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Congressional oversight inquiry into 2019 poll glitches called

MANILA, Philippines – Communication students show their inked thumbs as they attend a youth leadership forum at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, 10 Dec. 2015 file image. Senator Win Gatchalian has unveiled a plan to file a bill that would prohibit campaign and election spending by candidates for both national and local posts 45 days before until 15 days after election day. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Senator Win Gatchalian called on the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System to look into the series of glitches that occurred during the 2019 midterm elections.

“We want to preserve the integrity and credibility of our automated elections,” Gatchalian said. “Hence, there is a need to look into the issues encountered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) during the recently-concluded elections so we can avoid repeating them in succeeding elections.”

A number of hiccups occurred in a number of areas on election day, causing delays in voting.

“Una, ang daming VCMs (vote counting machines) at SD (secure digital) cards na sira. Tapos nagkaroon ng issue sa transparency server sa transmission ng boto sa media partners because of buggy software. Marami ring kaso ng mga sirang VRVM (voters registration verification machine), especially sa Maguindanao at Cotabato City,” he said.

Gatchalian was referring to the malfunctioning VCMs that delayed voting in a number of areas, including Pasig, Makati, San Juan, and parts of Cavite.

A total of 961 VCMs, or 1.1% out of 85,769, malfunctioned in 2019, compared to 801 during the 2016 elections.

The lawmaker also expressed concern about the number of defective SD cards, which jumped from just 120 in 2016 to 1,665 this year.

Moreover, reports showed that a total of 776 or 72% of VRVMs in Maguindanao and Cotabato City failed to work, resulting in voters having to go through manual verification on election day.

“All these issues call into question the integrity of the elections. Worse, baka may mga voters pa na nadisenfranchise,” Gatchalian said.

The Comelec also experienced problems with its transparency server, which caused a 7-hour delay in the posting of unofficial tallies.

To further complicate the server issue, Gatchalian noted that several news outlets monitoring election results noticed a sudden drop in transmitted results from the Comelec early Tuesday. From 93 percent of the total votes received at 5:20 a.m., the number plunged to 49 percent just 30 minutes later.

Gatchalian lamented the Commission’s failure to prevent what he described as “avoidable problems” despite its hefty P10.178-billion budget.

“Ang laki na ng budget ng Comelec pero ang dami pa ring naging issues. We can’t blame the public if they are wary of cheating because the multiple glitches did nothing to allay their fears,” the lawmaker said.

“Kahit na wala namang dayaang nangyari, hindi maiiwasan ng taumbayan na mangamba dahil sa fluctuating numbers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian commended the teachers who served as members of the board of election inspectors (BEIs), thanking them for their patience despite the glitches and the sweltering heat.

“Ang ating teachers ang mga bayani ng bawat eleksyon. Kaya nga sana ay hindi na mabawasan ng withholding tax ang honoraria nila,” he said.