MANILA, Philippines – Delays continue to hound the Commission on Elections on Thursday as the poll body rush to deliver the remaining Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and reconfigured compact flash cards to polling precincts scattered throughout the country.
And with barely a hundred hours left before election day, time is swiftly running for the Comelec.
A desperate roadblock
In Iloilo, a local candidate put up a roadblock on the road leading to 4 barangays, forcing the Comelec to stop the convoy delivering the PCOS machines.
Benigno Malaga, a candidate for Maasin mayor, admitted putting up the roadblock, saying it would help cut down the incidence of vote buying in his area.
He told ABS-CBN News he had the right to block the road because it passes through his property. However, he denied he was responsible for the spikes and caltrops seeded on the road.
Inspector Romeo Villasis, chief of the Maasin police said they were lucky that someone told the police about the roadblock and spikes before the convoy arrived. It gave them time to stop the convoy before it and its precious cargo could be damaged in an accident.
Maasin Mayor Mariano Malones, who is Malaga’s rival, described the roadblock as an act of “political harassment.”
“He (Malaga) must open the road,” the mayor said.
Workmen with heavy equipment later showed up to remove the roadblock but it took them time to remove the spikes and caltrops.
Because of the risk the spikes poised to the vehicles in the convoy, poll officials ordered it to wait until the road was completely cleared.
As of posting, the convoy was still waiting for the “all clear” signal.
Mixed up schedules
In Sarangani, a mix-up in scheduling plagued the convoy delivering PCOS machines to several barangays.
Though the convoy reached its first stop safely in Barangay Alabel, the convoy’s escorts found the Datu Abdullah Tondog Elementary School there closed, and none of the members of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) was around to take custody of their machines.
The escorts waited for 10 fruitless minutes before deciding to go to the next barangay.
Upon arriving, the convoy’s escorts again discovered that the BEI was unaware of their arrival.
They found Domolok Elementary School but like in Barangay Alabel, there was no one to take custody of their machines.
After a hasty search, the escorts found the acting school principal, Ms. Celeste Cabrera, and turned over the machines to her.
It was apparent that Cabrera was hesitant to take custody of the 3 machines meant for the school’s polling precincts.
“I didn’t know you were arriving today,” she told the convoy’s escorts.
In the next school in the convoy’s list, the same thing happened again.
Wilma Campos, a BEI member of the Tokawal Elementary School explained that they thought they were the ones to get the PCOS machines. They didn’t expect the machines to be delivered to them.
“The Comelec told us to get the machines tomorrow and bring them to school, she said.
A PCOS technician who accompanied the convoy told ABS-CBN that it was apparent that the BEI was unaware that the machines were going to be delivered on Thursday.
“Because they weren’t there, it’s doubtful that the testing and sealing of the machines will push through on Friday,” the technician said.
In Bacolod, poll officials and election watchdogs are beginning to fear that they will not be able to test and seal their PCOS machines as scheduled because their reconfigured compact flash cards have not yet arrived.
Smartmatic-TIM technicians removed the compact flash cards from the PCOS machines last Tuesday for reconfiguration and replacement to prevent a repeat of the malfunctions that occurred during the testing of PCOS machines in several places in Luzon.
Because of the delayed delivery of the compact flash cards, Atty. Ryan Castro of Comelec-Bacolod said it was likely that the testing and sealing of PCOS machines in Western Visayas would be postponed to Saturday.
In Maguindanao, a heavily guarded convoy loaded with 365 PCOS machines left Cotabato City for the towns of Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, Parang, Matanog, Barira and Buldon.
The machines were delivered without their compact flash cards.
Local poll officials, members of the BEI and election watchdogs eagerly welcomed the delivery of the PCOS machines. However, without the compact flash cards, the machines are useless.
Like their counterparts in Bacolod, poll officials in Maguindanao doubt they can proceed with the scheduled testing and sealing of the PCOS machines on Friday without the compact flash cards.
In Ilocos Norte, the delivery of the PCOS machines was delayed in several barangays.
Unlike their counterparts in Sarangani, the BEI in Barangay Dilanis in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte was expecting the convoy’s arrival and prepared to take custody of the PCOS machines.
Apparently, the convoy delivering the PCOS machines went to a wrong barangay, causing the delay. The convoy eventually arrived at its proper destination after a few hours.
Closer to Metro Manila, only 12 of the 24 towns and cities of Bulacan have received their PCOS machines.
Poll officials in the province said the remaining machines will be delivered along with the reconfigured compact flash cards on Friday, allowing them to test and seal the machines on Saturday, 2 days before election day.
Emelyn Mendoza, chairman of the Balagtas Municipal Board of Canvassers said they didn’t mind the delay.
“The teachers agree that it’s okay to delay the testing (of the machines) as long as we don’t go back to manual (counting),” Mendoza said. “We are not ready for a manual count.”
Atty. Sabino Mejanito, chairman of the Bulacan Provincial Board of Canvassers remains optimistic that the automated polls on May 10 will push through despite the delay.
He said they will test and seal the PCOS machines on Saturday as soon as the reconfigured compact flash cards are installed.
If anything else goes wrong, Mejanito said they still have Sunday to fix the problem.
But there was a bright note amidst the delay and confusion.
The PCOS machines meant for the remote villages of Legazpi, Albay were delivered safely and on time. -- reports from Erick Baldo, Atom Araullo, Nony Basco, Jay Dayupay and Ragie Arellano, ABS-CBN News