Comelec opens poll preparations to public scrutiny

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2022 11:16 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2022 04:07 AM

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MANILA (UPDATE) — The Commission of Elections on Monday opened its preparations for the 2022 elections to public scrutiny, giving a walk-through of the production and deployment of the vote-counting machines and consolidation and canvassing system at its Laguna warehouse.

“When we assumed office, we vowed for the sanctity of the ballot as a guiding principle. On my part as chairman of the Commission on Election, I made it very clear that my policy is complete transparency without compromising the security of the ballots and rather the SD Cards. We take this opportunity to open these things to the public," Comelec chairperson Saidamen Pangaruman said in a speech at the opening.

The newly appointed official said it will also have a walk-through of the ballot printing at the National Printing Office in Quezon City on Tuesday afternoon, stressing that now that the country’s pandemic restrictions have been eased the preparations can be opened to the stakeholders and the media.

Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who chairs the steering committee of the Comelec, said the agency has prepared a viewing room for the printing process at the NPO.

Commissioner George Erwin Garcia, meanwhile, said the observation room at the NPO came after Pangaruman ordered full transparency of preparations. He said the agency will also be providing weekly briefings to stakeholders every Thursday.

Garcia also told stakeholders that they will talk to the printing committee on the progress of the printing of the ballots during the lockdown as the matter may be taken up when they face the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Thursday.

Casquejo, meanwhile, maintained that there was no hacking of the Comelec’s automated election system, stressing such an activity can only be done physically. 

The Comelec has conducted a physical investigation, checked closed-circuit television systems and memory configuration systems, and officials said there was no hacking. 

PRINTING TO OPEN TO ACCREDITED OBSERVERS

Meanwhile, accredited observers and stakeholders will be able to observe the printing of official ballots at the National Printing Office.

"Now that wala nang Alert Level 3 at Alert Level 1, we can already open this sa mga parties at saka mga media. We are preparing the guidelines because we cannot just allow everyone to come in only those accredited by the committee which is headed by Comm. (Marlon) Casquejo will be allowed," Pangaruman said.

Casquejo said an observation room will be opened to give stakeholders a chance to see the printing process and verification. 

However access will be limited to accredited stakeholders from the political parties and candidates as well as citizens’ arms and members of the media.

GREATER TRANSPARENCY

Garcia has written to his colleagues in the Commission En Banc to ensure greater transparency in the preparations for Halalan 2022.

The official, who assumed office only last week after years as a veteran election lawyer, cited the declining COVID-19 infection rate in justifying giving more access to stakeholders for them to observe the preparations.

“The Automated Election System (AES) is intricately technology-based. In order to prevent the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and doubt in the system and, ultimately, the election, this Commission must exert efforts to promote transparency. Thus, the presence of watchers, observers, and other stakeholders in the entire electoral process, from the printing of the ballots, configuration of secure digital cards (SD Cards), shipping and packaging of election paraphernalia, conducting the logic and accuracy test (preLAT) in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, and other Data Centers and Regional Hubs, is essential,” Garcia wrote.

He also urged the poll body to provide timely periodic issuances pertaining to the preparation of the 2022 elections, as well as to conduct regular briefings to the media and all stakeholders to ensure the dissemination of true and correct information and proper public guidance.

The elections will be held on May 9, 2022.