Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Monsod: Glitches arise from incompetence but can be solved

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — Former Elections Chairman Christian Monsod on Wednesday tried to douse the fears of a jittery public that glitches in last Monday's election trial runs in various parts of the country would lead to a massive election failure.

"The good news is that this is not part of a conspiracy to manipulate the polls, nor an attempt to cheat. This is a problem of incompetence, and it's solvable," he said by phone.

Even with such glitches cropping up close to the May 10 elections, Monsod stood by the capability of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, to mount the automated elections.

"I have no doubt that the elections will go through. If there will be some areas that there will be some postponement, there might even be a delay in the proclamation. But we should allow the election to take its course,'' he said.

He added: “In any case, there's always a back-up manual. I would not jump to conclusions, ‘Oh, this is a crisis.’ I don't think it's in the cards.”

Technical glitches surfaced anew in Monday's testing of the vote-counting scanners, called precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

In one instance, the machines produced a tally sheet of votes different from the inputs. In another, they only read portions of the sample ballots across the names of national candidates.

Smartmatic blamed this on the machines' memory cards, which contained the wrong "instruction'' concerning the local ballot face, prompting the Commission on Elections to recall the memory cards of 76,000 machines already deployed to regional hubs for field distribution.

Even so, Monsod said he was confident the Comelec and Smartmatic could deliver the machines, with the reconfigured cards, in most parts of the country before election day.

"Most of the machines will be delivered on time and tested. If the tests are positive, then they can proceed with the elections in most precincts. I'm not worried about a massive failure of elections. I don't think that will happen,'' he said.

If at all, given the logistics problem, the machines might not arrive on time in far-flung areas, and in this case, the Comelec would have to defer the elections here for two days, he said.

"They may be able to do it in 48 hours. I don't think you have to postpone it in 15 days. Let them do it with much less than that,'' he said. "Postponing it might raise all kinds of suspicion. The people are very edgy.''

A massive failure of elections was far-fetched because there are “back-up systems, including manual (vote-counting),” he added.

It's very important for all of us to learn patience. We must be patient. This is a totally new system. There's little time for preparation. But we made a national decision to do this. And we must do our best to make it succeed,” Monsod said.

“These elections,” he added, “are not about President Arroyo. It's about us as a country carrying out this project despite the odds and difficulties. We should avoid knee-jerk reaction about conspiracies and cheating.

The foul-ups, Monsod pointed out, might just prove to be a “blessing in disguise” for Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM.

“Smartmatic has been properly chastised by this experience and should be less arrogant. And if it had any thought to cheat, it will think a hundred times about doing it given the mood of the people. That would be a big mistake,” he said.

The Comelec, for its part, might now realize the “need for a more inclusive rather than exclusive approach to managing the process.”

“It needs everybody's help to overcome this huge logistical and credibility problem, and we should help,” he said.

Monsod also said that the proposal by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal to postpone the elections for 15 days was “unnecessary,” but he did not rule out a manual count.

“I think even in densely populated areas, the machines will get there with the reconfigured cards,” he said, adding, “There may be instances when we have to use manual. Comelec knows how to do manual elections.”

Macalintal, President Macapagal-Arroyo's election lawyer, sought the postponement of elections for 15 days to prevent a failure of elections and give election officials ample time to prepare for manual elections.

He argued that the Omnibus Election Code allows the Comelec en banc to reset the balloting for serious reasons such as the “apparent failure” of the PCOS machines to function.

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