By MARK PERE MADRONA, VERA Files
The Commission on Elections has selected the clustered precincts in 234 cities and municipalities around the country that will undergo random manual audit (RMA) immediately after the May 13 polls.
The audit is intended to check the accuracy of the votes counted by the precinct count optical scan machines.
The selection of the precincts took place at the Comelec Command Center at the Philippine International Convention Center on Sunday afternoon as election workers across the country made final preparations for the Philippines’ second automated polls.
The actual selection of clustered precincts using the Automated Random Selection Program (ARSP) lasted for just a few seconds.
Carmelita Ericta, a member of the RMA committee and current National Statistics Office administrator, said the software was specifically developed to speed up the selection process.
During the country’s first automated elections in 2010, the selection of the precincts subjected to audits was done manually and took hours to finish.
“In this software, all clustered precincts have the same chance of being selected,” she said. “The laptop PC used in the selection of the cities and towns last May 10 was also used in the selection of the clustered precincts.”
The 234 cities and towns were identified earlier by the Comelec to give election personnel time to reach sample areas, some of which are in remote places. The municipalities of Maconacon and Palanan in the first district of Isabela province, for instance, were first selected for audit but officials decided to pick areas that are more accessible.
“The two places are hard to access. It will take a week before Comelec personnel can reach them,” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).
Ilagan City, Isabela’s provincial capital, was ultimately selected by the ARSP. De Villa noted that the conduct of random manual auditing after the May 2010 polls experienced difficulties because the selected polling precincts were “too far to reach.”
Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca explained that the two municipalities are only accessible through a small plane coming from Ilagan. “I don’t think there are public utility vehicles that can be used to get there,” she said. Padaca served as the governor of Isabela from 2004 to 2010.
Together with Ericta and Padaca, Comelec Commissioner Robert Christian Lim, Agnes Carreon, officer-in-charge of the Comelec Internal Audit Office also supervised the selection.
Speaking to VERA Files, De Villa said that in 2010, the RMA was able to detect vote count discrepancies due to “clerical differences in the appreciation of the ballot.” She noted that those discrepancies in no way affected the final outcome of the elections.
“The 2010 RMA showed that the PCOS does what it is programmed to do,” she said, adding that the she expects this year’s manual audit to yield similar results.
There are 77,829 clustered precincts and 36,772 designated voting centers throughout the country. Each clustered precinct can have 1000 registered voters at the maximum.
Section 24 of Republic Act 9369 mandates the holding of RMAs in clustered precinct in all of the country’s 234 legislative districts.
Of the 234 legislative districts that were randomly selected last Friday, 31 are in the National Capital Region.
Meanwhile, Fr. Joe Dizon of Kontra Daya urged Filipinos to be more vigilant for tomorrow’s elections, noting that widespread cheating and failure of elections in some areas remains possible despite the automated voting system in place.
“Ang Comelec ay hindi ginawa ang mga bagay na dapat gawin para yung mga pagkakamali noong 2010 ng PCOS machines ay hindi na maulit,” Dizon said in a video statement posted online May 11. “Huwag nating iwanan ang ating eleksyon sa kamay ng mga taga Comelec,” he added.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)