Manila: Some 10,000 of nearly 82,000 electronic voting machines that were to facilitate the country's first automated elections were found defective after a discrepancy between the manual and automated tallies came to light during initial testing of the equipment, officials said even as they sought to allay fears that the May 10 election process was headed for chaos.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) recalled 7,555 defective memory cards inserted in thousands of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting machines that were initially tested in Metro Manila and southern Luzon on Monday, Mike Dioneda, chief of Comelec's National Capital Region, said in a TV interview yesterday.

Smartmatic-TIM, the company that bagged the 1.7 billion Philippine peso (Dh139.7 million) contract with Comelec for the automated elections, traced the problem to wrong programming of the flashcards, said Dioneda, adding that Domion, Smartmatic's technology partner, will immediately reconfigure the defective flash cards.

"Right now we're assuming that all of the machines are affected. Comelec cancelled the tests midnight of Monday when we received reports that some PCOS machines have malfunctioned," James Jimenez, Comelec spokesperson, said on TV.

Testing rescheduled

Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores said the recalled machines will undergo fresh tests after the reconfiguration of their flashcards. The testing of 15,000 PCOS machines originally slated for yesterday will now be held on Thursday, he added.

Despite assurances from both Comelec and Smartmatic, candidates belonging to all political parties say they feel "victimised" and say the onus is on Comelec to restore the confidence of voters and candidates in the country's first automated polls.

President Gloria Arroyo is worried about the development, her deputy spokesman, Gary Olivar, said.

"I hope Comelec will take this problem seriously," said Senator Manuel Roxas, the vice-presidential candidate of the Liberal Party.

"I think votes cast for president and congressional positions were affected. It seems it's happening all over the country. It seems there is truth to [the] spectre that there will be failure of elections," said Gilbert Remulla, a candidate of the Nationalista Party running for the senate.

The issue could force Comelec to reconsider its decision not to allow a cent -per-cent manual counting process alongside the electronic ballot on May 10, Sister Mary John Mananzan, co-chairperson of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), said.

Meanwhile, Aquilino Pimentel III, a lawyer, has asked the Bureau of Immigrations (BI) to issue a hold-departure order to prevent Smartmatic officials from leaving the country in the event the machines sold to the government were proven defective.

Some 3,000 PCOS machines in Metro Manila's Pasay, Paranaque, Makati and Las Pinas cities were recalled because they could not tally votes properly, said Rear Admiral Feliciano Angge, commander of the Armed Forces' National Capital Region Command.

Some 800 machines used in 11 towns and two cities in Batangas, southern Luzon, too were found to give misleading counts said lawyer Gloria Petallo, adding that the number made for 40 per cent of the total of 1,951 vote-reading machines needed in Batangas.

Only 76,000 PCOS are to be used in the elections, with 6,000 being kept as reserves. Testing and sealing of all the 82,000 PCOS machines is expected three to seven days before May 10.