MANILA, Philippines—Surveyors of Smartmatic-Total Information Management, the supplier of the vote counting machines for the first nationwide automated polls, have discovered a number of non-existent polling centers in the list of precincts prepared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), a document obtained by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak shows.
The ghost precincts in the poll body’s Project of Precincts (PoP) were discovered in at least 7 provinces and in Metro Manila.
The findings cast doubts on how efficient is the re-clustering of precincts done by the Comelec for the May 10 polls.
It also raises questions on the credibility of the results of past electoral exercises in these areas, where it turned out that the precincts were listed but had never existed.
In past elections, there have been more than 200,000 precincts, each listing a maximum of 200 voters. Now, those precincts have been re-clustered into 76,000, each listing anywhere from 300 to 1,000 voters.
The PoP contains the clustered precincts and the total number of voters in those precincts. A polling center (like a public school) is an aggrupation of polling precincts (like classrooms).
Mostly in ARMM
In a report to the Comelec en banc, a copy of which was obtained by abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak, Smartmatic-TIM identified some polling centers listed in the PoP that it could not locate. Majority of the ghost polling centers are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, although some were in Luzon and the Visayas.
These are 57 polling centers in the National Capital Region and 7 provinces.
Although Smartmatic surveyors couldn’t locate those polling centers, the Comelec said it had verified them, based on certifications issued by the education department and the local police.
In another classification, there are 17 polling centers in 5 provinces that were no longer used in past elections but are still listed in the Comelec’s PoP.
Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak checked for itself a barangay chapel and multi-purpose hall on Narra Street in Project 3, Quezon City, that is listed in the PoP as a polling center. Residents told us that none of the halls in that area had ever been used as a voting center in past elections.
Smartmatic-TIM conducted the site survey of polling centers as part of its contract to deliver the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines to the clustered precincts. The consortium has started the delivery of the PCOS machines to sub-regional warehouses. Smartmatic also won the contract to deliver the ballots.
The Comelec checked 4 municipalities in Lanao del Sur to verify the report by Smartmatic-TIM. The municipalities are Balabagan, Madalum, Tagoloan, and Maguing.
In these 4 towns, Smartmatic-TIM surveyors reported that 43 polling centers reflected in the PoP don’t exist. This prompted the Comelec to send a team to conduct an ocular inspection.
Out of the 43 questionable polling centers, the Comelec confirmed that 9 polling centers do not exist or cannot be located. These “ghost” polling centers are in Madalum town.
Below are the findings of the Comelec on the ghost polling centers in Madalum:
1) Basak Primary school—according to people living in the barangay, this polling center doesn’t exist and cannot be located.
2) Gorain Primary School—existing but no longer functioning and has been converted into a residence.
3) Lilitun Madrasah School—non-existing, despite due diligence in trying to locate it .
4) Punod Elemeraty School—non-existing, despite efforts in locating it.
5) Riray Primary School—cannot be found; residents of Barangay Riray are not certain if it exists or not.
6) Udangan Primary School—cannot be located.
7) Racotan Primary School—not existing, according to residents.
8) Bacayawan Elementary School—cannot be found; residents of Barangay Bacayawan are not aware of its existence.
9) Padian Torogan Madrasah School—existing but abandoned, no longer used as madrasah school.
A Comelec source, who was part of the team that looked into the Smartmatic report, said they were not able to go to the other areas for an ocular inspection due to time constraints. The team relied on the certification of Department of Education officials that some of the schools that would be used as polling centers actually exist.
For instance, in Tagoloan town, where 11 polling centers are being questioned, the Comelec relied on the certification issued by SPO2 Mamarinta Malna, the OIC police chief of the town.
The discovery of ghost precincts, particularly in the ARMM area, has reinforced suspicion that the Comelec’s PoP has been largely unreliable, contributing to a bloated certified voter’s list or CVL.
Special elections are almost always held in the ARMM area, where political observers and analysts say cheating, like padding and shaving of votes (dagdag-bawas), has become a cottage industry. Special elections in ARMM have been a deciding factor in determining the last two spots in senatorial races. —with a report from Riziel Cabreros (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)