CEBU CITY -- The poll body, its supplier and the police will work on contingency plans to prevent signal jammers from interfering with the country’s first automated elections on May 10, said an official Sunday.

Part of the plan is to search the areas near polling precincts thoroughly, said Bonifacio Belen of Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM).

During his visit in last Saturday’s mock elections in the Bulacao Community School, Belen told reporters that Smartmatic-TIM is working with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the police in creating the contingency plans for security.

As part of preparations for the polls:

* Poll automation training for election personnel will take place from February 17 to 25, said lawyer Marchel Sarno, Cebu City election officer for the north district.

* The Comelec released the guidelines for the local absentee voting, which will take place on April 24 to 26, for government officials and employees, including the Armed Forces and the police.

* The National Printing Office began printing Sunday some of the 50.7 million ballots needed for the elections.

Election season goes into high gear Tuesday, when the official campaign period for national candidates begins.

But the Comelec still has to ease worries about the security and credibility of election results.

All nine test sites in last Saturday’s mock elections managed to transmit to the Comelec head office within two hours, but some areas suffered from unstable cell phone signals.

Among these areas was Barangay Mabini, a mountain barangay of Cebu City. Bulacao, in contrast, was the first area nationwide to send its results.

The National Telecommunications Commission recently banned cell phone signal-jamming devices, which could interfere with the transmission of election results.

Belen, Smartmatic-TIM’s regions manager, assured signal jammers are easy to locate, especially in areas where cell phone transmission signals abound.

A loss of signal, which cell phones indicate, can alert the authorities to the presence of a jammer nearby. A signal jammer can work within a 50-meter radius and looks like a small box with two 2.5-inch antennas.

Comelec officials have previously assured they are ready to deal with the threat of jammers.

The success of the mock elections apparently buoyed the poll body’s spirits.

The head office “congratulated Cebu for being the first to transmit,” said Sarno.

“Wala ma’y sami, everything went smoothly,” said lawyer Edwin Cadungog, Comelec south district election officer.

Barangay Bulacao sent the earliest results nationwide at 9:08 a.m. Ten minutes after the canvassing center at the Cebu City Hall received these results, it sent these to the Comelec Central Office.

But Barangay Mabini’s results reached the Comelec head office nearly an hour and 15 minutes later, because of signal problems.

Also on Sunday, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez confirmed that after being postponed twice, the printing of the ballots for the May 10 elections finally started in Quezon City.

At 1,631 unique ballot faces will be printed, the number that corresponds to the number of towns and cities in the country.

The Comelec also released the rules for the three-day local absentee voting.

In Resolution 8754, the Comelec en banc said local absentee voters must file their application forms to the committee on local absentee voting not later than March 7.

Application forms may be downloaded from the Comelec website (www.comelec.gov.ph).

The committee will verify the eligibility of the local absentee voters. Only those registered voters that appear in the national list of the commission’s Information and Technology Department shall be approved by the committee.

Under local absentee voting, voters may only vote for the positions of president, vice president, senators, and party-list representative.

Voters may vote anytime from April 24 to 26 in the presence of an authorized Comelec representative. Local absentee voters will not vote using the new automated machines.

A special board of election inspectors will count the local absentee ballots on Election Day. (JKV/EPB/Sun.Star Cebu/With FP/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)