INDEPENDENT presidential candidate Jamby Madrigal, during her visit to the ballot printing office, called the automated system an electronic Garci.
Former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was linked to the alleged cheating committed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 2004 presidential elections.
“I have nothing against automation but I have a lot against our present Comelec (Commission on Elections). Ang Comelec natin ay hindi pa nirerevamp. Itong Comelec natin ay Comelec ni GMA, si Mrs. Garci. Hangga't sa marevamp ang integrity at credibility ng ating Comelec, hindi tayo magkakaroon honest and clean elections, magkakaroon lang tayo ng mabilis na pandaraya sa pamamagitan ng electronic Garci,” Jamby told reporters.
She added that the Comelec is still Arroyo-controlled, thus lost the respect of the public.
Madrigal is the only presidential bet who personally visited the National Printing Office (NPO) where the official ballots are being printed. Her busy schedule however did not permit her to visit the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.
Madrigal noted that she has nothing against the new process to be used for the May polls but was not satisfied with what she observed during her visit.
Her concerns included the ballots being printed on time and the preparations for manual elections just in case the automated process will fail.
The senator also questioned why the Comelec removed the feature of the PCOS machine where the votes cast by the voter will be seen on the screen of the machine before it is approved.
“Nakakapagtaka kung bakit yung importanteng feature na bilang botante gusto mo maverify yung boto mo ay nabilang, inalis po nila ang feature nato. Nung tinanong ang Comelec, tumawa lang sila,” she said.
One of the NPO employees, according to Jamby, even told her that they were told by Comelec officials to take a lunch break when the visitors arrived.
But Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said they had to start late because they had to wait for Madrigal to arrive before the tour starts.
The tour in the NPO was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. but due to the late arrival of some representatives of the political parties, the tour started an hour late. Madrigal was the last one to arrive at the NPO premises in Quezon City.
“Mayroon daw magveverify and inspection ng finished ballots, binulungan kami na pinaalis daw sila on purpose kaya sa umpisa pa lang kaduda-duda na parang niloloko nila ang taong bayan bakit pagdating ng isang senador, pagdating ng inspection, pinapaalis sila at naglunch break na daw. Hindi namin makita na pano talaga vinerify yung ballot. Bakit pinaalis sila?” alleged Madrigal.
Madrigal was further irritated after seeing the name of rival Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar in the separate slot in the ballot.
In the election ballots, Villar's name is the last listed and occupies a separate square in the list of presidential candidates.
“It's unfair na madaling makikita yung pangalan niya and may rumor na kumakalat na siya rin ang nagpapatakbo kay (Vetellano) Acosta na ngayon ay nadisqualify,” said Madrigal.
Acosta's name was included in the ballot and placed before Liberal Party (LP) standard bearer Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III after he was reconsidered by the commission.
The senator said Villar and President Arroyo have formed a conspiracy with Comelec to control the automated polls.
“So itong Villar-Arroyo conspiracy together with Comelec ay nakakatakot pero sana naman sa pamamagitan ng media ay mailabas ang aming takot sa bayan na magkakaron ulit ng electronic garci kaya masa maganda kung bumalik tayo sa manual," she said.
Madrigal is determined to continue her fight and vowed to expose everything that the public needs to know about the elections.
She also urged the Church to participate in safeguarding the polls through a poll watchdog.
Larrazabal meanwhile maintained that the Comelec has a high level of confidence to push through with the automation project.
“Almost all Filipinos want this election to succeed and with Comelec we're doing our best to ensure this is a successful election. There have been some roadblocks thru along the way, and there have been delays caused to hinder the conduct of successful elections but we maintain our course that we will conduct in the May election," said the Comelec official.
The poll body has invited all presidential and vice presidential candidates to visit the facilities to answer their questions on poll automation.
Other bets sent their legal counsels and representatives of their political parties to observe the process.
Kilusang Bagong Lipunan VP candidate Jay Sonza also attended the visit.
Close to 14M ballots
In other developments, the Comelec reported that close to 14 million official ballots have been printed by the NPO for the upcoming elections.
Commissioner Larrazabal said that as of 7 a.m., March 11, the NPO has printed 13,783,011 ballots.
The NPO said each printing machine can print an average of more than 200,000 ballots a day.
Smartmatic-TIM will be acquiring another printing machine to augment the printing process.
The machine is expected to arrive in the country anytime and will be operational on April 5, 2010.
Larrazabal also welcomed the statement of newly appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lieutenant General Delfin Bangit that they will remain apolitical.
“General Bangit made a statement that he will faithfully perform his duties and he will ensure that the AFP is neutral in this coming election… we welcome the statement from Gen. Bangit that they will be our partners in ensuring that this elections will be credible and successful,” he said.
On Wednesday, Bangit in a speech during his assumption of the AFP post swore that he would not allow anybody to use him for purposes of partisan politics.
Several sectors have been questioning the appointment of Bangit as he is known to be a close ally of President Arroyo and that the forthcoming polls could see the return of the controversial “Garci generals.”
He is also being linked to a so-called "Project Full Moon" allegedly to administer election cheating in the coming polls. (Kathrina Alvarez/FP/Sunnex)