Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The poll watchdog Kontra Daya on Sunday warned that Saturday's mock polls conducted by the Commission on Elections were attended by the same glitches observed during the 2010 elections and showed that the Comelec was not prepared for another automated balloting.
"The mock election showed that the Comelec has not learned from the 2010 automated election system implementation," Rick Bahague, an IT expert of Kontra Daya, said in a statement. "Failures and errors already pointed out by various groups based on the 2010 experience still exist."
Bahague also stressed that the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines encountering problems in reading ballots "cannot be claimed as minor errors."
Volunteers from Kontra Daya and VoteReportPH also noted other problems during the mock polls conducted at University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS) in Quezon City.
Some Comelec officers and board of election inspectors (BEI) inside the precinct failed to observe the rules of the actual conduct of the elections. They were seen "tinkering" with the voting machine even after the initialization report, an act prohibited in the Comelec General Instructions in the 2010 elections;
The thermal papers did not properly fit in the PCOS printer. The PCOS machine also failed to accept and read the ballots and rejected some of the ballots.
The PCOS machine was restarted without informing the watchers and was subsequently replaced with a backup machine.
Bahague warned that the 2013 automated elections would be more "chaotic and problematic" than the previous balloting. "We should expect more PCOS in bad condition," he said.
He also said the number of backup machines was insignificant, noting that only 2,000 units have been reserved as backup machines or one or two units per town.
Very minimal problems
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the conduct of the mock polls in 20 voting centers in 10 areas across the country on Saturday was successful despite a few minor glitches.
"All of the problems we saw are very minimal. But what we deem as challenging is the signal, which ultimately is beyond our control," Jimenez said.
He said following the exercise, the Comelec acknowledged the need to review its signal mapping after they had trouble transmitting Saturday's results in some areas.
"There should be a review of our signal mapping in order to validate if those indicated there are still accurate. We have to see it with our own eyes," Jimenez said.
"Who would think that in Katipunan, we would have a hard time transmitting our results?" he added, referring to UPIS.
The results of the mock elections also showed that contingency programs for transmission such as the use of the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) or a two-way satellite ground station called Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) must be ready during the actual elections on May 13, he said.
But the Comelec servers stationed in Cabuyao, Laguna, had no trouble receiving transmissions from the provinces.
Results from outlying areas
On Saturday, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. reported that the servers in Laguna successfully received results transmitted from the PCOS machines from Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Camarines Sur, Negros Oriental and Misamis Oriental.
Jimenez said the PCOS machine in some of the selected voting centers encountered some problems early in the day but by afternoon on Saturday, they were already running smoothly. Among the glitches observed in the PCOS machines were difficulty in starting them up and the jamming of paper ballots.
The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), one of the accredited citizens' arms of the Comelec, earlier reported other problems like the machines' thermal rollers were not working, voters' lists were conflicting and there were missing clips in the PCOS machines.
Brillantes said spotting the deficiencies three months before the actual elections was a welcome development as it would allow the Comelec to avoid the same problems on May 13.
Something is wrong
But Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles on Sunday said "minor glitches" should not be taken lightly by the Comelec.
"Glitches are proof that something is wrong. The CBCP (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines) has reports that the defects are worse than what we are told. High-tech machines cannot take lightly these 'minor' defects," Arguelles told the Inquirer in a text message on Sunday.
"Smartmatic actually admitted major problems in its court case with the foreign ex-partner," the prelate added, referring to US-based Dominion Voting Systems.
Last year, Smartmatic filed a case against Dominion in Florida for an alleged breach in a licensing agreement and "tortuous" interference with Smartmatic's business. It also accused Dominion of allegedly withholding technology and services.
The earlier deal allowed Smartmatic to use Dominion's software to operate the voting machines and install pertinent upgrades to address glitches.
Arguelles said in light of the problems encountered during the mock polls, the Comelec must "sincerely and openly" investigate the PCOS machines and be open to a manual counting of votes "whether there is a failure or not in the machines."
Warning against cheating
In a pastoral statement issued recently, CBCP warned of "wholesale" cheating in the May 13 elections if supposed deficiencies were not addressed.
"Election is not a matter of speed but of trustworthiness and honesty. If not properly addressed, the present automated election system can lead to wholesale cheating. The integrity of a pillar of our democracy-the election-is at stake," the CBCP stated.
As for the random manual audit (RMA) conducted until early morning Sunday, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa said there were slight differences in some of the results when compared with those generated by the voting machines.
But De Villa said she found the process "satisfying" and she was not worried at all about some of the minor problems encountered.
"We just saw the other needs to make it (random manual audit) more accurate," said the head of the PPCRV, one of the accredited citizens' arms of the Comelec.
Under the Poll Automation Law, a random manual audit is required to check the accuracy of the results generated by the PCOS machines.
The RMA was only conducted at the UPIS, where they found a discrepancy of one vote each for six senatorial candidates, a mayoral candidate and a congressman, according to De Villa.
There were also five over-votes and 147 under-votes for the senators and eight over-votes for congressmen that were reported.
De Villa attributed the minor discrepancies to the manner of manually counting votes under the general instructions for the RMA issued by the Comelec.
Under the guidelines, an ambiguous mark on the ballot will still be counted in the auditing even if the voting machines will not recognize them.
"These will have to be verified further by the Comelec as to where they can be attributed to," she added.
De Villa also stressed the need for the election inspectors to undergo additional training.
"These BEIs are already used to manual counting. They need extra training for them to see how it is under the automated election system," she said.
With a report from Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao