The Commission on Elections (Comelec), already at the center of almost innumerable controversies since its adoption of the Smartmatic-based Automated Election System used in the Philippines since 2008, has gone a step too far with its latest move to quietly return 1,356 vote-counting machines (VCMs) to Smartmatic. The VCMs were supposedly “contingency” machines, only to be used in case of a failure of any of the more than 90,000 VCMs deployed across the country for the election. As mere back-ups, Comelec would have everyone believe, these particular machines played no part in the May elections, and were simply spare components to be returned to the distributor as a matter of housekeeping.
In that case, why did the Comelec avoid informing those with an interest in the disposition of any VCMs or other election paraphernalia and equipment, until after it agreed to Smartmatic’s request to return the machines? There are a number of election protests currently being pursued by candidates at various levels in the May elections, the most significant of which is the electoral protest filed by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo. The Marcos camp was informed of the planned return of the VCMs in a notice dated October 10 from the Comelec, which said that a briefing on the return protocols would be held on October 19. The Marcos camp, while informing the Comelec that it would attend the briefing, said the commission should have notified the group and the Supreme Court that Smartmatic had made the request, rather than simply agreeing to it.
In a separate letter to Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, the Comelec informed the High Court – which serves as the Presidential Election Tribunal (PET), and is hearing the poll protest of Marcos – that it had agreed to return the machines to Smartmatic after having determined that doing so was not prevented by the Precautionary Protective Order (PPO) issued on July 12. The PET issued that order in relation to Marcos’ protest, directing the Comelec “to preserve all the election materials and paraphernalia relative to the May 9, 2016 elections,” until the case was resolved.
What part of the word “all” does the Comelec not understand? By what authority does the Comelec feel it has the privilege to determine the scope of an order issued by the Supreme Court?
It may very well be that the VCMs in question are completely irrelevant to the May elections, were not used, and contain no data. Returning the machines to Smartmatic may, indeed, be a completely innocent move that will not affect the ongoing poll protest. That, indeed, is what Comelec contends. If that is true, and with the full knowledge that there is a lawful and unequivocal order from the PET in force covering ALL election materials and paraphernalia, then the proper course of action for the Comelec would have been to inform all concerned parties, not the least the PET that has the final decision on whether its previously issued order could be modified or not, upon receipt of the Smartmatic request, not after agreeing to it.
The impression such move has created is that Comelec has something to hide. The actual implication of the decision to return the machines without consulting with the Marcos group or the PET that has, by virtue of its protective order, jurisdiction over the VCMs, is that Comelec is placing the interests of Smartmatic over those of the Philippines.
This cannot be tolerated.
We urge the Supreme Court in its role as Presidential Electoral Tribunal to immediately put a stop to the planned return of the VCMs until the matter can be thoroughly and satisfactorily reviewed by all concerned. More emphatically, we call for a clean sweep of the entire election commission and urge ALL its members to resign, or its top leadership be removed from office for having overstepped its authority and destroyed the last shreds of credibility the already-troubled body might have had.