The Commission on Elections said it will proclaim the winners in the Senate race next week despite a call by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to suspend the proceedings while an impartial investigation is conducted into widespread technical glitches that marred the May 13 polls.
READ: Congress sets June 4 probe of poll glitches
The CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action executive secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez made the call, who said an impartial investigation would ensure there was no fraud or manipulation of the poll results.
COMELEC Commissioner Luie Guia ruled out any delay, however.
“We go by our rule. The COMELEC, which is sitting as the National Board of Canvassers [NBOC], has no choice but to proceed with the canvass as stated in the canvassing laws,” Guia said.
Poll spokesperson James Jimenez said to halt the proclamation on the basis of speculation is not the best thing to do, adding it would only create “difficulties.”
Guia said that under the law, the COMELEC can only suspend proceedings when there are no longer any certificates of canvass to canvass, or when there is proof that the certificates presented are falsified.
“These proof may be presented before the NBOC when in session,” he said.
The COMELEC official said the poll body welcomes any information regarding the conduct of count and tabulation of votes.
Jimenez said the winning candidates in the senatorial race could be known within the week.
The poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting said Thursday there were no discrepancies found between the electronically transmitted and physically delivered election returns so far in its audit operations.
“Everything that has been encoded has been proven to be what the electronic returns are saying. So far so good,” PPCRV media director Agnes Gervacio said.
The church-based poll watchdog, the COMELEC’s accredited citizens arm, has received almost 15 percent of the physical election returns from across the country.
As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 85,568 of 86,769 local clustered precincts have transmitted results. There are also 1,771 expected returns from overseas absentee voting.
PPCRV executive director Maribel Buenaobra said they already processed 15 percent of paper ERs mainly from the National Capital Region and the southern and northern parts of Luzon.
“ERs from the Visayas and Mindanao are expected to arrive in the coming days. PPCRV volunteers work in shifts to manually encode the ERs, the results of which would later be compared to electronically transmitted ERs,” Buenaobra added.
The group on Thursday asked the COMELEC for access to the audit logs of the transparency server and the data from the poll body’s central server to determine the cause of a seven-hour delay in the release of results on election night.
“I think they’d want to explain [the delay] so that the public knows that this election is credible,” Buenaobra said in Filipino.
Vote counting machines (VCMs) made three transmissions after the close of Monday’s midterm polls: one to the canvassing centers, one to the COMELEC central server and another to the transparency server, which distributes the results to media networks and the PPCRV.
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Election urged the COMELEC to disclose full details of the problems encountered on Monday.
“As we speak, NAMFREL volunteers in far-flung areas are still waiting for replacement vote counting machines or SD cards so that the vote of the people in those areas can be truthfully counted,” the election watchdog said in a statement.
“We have all been witnesses to the many problems that attended the conduct of the midterm elections on May 13, 2019. While the count of the VCMs that broke down or malfunctioned, corrupted SD cards and the problematic Voter Registration and Verification Machines in pilot areas continue to tick, we have yet to determine the full impact of those problems on the voters, especially in remote areas of the country. Did those problems result to disenfranchisement of voters? This, we have yet to determine,” it said.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the COMELEC failed to prevent “avoidable problems” despite its hefty P10 billion budget.
“The COMELEC has a huge budget and still, there were several issues. We can’t blame the public if they are wary of cheating because the multiple glitches did nothing to allay their fears,” Gatchalian said.
He supported the plan for a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System to look into the series of glitches that occurred during the 2019 midterm elections.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, had scheduled on June 4 hearing on the issue.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he supported the investigation as well but said this did not cast doubt on the election results.
He said the problems were not enough to affect the poll results.
But he also said the government should stop using Smartmatic, which has been the IT service provider over four elections.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that in the interest of transparency and the credibility of the elections, the COMELEC should fully explain the reasons behind the malfunctioning VCMs, defective SD cards and disclose the number of voters disenfranchised as a result of these problems.
“This is our fourth automated elections. Mishaps like this, especially those that deprive our people of the right to suffrage, are unacceptable,” she said.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, urged the public not to belittle the winning senatorial candidates.
He made this statement after former Philippine National Police chief and fight-ranking senatorial candidate Ronald dela Rosa said he would seek seminars on lawmaking.
“I don’t know if there’s a seminar or training on how to make laws and how to do that job in the Senate. If there is, I’ll take that opportunity so I could learn,” Dela Rosa said.
He said he would not take seminars at the state-run University of the Philippines because it was “anti-military” and “anti-police.”
In a Palace press briefing, Panelo then defended Dela Rosa, saying he should be commended for admitting his shortcomings.
He said another former PNP chief, Senator Panfilo Lacson, “became a great legislator.”