By John Victor D. Ordoñez
Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

AN ELECTION watchdog on Wednesday said it had received 577 reports of vote-counting machine failures that caused long queues and delayed voting on May 9.

“Kontra Daya maintains that the massive number of reports received this year only serves to prove the failure of the automated election system in guarding the sanctity of the ballot,” it said in a statement.

It said Comelec, private contractor Smartmatic SGO and logistics partner F2 Logistics should be held accountable for these technical blunders caused by the lack of timely, thorough and transparent testing of the voting machines.

“It is difficult for voters to be confident in election proceedings marred by machine errors and breakdowns, as these cast doubt on the capacity of the machine to count their votes,” the watchdog said.

It added that reports of thousands of voters not being able to vote due to malfunctions could cast doubt on the accuracy of election results.

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

He said 1,867 machines encountered these “common issues,” which were promptly resolved.

More than 900 defective vote-counting machines were replaced, while 469 SD cards were regenerated on Monday, Comelec said on Tuesday.

Kontra Daya said it had received 152 reports of illegal campaigning, 109 reports of vote-buying, and 55 reports of red-tagging on election day.

“The Comelec must replace the current automated election system with one that is transparent, open-source, and locally made,” it said. “An election system that maximizes local talent and allows for greater public scrutiny will allow voters to be confident that their vote has been correctly cast and counted.”

Comelec would investigate an incident shown in a viral video of unidentified men in police uniforms tearing ballots allegedly shaded in favor of Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, reportedly in Cotabato City.

“All of these videos will be referred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) with instruction to verify the truth,” Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday.

The Comelec Committee on the Ban on Firearms and Security Concerns would also look at the incident, spokesman John Rex C. Laudiangco told a news briefing. “It will be investigated thoroughly and we will be transparent with all of you.”

The election body would also look into an alleged ballot snatching incident in Lanao del Sur province in southern Philippines, where soldiers allegedly snatched ballots and vote-counting machines and added ballots favoring a local candidate, he added.

Comelec should promptly investigate reports of irregularities, political analysts said.

“That the people have trust issues with Comelec is evidenced by a litany of controversies that have not been fully explained, much less resolved,” Kontra Daya convenor Danilo A. Arao said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Hansley A. Juliano, a former political science professor studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, also cited “the fact” that most recent commissioner appointees were allied to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“They have not built good rapport with the media. You had the debate scandals on payments. Then you had the flat-out breakdown of the voting machines on the day,” he said in a Messenger chat. “That’s beyond three in a row of issues.”

But Mr. Juliano noted that since the shift to automated elections in 2010, “very few fraud allegation cases have prospered.”

“Even if irregularities happened, that period was the time people wanted to believe we had clean elections,” he said. “There’s a big possibility that this sentiment continues to persist.”

Comelec must provide satisfactory and factual responses and “make no excuses,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor from UP, said in a Viber message. “Otherwise, people will continue to distrust the electoral process and integrity of the elections.”

Ms. Robredo and some of her supporters have appealed for sobriety while the results are being validated.

“The quality of democracy is not only about the outcome of the process but the quality of the process,” Ian Jayson R. Hecita, who teaches political science at De La Salle University, said in a Messenger chat.

He added that any iota of doubt on the electoral process could cause political instability. “Fundamental to democracy is the trustworthiness and credibility of the electoral process including electoral administration — how the Comelec performed its mandate,” he said.

“Aside from the accuracy of the electoral results, the trustworthiness of the system and perceptions about the credibility of the process are critical.”