THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has initiated the conduct of a probe into defective vote counting machines (VCMs) following the May 9 national and local elections and even before President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement.

“Even before the pronouncement of the President, we already initiated the investigation of the VCMs. In fact, the national tech support center was already reviewing the tickets... inannounce po ni Comelec Commissioner (Marlon) Casquejo na nag-meeting po ang project management office together with the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology), and the Comelec advisory committee,” Comelec acting spokesperson Rex Laudiangco said in a press conference on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

“At sinangayunan ng Comelec advisory council ang move ng commission to initiate our own investigation of the VCMs,” he added.

During his Talk to the People, which was aired on Thursday morning, May 12, Duterte said while he sees no irregularity in the conduct of the election, the Comelec should still probe election fraud allegations in order to allay the public’s doubt.

The just concluded polls were criticized after several VCMs malfunctioned, causing voters to camp out to polling centers.

The delays brought about by defective VCMs reportedly denied several people to vote.

The Comelec earlier said around 1,800 VCMs and SD (secure digital) cards malfunctioned during the election days.

Some voters assumed that the fraud happened when the VCMs and SD cards broke down in the middle of the process and had been replaced.

Out of the 97,315 VCMs used in the election, 96,981 were refurbished machines.

No more VCMs in 2025

Casquejo earlier said the agency will discard these refurbished VCMs.

“I think this is the last dance for our VCMs. We will not use them anymore in the 2025 (midterm) elections,” said Casquejo.

“Even if they say the budget for the 2025 elections is small, we will insist that we would not use these VCMs for the succeeding elections. The VCMs have reached their limit, (their) life span,” he added.

Earlier, Laudiangco maintained that no electoral fraud happened on May 9, noting the testament of poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) on the accuracy of the result.

The PPCRV said there was a 98.39 percent match rate between the second batch of the encoded physical copies of election returns (ERs) and the electronically transmitted results from the Comelec’s transparency server.

But Laudiangco revealed that the DICT foiled over 20,000 attempts to attack the Comelec’s website, including the one carrying election results.

Laudiangco said they were able to identify some Internet Protocol addresses involved in the attacks and deeper investigation for the filing of charges against the individuals involved is underway.

Rejected ballots in Cebu City

The Comelec in Cebu City clarified that it has yet to summarize the total number of ballots rejected during the May 9, 2022 national and local elections.

Marilou Paredes, the acting election officer of Comelec Cebu City South District, said the rejected or spoiled ballots were placed inside a separate envelope after the conduct of the elections.

Paredes added that they will count these ballots as part of the electoral board’s report.

In a recent interview, Paredes said that there were about 15,000 ballots that were labeled as “rejected ballots” by VCMs.

However, Paredes clarified that these were the number of attempts that the ballots were fed in the VCMs and do not directly mean that these ballots were rejected.

There were instances that the ballots were not immediately accepted by the VCMs so the poll workers will have to reinsert the ballot until the machine receives it successfully, said Paredes.

Paredes also explained that ballots could be rejected by the VCMs if the security marker gets smudges while the voter is shading the ballots.

Based on the result of the election, Paredes said the number of rejected ballots will not affect the standing of the winners.

The election officer also urged the candidates, including those who did not win, to submit their Statement of Contribution and Expenditure (Soce) on or before June 8.

Paredes said that the winners of the recent elections will be barred from assuming office should they fail to submit their Soce.

Those candidates who did not win should also file their Soce, she added.

According to Paredes, if the losing candidates failed to submit their Soce and decided to run in the next election, their candidacy will not be allowed by the Comelec.

The 2022 national and local elections in Cebu City produced a voter turnout of 83.82 percent, which is higher than the 76.10 percent turnout in the 2019 midterm elections. (TPM / SunStar Philippines, IRT)