The paper trail
The 14-0 Supreme Court decision ordering the Commission on Elections to “enable the vote verification feature of the vote-counting machines” that will be used in the May 9 elections is welcome. We understand the reservations of the Comelec about the feasibility of complying with the order, but cannot agree with it that implementing the order would require the postponement of the 2016 vote.
In defending its decision to waive the Automated Election Law’s provision on the voter-verified paper audit trail or VVPAT, the Comelec did not argue the inevitability of postponement. Instead, it emphasized the need to prevent vote-buying (a computer printout of a voter’s choices could be used in vote-buying schemes) and to avoid adding “five to seven hours” to the voting on Election Day.
The decision written by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen adopted the proposal of an “alleged automation elections expert,” lawyer Glenn Ang Chong, that squarely answers the Comelec’s first argument.
The Court said: “After the voter casts his or her vote, he or she gets off the queue and walks to where the old ballot box is. There, the voter may verify if the machine accurately recorded the vote; if so, the voter drops the VVPAT receipt into the old ballot box. Should there be any discrepancy, the voter may have it duly recorded with the poll watchers for analysis and appropriate action. The poll watchers must ensure that all receipts are deposited into the old ballot box. This will guarantee that no voter can sell his or her vote using the receipt.”
The Court, however, had no specific answer for the Comelec’s second argument. But it did make abundantly clear that the Comelec was out of bounds for choosing to ignore the VVPAT provision.
“It is true that the Commission on Elections is given ample discretion to administer the elections, but certainly, its constitutional duty is to ‘enforce the law.’ The Commission is not given the constitutional competence to amend or modify the law it is sworn to uphold. Section 6(e), (t), and (n) of Republic Act No. 8436, as amended, is law. Should there be policy objections to it, the remedy is to have Congress amend it.”
This is as clear as it gets.
“The Commission on Elections cannot opt to breach the requirements of the law to assuage its fears regarding the VVPAT. Vote-buying can be averted by placing proper procedures. The Commission on Elections has the power to choose the appropriate procedure in order to enforce the VVPAT requirement under the law, and balance it with the constitutional mandate to secure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot.”
If the Comelec’s time and motion studies are accurate, and an additional five to seven hours are in fact needed to accommodate the printing out of the voter’s receipt on May 9, then the remedy is to extend the voting day, and then push hard to get public support for the extension. Millions of people endured long lines and longer hours to have their biometrics registered. No surprise there; in every election, many Filipinos demonstrate their resolve to do whatever it takes just to cast their ballot.
The Comelec scants this impressive record, and underestimates the Filipino voter’s commitment to democracy, if it insists that the addition of five to seven hours to the voting day is not viable, or impractical, or impossible. To meet the minimum safeguards established by law, to raise the voter’s confidence in the credibility of the elections—these are important purposes which Filipino voters appreciate.
The Court said: “The credibility of the results of any election depends, to a large extent, on the confidence of each voter that his or her individual choices have actually been counted. It is in that local precinct after the voter casts his or her ballot that this confidence starts. It is there where it will be possible for the voter to believe that his or her participation as sovereign truly counts.”
The Comelec must move fast to strengthen, not sap, that belief.
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