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Brillantes warns of manual voting in 2016 polls.

MANILA -- Retired Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. warned of a possible return to manual balloting next year after the Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected a P268.8-million contract to conduct repairs on the 82,000 automated voting machines.

We have to comply with the SC ruling but definitely this would result in unnecessary delay in the Comelec's preparations for the 2016 polls, Brillantes said in a phone interview.

Brillantes brushed aside allegations that the contract was a midnight deal since he signed on a Friday, three days before he retired last Feb. 2.

Maybe we're heading toward a return to manual elections, or to the one being suggested by some groups, like Gus Lagman's TCRES (Transparent and Credible Election System) or open system proposal, he said when asked about the implications of the ruling.

But using the TCRES or the open system might need an amendment of the Automation Election System law, he added, explaining that this meant the rules of appreciation of ballots would have to be amended.

He said that there was no need for appreciation of ballots in the automated system, as it was already done by the machine.

Under the TCRES, voters will return to manually writing the names of their chosen candidates on their ballots, while the board of election inspectors will return to manually counting the ballots and putting marks on the election returns.

Automated canvassing

The difference is that there will be laptops that will simultaneously count the votes at each precinct. The votes will then be transmitted electronically to the municipal board of canvassers and the Central Verification Server. Automated consolidation and canvassing of votes will follow in the municipal provincial and national levels.

Brillantes discounted the possibility that there would be no election next year. But he urged President Aquino to fill the vacant posts in the Comelec so it could act swiftly on matters related to the coming elections.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the Comelec was prepared to adopt alternative options with still more than a year before the next elections. We are able to adjust our timeline to take that (ruling) into consideration. We believe we still have enough time to prepare for the elections; I think more than enough time, he said.

Smartmatic president Cesar Flores, in a statement, said it remained unclear why the court did not accept the preponderance of evidence presented to justify the direct contract as permissible under the Government Procurement Reform Act.

We have always believed that as the manufacturer of the PCOS machines and the only legitimate source of original spare parts, Smartmatic is the rightful and capable entity in ensuring that these voting machines are in the best possible condition for the next elections with the less amount of risk involved, Flores said.

While these developments are part of democratic space, we urge everyone not to lose sight of the fact that the elections are barely a year from now. The sooner that maintenance and refurbishment are performed on the PCOS machines, the better it would be in ensuring the smooth conduct of the 2016 elections, he added.

Motion for reconsideration

Flores said Smartmatic would file a motion for reconsideration.

We find it significant that the honorable court is of the opinion that direct contracting as a manner of procurement is not intrinsically unconstitutional. We note with encouragement that the court merely takes issues with procedural matters which we are confident the procuring entity Comelec can easily remedy, he said.

Nicanor Elman of the watchdog group Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections said: There is still plenty of time to conduct honest bidding, or better yet introduce a more transparent system. Do it correctly this time.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Apr 22, 2015
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