of allowing voters to replace their ballot is a good innovation. However, there are concerns because there are no protocols and guidelines and limitations as to what are the situations where a voter can ask his ballot to be replaced, kasi a voter feeds his ballot four times and if it's rejected, wala na yun.
"Before, maski kaninong kasalanan, pag di in-accept, wala na yan. Now, if di kasalanan ng voter, pwede siya humingi ng replacement from the BEI. The concern here is that first, it doesn't say what are the grounds to cite to justify that it's not his fault. If your ballot is rejected four times, chances are you will not admit it's your fault kahit kasalanan mo pag-fill up ng ballot," he explained.
There is also no limitation as to the number of ballots that the voter can ask as replacement, he added.
"What happens when the precinct runs out of ballots on election day? You cannot use provisional or improvised ballots because ballots are printed specifically for that precinct. So what if at 4 p.m., there are voters who want to vote, but naubusan ng ballot because pinapalit ng pinapalit yung ballots earlier in the day? What happens to these voters now? They'll be disenfranchised."
READ: For the first time, Comelec to give 'replacement ballots'
Incumbent Comelec Commissionner Christian Robert Lim confirmed this is possible under the revised GI. Lim said he was outvoted by the commission en banc when it issued the resolution.
"I don't agree with that provision. Delikado. Ayoko ko na kayo turuan paano dayain. Kaya nga exactly I'm against it because really on election day, on the ground yan, di mo kayang each and everyone makokontra mo yan. Sobrang delikado yun," Lim said.
"Pwede kung maaga ako, ginalaw ko na yung mga balota at reject nang reject at dumating mataas ang turnout, di na makaboto yung tao. I don't know. It's worse than the voter receipt," he added.
Aside from this, Larrazabal said he also wants the Comelec en banc to clarify the GI concerning the filing of frivolous suits, as well as the instruction to the Boards of Canvassers mandating the physical turnover of the SD cards of the vote-counting machines which maybe interpreted as a requirement before a winner is proclaimed.
"The rule kasi is that once you transmit all the results of the municipality, you can proclaim the winning candidates. The exception is kung ibang presinto di maka-transmit, that's when you bring manually the SD cards to the Board of Canvassers for manual uploading. Now the rule is lahat ng SD cards, maski naka-transmit or hindi, you have to bring it to the Board of Canvassers," he explained.
"Yung sinasabi ng iba, you have to wait for the SD cards before you proclaim. The rule is you don't have to wait for the SD cards as long as the BOC has the data and the results of all precincts, you can already proclaim (based on the) transmitted data. Even if di pa kumpleto, as long as the number of voters in the remaining precincts is less than the lead of the winning candidate, you can proclaim. It's clear for me. Problema lang some people may not understand this and may have a different interpretation, so that's why were seeking clarification."
Lim said: "Electronic transmission pa rin... We wanted to create a double kasi ang sa amin, we explained to the political parties that kahit na na-transmit na siya, in-import mo yung result sa SD card, it will not affect the results anymore."
Larrazabal hopes the poll body can clarify these provisions quickly to avoid any possible problems.
Larrazabal was chairman of the Comelec's steering committee during the country's first automated elections in 2010. Lim now has that job. Larrazabal has since moved onto becoming general counsel of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC).
In a phone interview, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said replacement ballots will only be issued to voters whose ballots were rejected by the machine and it is not their fault.
"If fault of machine, dapat bigyan ng replacement... Makikita mo yun pag ini-spoil, na-overvote, natapunan mo. Bakit mo i-penalize yung botante kung di tinanggap ng makina? Baka may problema ang makina, in which case dapat pabayaan bumoto. This was common sense. Comm. Lim was not there during the meeting. I've no problem. We'll bring it back to the agenda, we can take it up again," said Bautista.