Council lauds Senate nod on poll fund
MANILA, Philippines—Members of the Commission on Elections Advisory Council (CAC) lauded the Senate’s approval of the P11.3 supplemental budget for poll automation.
CAC chairman Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III and Henrietta de Villa, chairperson of the Parish Pastroral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and National Movement for Free Elections, said this development sets in motion plans to fully automate the elections in 2010.
“The approval of the bill keeps us on schedule with the preparatory activities needed, especially the start of the procurement process. We are now all systems go,” he said.
If the supplemental budget was not approved before the Holy Week break, Comelec would lose one month and can only proceed with the slated activities after Congress passes the bill when session resumes in April.
Roxas-Chua III expressed gratitude to members of the Senate “for acting on the poll automation budget given a short time frame.”
He cited the Senate only received the House version of the bill Tuesday and was able to work double time to approve it late Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved the bill Monday night.
“I laud Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon for fighting for and winning the approval of the poll automation budget. With this news, we can now start moving with the procurement process,” said De Villa.
Roxas-Chua III said the approval of the bill puts the Comelec in a safer position to pursue the bidding process.
“Although there is a circular by the Government Procurement and Policy Board (GPPB) allowing agencies with general appropriations to proceed with the bidding short of making an award or before a SARO [Special Allotment Release Order] is made, along the line there might be questions on the legalities because there is no mention of a supplemental budget in the circular, only of general appropriations,” he said.
Roxas-Chua III said that while the poll body can proceed with the bidding even without the release of the budget, “there is a risk of legalities down the line” if some parties would challenge the contents and legalities of the circular, as it applies to the poll automation budget.
“We are very happy the bill was approved before the Holy Week break, now it only needs the signature of the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo],” said the official.
The Comelec has requested for the supplemental budget to lease 80,000 precinct count optical scans for the nationwide poll automation project in 2010.
Comelec chairman Jose Melo has been urging Congress to pass the supplemental budget before the Holy Week recess on March 7 so the poll body can proceed with their preparations.
Melo has said the poll body would publish the terms of reference for the bidders on March 25, earlier than the original schedule of April 2.
The terms of reference would define the specifications of the machines and the system to be deployed for the 2010 polls, as crafted by the Comelec in collaboration with the CAC.
By May 22, the poll body would award the contract to a wining bidder for the machines. Activities, such as configuration of the machines, testing and mock elections, staff training and voters’ education, would then follow.
Roxas-Chua III said the terms of refernce is “almost in final form and about 90 to 95 percent complete.
He told INQUIRER.net the terms of reference would be finalized within the week.
Noting the reservations of some lawmakers, De Villa said the people would still determine the success of any elections.
“An automated election system will not guarantee ‘foolproof elections’ rid of fraud and cheating because on the final analysis, it is still the people who vote and get elected who make the decisions if an election is a success,” said De Villa.
De Villa and Roxas-Chua III urged the Comelec to apply the recommendations of the CAC for a transparent bidding process.
In the resolution released in February, the CAC recommended that bids and decisions of the Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) be published immediately after the awards are made.
It also would like to allow the public to observe the bids committee meetings and bar BAC members from making any contact with prospective bidders after the procurement process has started.
Roxas-Chua III said the resolutions aim to prevent questionable bids and make BAC decisions transparent.