By Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato, Reporter

Belgica asks SC to enable printing of voter receipts

Posted on February 27, 2016

ANOTHER senatorial candidate has joined calls for the Supreme Court to order the Commission on Elections to enable the receipt-printing feature of vote-counting machines (VCMs) to be used for the May 9 elections.

In a 16-page petition for mandamus on Friday, senatorial candidate Greco Antonious Beda G. Belgica, joined by lawyers Glenn A. Chong and Manuelito R. Luna, sought the issuance of a writ of mandamus or a mandatory injunction to order the activation of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

The petition said the Comelec has the obligation to comply with the minimum system capabilities set forth by Section 6 of the Automate Election Law, as amended by Republic Act No. 9369.

“With due respect, Comelec has been unlawfully neglecting its duty to enable the VVPAT, print voting receipts on election day as well as make provision for an on-screen verification of votes, and to fully comply with the minimum system capabilities and other safeguards of the AES (automated election system) in order to ensure a transparent and credible elections,” read the petition.

It added that for the previous two automated elections in 2010 and 2013, the Comelec had been “remiss [in] its duties.”

The petition also took exception to the poll body’s claims that to be compelled to enable the VVPAT would cause time constraints to the election preparations because it entails compiling a new trusted build for the VCM.

The trusted build is the firmware used in the final configuration of the machines, final ballot design, and data to be used by the AES.

The petition pointed out that the Comelec compiled the final trusted build on Feb. 8-9 but only announced the final decision to disable the VVPAT on Feb. 13, which delayed their legal action. It said the Comelec should have allowed opposing parties to seek legal remedies first so it would not be burdened with the problem of redoing the final trusted build in the event they win.

“If the Comelec were straightforward enough, it should have announced its final decision to disable the VVPAT before making the final trusted build to enable the opposing parties to seek appropriate remedies before the compilation of the final trusted build,” it read.

The petition noted the Comelec ignored the pleas by election advocates such as Mr. Chong, and even the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Jan. 31 pastoral letter to activate the VVPAT feature.

The petition also urged the SC to set aside the hierarchy of courts and entertain the petition. “Because of the difficult question involved, not to mention its transcendental public importance, direct recourse to the Supreme Court is warranted,” it said.

The VVPAT feature allows voters to verify if the votes recorded by the VCM were the same as the ones he shaded in his ballot. But the Comelec earlier this month voted 7-0 not to enable the feature because it may lengthen the voting time, encourage vote-buying, and allow losing candidates to assemble supporters in a bid to question the results.