The Supreme Court has ordered the Commission on Elections to activate the receipt-printing feature of the vote counting machines that will be used in the May elections.
In a briefing, SC spokesman Theodore Te said the high court voted unanimously, 14-0, to grant former Senator Richard Gordon’s petition for mandamus to activate the voter verified paper audit trail.
Associate Justice Arturo Brion was on leave.
“The Comelec is ordered to enable the vote verification feature of the vote counting machines, which prints voter’s choices without prejudice to the issuance of guidelines to regulate the release and disposal of the issued receipts to ensure clean, honest, and orderly elections,” Te said.
The SC said that after voter verification, receipts should be deposited in a separate ballot box and not be taken out of the precinct.
In his 24-page petition for mandamus, senatorial candidate Gordon insisted that the Comelec should enforce Section 7(e) of Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Elections System (AES) Law, which states that the VVPAT is one of the minimum system capabilities of the automated election system and a major security feature of the automated voting machine.
Gordon , the principal author of the AES Law, said Sections 6(e), (f) and (n) is “clear and unequivocal” in mandating the use of the VVPAT, adding that the provision must be interpreted in its plain and concise meaning and that the Comelec has no option not to implement it.
He said Congress has the constitutional duty to protect the sanctity of the ballot. He said this was the reason why he made sure that safeguards, such as VVPAT, were included in RA 9369.
The camp of presidential candidate, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, welcomed the decision saying that printing ballot receipts “upholds the law on automated elections.”
The Comelec earlier deactivated the VVPAT feature of the vote-counting machines, because it of the additional time it will take—13 seconds—to print a receipt.
Each machine would have to run an estimated additional seven hours if the receipts will be printed, poll officials said.
Comelec officials also expressed fears that the receipts will be used either in vote buying or in disrupting the elections at the precinct level.
Apart from Gordon’s plea, two other petitions have been filed seeking the activation of the VVPAT. Te said he has no information whether the tribunal has decided to consolidate all the three petitions. —with Trisha Macas/NB/ALG, GMA News