House urged to consider automating Oct. 30 barangay, SK polls

By Zaldy De Layola

January 26, 2023, 12:31 pm Updated on January 26, 2023, 4:34 pm

<p>(File photo)</p>

(File photo)

MANILA – Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. urged his colleagues in the House of Representatives to adopt “experimental use” of the Automated Elections System (AES) in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (BSK) elections on Oct. 30 this year.

In House Resolution 717 he filed on Wednesday, Barzaga directed the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the "viability and feasibility” of conducting automated BSK polls.

“It will not only yield faster results and proclamation of winners but will also prevent human intervention or error and confusion in the appreciation of ballot on an experimental basis on the BSK Elections in large barangays preferably in Metro Manila," Barzaga said.

According to the resolution, automated elections have proven to be economical as it can accommodate up to more than 1,000 voters per clustered precinct as opposed to the 500 voters per precinct in manual elections which entails hiring more personnel in manual elections.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Oct. 10, 2022 signed Republic Act 11935 moving the Dec. 5, 2022 BSK elections to Oct. 30, 2023 and holding succeeding elections every three years thereafter.

As of October 2022, there are 42,022 barangays in the country, each of which has one punong barangay (village chief) and seven Sangguniang Barangay (village council) members, one SK chairperson and seven members.

Barzaga, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, said since there will be two ballots for the BSK elections, one for regular voters aged 18 and above and another one for SK voters aged 15 up to 30, the existing Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) "can be refurbished and modified to accept two ballots from a single voter who qualifies to vote in both Barangay and SK elections and the machines can tabulate separately the results of the Barangay and SK elections."

Historically, the resolution said, manual elections "encounter numerous problems including the inaccurate counting, interpretation and appreciation of ballots, among others, and the consolidation of votes in bigger Barangays usually take two to three days unlike in automated elections which immediately transmit the results to the canvassing center upon closing of the voting."

Barzaga pointed out that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was lauded for the conduct of the May 9, 2022 national and local elections for having the fastest results and highest voter turnout since the Philippines adopted the AES in 2010 and the public has accepted the results of the elections.

A total of 55,290,821 or 84.10 percent of the 67,745,526 registered voters participated in the 2022 national and local elections.

The resolution also cited the fact that the Comelec owned the 97,000 refurbished vote-counting machines (VCMs) it purchased in 2016 and leased additional VCMs which were used in the 2022 polls “and a portion of these machines can be used in the BSK Elections in the pilot barangays.”

Barzaga said since the AES was utilized in 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and the 2022 national and local elections, "Filipino voters are well-versed in using the same to cast their votes."

Open to idea

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it is open to the proposal to hold automated village polls.

"We will study if we can at least pilot test in certain areas/precincts the automation of the barangay and SK elections. This is an innovative idea indeed," Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said in a statement on Thursday.

He noted that Barzaga has informed him regarding the proposal early this week.

The BSKE set for October this year will be using the manual system of elections wherein voters will write down the names of candidates on the ballots. (with Ferdinand Patinio/PNA)