Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SC orders Comelec to enable VCMs' vote verification feature for May 9 polls
By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, March 8 (PNA) -- The Supreme Court (SC) En Banc ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday to enable the vote verification feature of the vote counting machines (VCMs) to be used in the May 9, 2016 elections.

In a press conference, SC Public Information Office (PIO) Chief and Spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te said:

"In the matter of G.R. No. 222731 (Bagumbayan-VNP Movement Inc. and Richard J. Gordon v. Comelec), the Court, voting 14-0, rendered the following Judgment:

"WHEREFORE, the Petition for Mandamus is GRANTED. The Commission on Elections is ORDERED to enable the vote verification feature of the vote counting machines, which prints the voter's choices without prejudice to the issuance of guidelines to regulate the release and disposal of the issued receipts to ensure a clean, honest, and orderly elections such as, but not limited to, ensuring that after voter verification, receipts should be deposited in a separate ballot box and not taken out of the precinct. "SO ORDERED."

The decision was written by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion is on leave.

Gordon earlier asked the SC to compel the Comelec to activate the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) feature of the automated election system to be used in the May 9 elections.

Gordon, who was the principal author of Republic Act No. 9369, or the Automated Elections System Law, and the Bagumbayan-VNP Movement Inc. filed a 24-page petition for mandamus.

They filed the petition after the Comelec announced that the seven members of the Comelec En Banc unanimously decided against using the VVPAT because it could be used as a tool for vote-buying and would also extend the voting period by seven hours.

In the petition, Gordon argued that the Congress has the constitutional duty to protect the sanctity of the ballot which is why he ensured that the safeguards aimed to do this were injected in R.A. 9369.

The VVPAT system allows voters to verify if their ballots were cast correctly through the issuance of a receipt, showing the names of candidates that they voted for.

It serves as a deterrent against election fraud and provides a means to audit stored electronic results.

Gordon, who is running again for senator, expressed apprehension that with the May 9 elections only less than 100 days away, the Comelec is set anew to commit the same violation and will do away with an indispensable security feature that will ensure transparency, honesty and the sanctity of the ballot.

"Under Section 6(e) of Republic Act No. 9369, which amends Section 7(c) of Republic Act No. 8436 (The Automated Election System Law), one of the minimum system capabilities of the automated election system is that there must be a provision for Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)," Gordon argued.

"The VVPAT is therefore a critical and indispensable security feature of the automated voting machine. Regrettably, however, the inclusion of this mandatory requirement under the automated election laws was previously and flagrantly violated by Respondent during the 2010 and 2013 Elections," he added.

Gordon further argued that Sections 6(e), (f) and (n) of R.A. 8436 as amended by Section 7 of R.A. 9369 is clear and unequivocal in mandating the use of the VVPAT, that it is not up to the Comelec whether or not to implement it.

He added that it is a time-honored principle under statutory construction that a statute must be interpreted in its plain and concise meaning. (PNA) SCS/PTR