FILIPINOS on Monday endured long queues as malfunctioning vote-counting machines caused delays on election day, which the local body tasked to oversee it called a blockbuster.

Long lines were seen at voting centers nationwide, while people ignored health protocols amid a coronavirus pandemic, election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE)  said in a statement.

LENTE also said it had received reports of some people handing out campaign flyers and sample ballots outside election precincts, which is illegal.

It also cited heated arguments and shooting incidents between mayoral candidates in several villages in Ilocos Sur province in northern Philippines.

“LENTE expresses its concern about these reports of violence on election day as they may instill fear or intimidate voters from exercising their right to vote,” the watchdog said.

“Blockbuster,” Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia told reporters in a Viber message. Filipinos wanted to be heard and heard loudly.”

But LENTE’s election observers reported that in the first hour of voting in Zamboanga province in the nation’s south, paper jams in vote-counting machines had caused delays.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was prepared for any contingencies, including sending staff to repair vote machines on site, spokesman John Rex C. Laudiangco told a news briefing.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya urged the election body to extend voting hours past 7 p.m. to let everybody vote.

“The breakdown of vote-counting machines and the long lines, among other issues, have affected the turnaround time in voting,” it said in a statement. “Extending voting hours can help prevent disenfranchisement.”

Epi (not her real name), a 52-year-old laundrywoman from Manila, said their village captain started going from house to house on the eve of election day to give away P200 ($3.80) to every household.

“Isn’t that too little?” she asked, adding that she did not receive any money after being told she had not been registered in the city. “We will accept the money but we won’t vote for them.”

“In vote-buying incidents, the burden is always in the hands of witnesses because complainants will have to file cases in court,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines.

“The process is tedious, which may just discourage complainants,” she said in a Viber message.

Vote-buying proves how weak Comelec is as an institution, said Jan Robert Go, who also teaches political science at UP. “It also proves that “laws are made to favor the interests of politicians.”

Election Commissioner George Erwin Garcia told reporters in a Viber message that common issues encountered on election day were paper jams, rejected ballots and vote-counting machines not printing returns properly.

He noted that as of 10 a.m., 1,867 machines encountered these “common issues,” which were promptly resolved.

As of noon, 143 vote-counting machines and 124 SD cards had to be replaced, Election Commissioner Marlon S. Casquejo told a news briefing. He added that Comelec had about 1,900 extra voting machines in case of technical difficulties.

“Our vote-counting machines are a bit old and every machine has a life-span,” he said. “We will change these machines in 2025.”

“As of now, nothing will justify the extension of voting past 7 p.m.,” Mr. Garcia told the same briefing.

Reports of a shooting in Buluan, Maguindanao province and altercations that led to the destruction of ballots in the Bangsamoro region went viral on social media hours into voting.

Mr. Garcia said Comelec had ordered the election director in the Bangsamoro region to investigate the quarrel between supporters and the tearing of ballots in Lanao del Sur.

The military was also investigating whether the shooting in Buluan was election-related, he added.

A voter in Ilocos Sur posted on social media claiming that his vote had been counted for another candidate. Mr. Garcia said the claim had not been backed by evidence.

Ballots between neighboring precincts in Maguindanao province had been inadvertently swapped, but this was fixed and voting proceeded as planned, Mr. Laudiangco said. 

John (not his real name), one of the more than 600,000 teachers hired to facilitate voting, said a faulty vote-counting machine at a Manila precinct delayed had caused delays.

Affected voters rejected the offer of local election officials for them to vote manually. “They waited for almost an hour because they were afraid that someone might steal their votes.”

Lawyer Ibarra M. Gutierrez III, a spokesman for Vice-President and presidential candidate Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, also reported a malfunctioning voting machine in his area.

“After more than four hours, voters in line were finally offered the option to vote manually then leave their ballots to be fed into the (hopefully) working machine later,” he tweeted at 10:56 am. “Some of us chose this option, but a substantial number of voters chose to wait.”

Reports of faulty voting machines were not yet a cause for alarm, said Myla Villanueva, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting. She called on voters to be patient amid long queues at some election centers.

These are computing systems,” she told reporters at a news briefing. “There will always be a certain percentage that will break down, but it’s not yet of an alarming level.”

Jean Encinas-Franco, another political science professor from UP, said active citizenship is needed given questions about Comelec credibility.

“Social media activism is very important during these times since Comelec cannot solely monitor irregularities,” she said in a Viber message.

“People should not be lining up under the summer heat for hours with the fear that the vote-counting machines will be out of order by the time they cast their votes,” Ms. Atienza said. “There should be reforms in the conduct of voting in the future.”

Mr. Go said social media could be a double-edged sword. “You can air sentiments and post observations, but it can also be an avenue for misinformation.”

The Comelec en banc on Monday afternoon convened as the National Board of Canvassers, which will tally the votes for senatorial and party-list candidates. — John Victor D. Ordoñez, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Norman P. Aquino