The long wait for automation
Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM
The law modernizing the elections, Republic Act 9369, was passed on Jan. 23, 2007. It updated and fine-tuned RA 8436, which authorized the Commission on Elections to use an automated system in the 1998 general elections. Eleven years after national hopes for modern elections were enshrined in law, Filipinos are still waiting for poll automation.
RA 9369 was passed two years ago, but everyone forgot to appropriate funding for it. Perhaps this was fueled by hopes that the Constitution could be amended and the 2010 general elections would not push through. When the Comelec reminded the nation that without money, there would be no poll automation in 2010, Malacañang finally submitted to Congress a proposal for a supplemental budget of P11.3 billion. Now it’s the turn of the House of Representatives to take its sweet time approving the funding.
Instead of speeding up the passage of the supplemental budget, congressmen are deliberating on amending a law that has not yet even been implemented. Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez is reportedly proposing that manual voting be retained for local races including those for Congress. Golez’s House colleagues seem receptive to the idea and are sitting on the supplemental budget until they make a final decision on the proposed amendment to RA 9369.
Why would congressmen want their votes to be counted manually? Maybe they are technophobes who don’t trust machines. Maybe they are sentimental folks who don’t relish parting with tradition. The ugliest speculation is that partial automation, with the old manual system retained in some areas — or, under the latest proposal, at the local level — provides better options for cheating. Surely this is not what Golez and the endorsers of his proposal have in mind.
Whatever the motive for the proposal, Congress should quickly decide whether or not it wants to take the Philippine voting system to the 21st century. Members of the previous Congress had made up their mind on this when they passed RA 9369. Now the present Congress is taking another look at the law. With just 14 months to go before the general elections, Congress does not have the luxury of time for a belated change of heart.