Election officials in Catanduanes are in the homestretch of preparations for the conduct of the May 9, 2022 national and local elections, with the final testing and sealing of Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) set six days before the polls.
Provincial Election Supervisor Atty. Alberto T. Cañares III said the Commission on Elections in Catanduanes, particularly municipal election officers in the entire province, are ready to supervise the delivery of the VCMs during the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) day on May 3.
The testing will determine whether each of the vote count machines are working and would accurately read the ballots and count the votes during Election Day, he added.
In isolated areas where there are no internet connectivity, the clustered precincts will be provided with Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), the COMELEC official disclosed.
Those unable to transmit the VCM results would have to transfer to the nearest polling place where they could do so.
Atty. Cañares told the Tribune that teachers who will man the precincts have already undergone seminars for the purpose this April and will only receive refresher training on the operation of the VCMs.
He refused to state the date when the machines would arrive due to security reasons but he assured the public that the VCMs will be safe and secure in the so-called provincial hub where they will be stored.
From the hub, the machines will be taken to the local election offices for the conduct of the Final Testing and Sealing on May 3 before being brought to the different polling places.
However, the election supervisor said that a potential problem to be addressed by COMELEC would be the possibility that there would be lack of contingency VCMs to replace defective machines.
He bared that the COMELEC was not able to secure additional VCMs to provide enough backup.
Late last year, the Commission was reported to be planning to lease an additional 1,000 VCMs from Smartmatic, in addition to the 4,500 VCMs already in the hands of the poll body.
While the 408 VCMs to be deployed to Catanduanes is enough for the FTS, these would not be enough if some of them suffer breakdowns unlike in past elections where the contingency VCMs were more than adequate.
“Kokonti po kasi ngayon ang mga VCMs na available kasi dumami ang mga voters dito sa Catanduanes,” Atty. Cañares emphasized.
As to the number of contingency VCMs to be deployed to the island province, the COMELEC provincial office could not say as to the actual number of back-up machines as this would have to be allocated by the central office in Manila.
If there are no more backup VCMs available for precincts where deployed VCMs have broken down, the voters in said precincts will have to wait for voting in nearby precincts to be completed for the VCMs in the latter voting centers to be used in reading the ballots.
Last Friday afternoon, April 22, 2022, the Provincial Joint Security Control Center (PJSCC) for the 2022 NLE met at the Catanduanes provincial police headquarters to firm up preparations for the polls.
Atty. Cañares said that the island has no hotspots or election areas that are classified as red and needs additional deployment of police personnel.
There are “orange” areas of concern not due to intense political rivalry but the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, he disclosed.
“Yung PNP at AFP at Comelec po naghahanda na rin po sa mga lugar na naka-code Orange para masiguro natin na maging peaceful ang eleksyon dun, so nanawagan na rin po tayo sa mga kababayan nating rebelde ibigay na nila yung election day at huwag na muna magkaroon ng engkwentro sana,” the provincial election supervisor appealed.
Based on PNP data, there are 105 towns and 15 cities listed as election areas of concern under the highest red category.
The PNP classified the areas in the country into four color-coded categories for the 2022 elections: green, yellow, orange, and red.
Areas classified as green are considered generally peaceful for the conduct of elections, according to the police.
Yellow areas, classified as areas of concern, have reported suspected election-related incidents in the past two polls, possible presence of armed groups, and intense political rivalries.
Orange areas have a recorded presence of armed groups such as the New People’s Army that may interrupt the polls and are considered “areas of immediate concern”.
Meanwhile, red areas meet the parameters for yellow and orange areas. They will be placed under Comelec control. Security forces will focus on monitoring these areas with a possibility for violence and intense political fights among local candidates.
The PJSCC meeting also included representatives from the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) to ensure that there would be no power interruptions on election day.
It is claimed that some areas in the island grid are vulnerable to brownouts, so the COMELEC wants to ensure that FICELCO linemen are available 24/7 to respond to line faults at any time.