MANILA (UPDATED) — The leadership of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) admitted Tuesday that most of the Vote Counting Machines (VCM) are no longer "feasible" to be used in the next polls in 2025.
In a hearing by the Senate electoral reforms panel on the "general assessment" of the May 9 polls, Comelec commissioner George Garcia said a factor why many VCMs broke down on election day is their old age.
"Ako personally, I will recommend, in case I'm still here, to retire the 97,000 VCMs," Garcia told Sen. Imee Marcos, the panel's chairperson.
Garcia reported that a total of 1,310 VCMs—15 from overseas posts—had to be replaced on election day.
Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said 97,000 VCMs are already seven years old at least, having been delivered in 2015. Aside from the recently held elections, those were used in the 2016 and 2019 elections.
Garcia previously said that according to experts, each VCM can only take up to 10,000 ballots. He noted that aside from being used in the actual elections, the machines were also deployed in road shows and during the final testing and sealing process.
Comelec chairman Siadamen Pangarungan said at the Senate panel hearing that it would cost the government about P6.7 billion to change its fleet of election machines.
"Kaya po napilitan ang Comelec to refurbish the VCMs [because we did not have budget to buy new ones]... Kailangan talagang gumamit tayo ng bago na mga VCMs for the 2025 elections," Pangarungan said.
But Marcos said the government could not afford the cost of acquiring new election machines in one go.
"I don’t think we have that amount burning a hole in our pockets right now. But I think we could start, kahit phase by phase lang muna," she said.
In an interview later, Garcia said that Pangarungan's costing was a "conservative estimate."
"Sa aking palagay maliit pa 'yung estimate, masyadong conservative. Isipin niyo lease na nga noong 2010 is P7.2 billion. Ngayon kung magli-lease tayo dati 50,000 [VCMs] ngayon 97,000 na," Garcia told TeleRadyo.
Smartmatic is the Comelec's contractor for the VCMs and its refurbishment for the May 9 polls.
— With reports from Robert Mano, ABS-CBN News