May 4, 2016, 1:10p.m. – A CHURCH-based election watchdog is being criticized bysome Catholic bishops for its unqualified endorsement of the country’s automated election system, which a number of experts fear is vulnerable to security breaches and technical problems.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, blamed Henrietta de Villa, chairwoman of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV),for tarnishing the PPCRV’s image as a transparent poll watchdog.

The bishops’ dispute with de Villaarose in 2010 after the PPCRV’s tie-up with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic-TIM Corp., provider of the election countingmachines called Precinct Count Optical Scanners (PCOS).

According to Bishop Pabillo, this raised the eyebrows of some Filipino bishops who believe that the automated election system is prone to “election failure” and it is “vulnerable tocheating.” 

Pabillo clarified thathe and the other Catholic bishops didnot have problems with automated elections.“Ang problema namin ay hindi sa automated elections. Our problem is they have not put forward `yung safeguards na hinihingi ng batas,” Pabillo said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

When the Philippine Automated Election System was launched by the Comelecin 2009, de Villa served as a member of the Comelec advisory council. Pabillo noted that in 2010 and 2013, the Comelec made early declarations of the total number of votes, causing an uproar from criticsof the automated elections. PPCRV took the side of Comelec and Smartmatic.

“Masyado na siyang (de Villa) subservient saComelecat saSmartmatic. Nagkagulonoong2013electionsnamaramingnawalang votes, ano ginawa ng PPCRV? Pinapasok ng PPCRV`yung Smartmatic para ‘ayusin’ yung mga machines,” Pabillo said.

He said the PPCRVshould put more on attention on theimplementation of the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail(VVPAT), which will allow voters to check if their votes were encoded correctly through receipts printed by the counting machines.

“Dapat dati pangin-implement `yang VVPAT dahil nasa bata s`yun. It is just one of the many safety features,” Pabillo said. 

Echoing Pabillo, lawyer Glenn Chong, the former Biliran congressman who petitioned the Supreme Courton July 26 last yearover concerns inthe automated election system,noted the active participation of bishops.

“When I filed my petition beforethe Supreme Court against automated elections, five archbishops and three bishops signed in the petition against the Comelec. Never did it happen in judicial history that you can pull together five archbishops and three bishops filing the same petition,” Chong told the Varsitarian.

Chong said Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tia-Tirona, Lingayen Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo dela Cruz and Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla were among those who signed his petition.

Chong and the bishopssought a certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order, to stop the Comelec’s plan to lease 93,977 PCOS machines.

But Chong said the fault didnot reside entirely on de Villa.“It’s the whole group (PPCRV) that I’m accusing, mostly the higher leadership. Leadership is the problem,” Chong said.


‘Christ’ in the elections

For de Villa, the PPCRV’s participation in the elections can be considered as an “evangelical act.”

“Basically, this is a work of evangelization for us. It is foundational for us to proclaim Christ as champ of our elections. That’s what we work for, that is why we’re not an ordinary secular group.  We always ask them to manifest the values of Christ, the virtues of Christ,” de Villasaid in an interview.

De Villashrugged off the criticism.

“Some, I would say two or three [bishops] are doubtful of the PCOS. There will be one or two who will not agree with you; you cannot win them all the time. But so far, I would say 99.9 percent of the bishops, the dioceses, are with the PPCRV,” De Villasaid.

De Villamaintained thatthe automated polls reducethe chances of election fraud.

“Machines don’t cheat. It’s the people who cheat. Kaya there would always be instances na kahit na makina ang ginagamit mo, mandadaya pa rin,” de Villa said.

Despite criticisms, PPCRV will exercise its responsibility to ensure clean elections.“We are here for the elections. We have a mandate as accreditors, giving voters’ education, poll watching and now to come with an official parallel count to verify the electronic election results,” de Villa said. Gabriel M. Agcaoili and Lea Mat P. Vicencio


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