For reference: Atty. Romel Regalado Bagares, Executive Director 09328798422, Atty. Harry Roque 09175398096
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal “grossly misrepresents” the Supreme Court’s ruling enunciating the so-called Roque doctrine in regard to the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines’ paper audit capabilities, according to a lawyer who was one of the petitioners in the landmark case.
“In fact, if you read closely the High Court’s two rulings in the case, the conclusion you get is that the PCOS should be able to issue a receipt on demand from voters,” said lawyer Romel R. Bagares, one of the petitioners in the case of Roque et al., v. Comelec et al., (GR No. G.R. No. 188456).
Bagares issued the statement in reaction to an earlier statement made by the veteran election lawyer twitting former Senator Richard Gordon for filing a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the Comelec to provide the PCOS machines that will be used in the May 2016 elections with receipt-printing capability.
The Roque case, which had activist lawyer Harry Roque, a professor of constitutional law at the University of the Philippines College Law, as its lead petitioner, was decided by the Supreme Court en banc on September 10, 2009.
The decision dismissed the petition.
The High Court, on Motion for Reconsideration by the petitioners, issued a second ruling on February 10, 2010, denying the petition with finality.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. penned both rulings.
In the first ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the challenge pressed by Roque on the reliability of the PCOS machines, saying that the machines passed the criteria for minimum systems capabilities set by Republic Act 8435 as amended that provided for an automated elections.
In its September 20, 2009 ruling, the High Court presented a matrix of 28 questions set by Comelec’s bidding committee on the technical aspects of the PCOS machines. Bagares, who is Executive Director of the non-profit Center for International Law, an NGO advocating for the applicability of international legal norms in Asia, noted that question 25 of the matrix dealt with the capability of the PCOS machines to print reports.
“And so, the Supreme Court asked: ‘Is the system capable of generating and printing reports?’,” said Bagares.” “And the answer was as follows: ‘Yes. The PCOS prints reports via its built-in printer which includes: 1. Initialization Report; 2. Election Returns (ER); 3. PCOS Statistical Report; 4. Audit Log.’ ”
The High Court further clarified what this means in its February 20, 2010 ruling, said Bagares.
This time around, the High Court explained in greater detail what PCOS machines should be able to do on Election Day.
It said: “As we have said, the AES procured by the Comelec is a paper-based system, which has a provision for system auditability, since the voter would be able, if needed, to verify if the PCOS machine has scanned, recorded, and counted his vote properly. All actions done on the machine can be printed out by the Board of Election Inspectors Chairperson as an audit log.
On the basis of the arguments, past and present, presented by the petitioners and intervenor, the Court does not find any grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Comelec in awarding the automation contract to the joint venture of private respondents.”
Aside from Roque and Bagares, the other petitioners in the Roque case were Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Allan Jones Lardizabal, Gilbert T. Andres, Immaculada D. Garcia, Erlinda T. Mercado, Francisco A. Alcuaz, Ma. Azucena P. Maceda and Alvin A. Peters.
Bagares said it is clear from these two rulings of the High Court that “in fact, voters can immediately ask the Board of Election Inspectors to print out the results of their ballots already cast to check if the PCOS machines correctly read their ballots.”
The tenor of the rulings is that the PCOS machines should be able to print paper audits or receipts on demand, he said.
“Until now, the Comelec has been denying voters their right to ascertain whether their ballots are being properly counted by these benighted machines.”
He added that nowhere in the Supreme Court rulings in the Roque case did the High Court say that the issuance of receipts or of a paper audit trail may be dispensed with by the Comelec.
“The rulings also do not say that Comelec may choose to disable this paper audit feature of the PCOS machines,” said Bagares.