373k election ballots defective

Comelec says they will be destroyed, replaced with reprinted ones

At least 372,878 ballots for the May 9 elections were found defective and are subject for reprinting, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Thursday.

Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said the defective ballots—which account for only 0.55 percent of the 67.4 million ballots printed— would be destroyed as soon as the replacements are reprinted this week.

The Comelec said it already finished printing the last batch of the 67.4 million ballots for the May 9 national and local elections ahead of the target date.

Rejected ballots are those with smudges, not perfectly cut, wrong lines, colors, or other printing errors. It will be disposed of in the presence of election stakeholders. There will be only one ballot for each voter.

“We will first complete the reprinting and the printing of other forms, then the destruction will follow. We will issue a notice,” Garcia said.

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At least two officials—Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Senator Imee Marcos—have scolded the poll body for anomalies with the ballots, even those provided to overseas Filipinos under absentee voting rules, with just under three weeks before Election Day.

On his Twitter account, Locsin told Comelec on Wednesday to “please attend to this and take the hit,” referring to complaints by OFWs that the ballots they received were either pre-shaded for a certain candidate or did not have all the candidates’ names.

“@DFAPHL does not print the ballots. Oh, tweet a picture of this ballot so I can make it karat but if I find out this is all fake, magtago ka na sa ends of the earth. Nagkakasakit na @dfaoca tao ko so daming nag boboto under OVA,” he warned poll personnel.

[Translation: Tweet a picture of this ballot so I can ‘kalat’ (spread) it… You better hide… the people at DFA Office of Consular Affairs are getting sick with so many people voting under OVA (misspelled OAV, overseas absentee voting).

Meanwhile, in a Senate hearing, Marcos questioned the Comelec for banning accredited observers from noting down the destinations and packing details of voter ballots ready to be shipped nationwide.

As chair of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation, Marcos said the incident took place last Tuesday, when the officer-in-charge of security at the National Printing Office (NPO) told observers they were no longer allowed within the agency’s premises.

Marcos said the ban followed a confrontation the previous day between the observers and an NPO security guard, who said their taking down of notes on ballot shipments would cost him his job.

“Why be secretive about the shipping info on voter’s ballots, unless Pandora’s boxes are being sent out for election mischief?” she added.

Brigido Dulay, the Foreign Affairs undersecretary for civilian security and consular affairs, had denied reports mainly on social media that pre-shaded ballots were handed out at various overseas polling posts.

“By virtue of a human error, when the ballot was given out to the voter, two ballots that were sticking together after coming out of the printing press, and when this ballot was filled up, the voter actually filled two ballots,” he said.

When this anomaly was discovered as the ballots were to be fed to the vote-counting machine, DFA personnel supposedly peeled off the second ballot, but in another case of human error, it was returned to the pile of unused ballots instead of being lumped with other spoiled ballots, Dulay said.

He said that “again partly due to human error, this [ballot] was mixed in the receptacle for unused valid ballots.”

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the supposedly pre-shaded ballots may have escaped scrutiny from election officers, as the chair of the board of election inspectors only authenticates official ballots on the first page.

“If an allegation is that two ballots were given, it must have been authenticated on the first page only because at the back page, there’s no authentication of the chairman,” he said.

Dulay assured the Senate committee that voting posts have resumed normal operations, except for three that had suffered delays.

The independent inspection of ballots and secure digital (SD) cards only began last month after most of them had already been produced and Marcos’ committee discovered that observers were being kept out of the NPO compound in Quezon City and the Comelec’s technical hub in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

Marcos noted the Comelec was setting itself up for failure in deciding to limit the use of digital signatures to Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao due to supposed difficulty in procuring the right type of cable for vote-counting machines.

“The Comelec has made excuses of the pandemic and procurement to set aside inspections and security checks required by law. It has offered no convincing remedies to inspire public trust,” she said.

“Less than a month before May 9, the Comelec’s shortcomings have put the integrity of the coming elections under a cloud of doubt,” she added.

Meanwhile, the poll body said it expects an increase in turnout among overseas absentee voters this year.

Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said in a TV interview pointed to the heavy turnout during the first day of absentee voting in places like Hong Kong, where 30 percent of Filipinos have already voted.

Comelec data showed there are about 1.7 million Filipinos living abroad who were registered in the 2022 polls.

Casquejo said this early, voting abroad has already reached their target, which is more than 30 percent.

He said the current number of voters who turned up to cast their ballots has already surpassed their target compared to previous elections.

Of the registered overseas voters, 786,997 are from the Middle East and African countries, 450,282 are from the Asia Pacific, 306,445 are from the North and Latin America, and 153,491 are from Europe.

Casquejo attributed the higher turnout to the “vote anywhere” scheme where overseas Filipinos are allowed to vote even if they are in another country during the election period.

In other developments:

• The Comelec said some Filipinos voting in Eastern Visayas will have to cast their votes in makeshift precincts after Tropical Depression Agaton damaged polling centers in several areas in the region.

Comelec Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz Jr. said they have already issued a directive to their regional offices and ordered the construction of temporary polling precincts.

“We received reports from Region 8 that several voting centers have been damaged by the typhoon. As a remedy, we ordered makeshift polling centers which will be procured by our regional offices for our voting centers,” he said.

The makeshift centers will mimic the size of a small room but will depend on the number of voters to be accommodated, Sinocruz Jr. said.

It will also be made of wooden materials.

“We will approximate the size of polling rooms to accommodate the number of voters. These are being done and will be procured by our regional offices. Those not needing makeshift [polling centers], will be transferred to other voting centers,” he said.

Agaton wreaked havoc on parts of the Visayas and Mindanao regions ahead of Holy Week. It affected 2,081,011 individuals or 599,956 families in 2,421 barangays in Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccsksargen, Caraga, and Bangsamoro.

Sinocruz Jr., however, said no election paraphernalia were damaged during the typhoon, including the voting counting machines (VCM).

• The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday said it recorded 28 election-related incidents from Jan. 9 up to April 17. PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said of the incidents, 21 were later shown to have nothing really to do with the elections.

Five incidents were connected to an election that happened in Regions 1 (Ilocos Region), 3 (Central Luzon), 9 (Zamboanga Peninsula), 10 (Northern Mindanao) and Cordillera region, and two incidents still being investigated if they are election-related.

Fajardo said the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have deployed their personnel to the said regions to ensure orderly and peaceful polls on May 9.

Meanwhile, PNP Directorate for Operations director Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon said the municipalities of Tubatan and Malabang in Lanao del Sur are now under the control of the Comelec due to the reported threats weeks ago leading to the polls.

He said they already had a discussion with Comelec chairperson Saidamen Pangarungan on the matter.

“Yes, there are threats and I had talked with our Chairman Pangarungan and we might conduct an inspection there,” De Leon said.

The Special Action Force has been deployed in Tubaran and Malabang, he added.

The Comelec released the list of 114 areas considered as red areas, which is also based on the recommendation by the PNP.

The election hotspot list has four categories — green, yellow, orange, and red.

Green refers to areas that do not have security concerns and are generally peaceful and orderly, while yellow are areas of concern, which means that these have a history of election-related incidents in the last elections, possible employment of partisan armed groups, the occurrence of politically motivated election-related incidents and had

been previously declared under Comelec control.

Orange, on the other hand, means areas of immediate concern where there is a serious armed threat; while Red means areas of grave concern, which exhibit combined factors under the Yellow category with serious armed threats that may warrant the motu proprio (on its own) declaration of Comelec control.

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