Wake Up, Philippines!

Father President?

Posted in Church, Election, Filipino Catholics, Filipinos/Filipinas, Religion/Belief by Erineus on March 25, 2009

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:57:00 03/25/2009

There is no Philippine law that prevents Fr. Ed Panlilio from running for public office, unlike in Mexico, where the constitution prohibits members of the clergy from holding public office. Ironically, what could stop Panlilio from running is his own Catholic Church, which has been ambivalent about “political” priests. Panlilio has in fact been suspended from “priestly duties” since he became governor of Pampanga province.

I use quotation marks for the word “political” because the Catholic Church has actually been political for 2,000 years, with popes themselves wielding great political power, while cardinals and bishops have actively intervened to make, or break, kings and queens and presidents.

In the last half century, the Vatican has set its sights on liberal priests. Up to 1980, canon law allowed priests to run if they had the permission of their bishops, but there were tensions here as well, especially if the bishops were conservative and the priests running for office were liberals. In 1980, Pope John Paul II mandated that priests should withdraw from electoral politics, and in 1983, a new canonical law went into effect with a broader prohibition on priests taking up “public positions entailing participation in the exercise of civil authority.”

Revolutionary priests

Nicaragua came to my mind almost immediately when I first read about a possible Panlilio candidacy. The late 1960s and the entire 1970s were a time of political ferment for the Catholic Church in Latin America and the Philippines because of harsh dictatorships. It was during these difficult times that liberation theology gained a strong following among both the religious and lay Catholics (as well as some Protestants). Liberation theology borrowed from Marxism, pointing out the structural roots of poverty, from US imperialism to the greed and corruption of local landlords and capitalists.

Liberation theology talked about a “preferential option” for the poor. Many religious and lay people went to serve urban and rural poor communities, getting involved in community organizing and militant politics. The film “Sister Stella L.,” whose 25th anniversary is being celebrated this year, was based on the lives of Catholic sisters in the Philippines who worked in urban poor communities, joining pickets and rallies and investigating human rights abuses, all amid a repressive martial law regime.

Liberation theology was also strong in Nicaragua, which was ruled by the Somoza family for several decades. As in the Philippines, Catholic religious were among those who opposed the dictatorship. This included a Maryknoll priest, Fr. Miguel D’Escoto, who headed the US-based Nicaraguan solidarity movement.

The Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in 1979 and the new government appointed Father Miguel foreign minister. He resisted his superiors’ orders for him to give up his government position and stayed on as foreign minister until 1990, when the Sandinistas lost power in elections. In 2007, when the Sandinistas came back into power, he was appointed as government adviser by President Daniel Ortega.

Father Miguel was not the type to mince words, calling Ronald Reagan a “butcher” and George W. Bush a “liar.” Last year, he became president of the UN General Assembly, and has taken a more diplomatic approach in his declarations.

There were two other Nicaraguan priests, the brothers Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, who clashed with their superiors, all the way up to the Pope. Ernesto, internationally respected as a poet and writer, was Nicaragua’s minister of culture from 1979 to 1988. Fernando was minister of education and launched one of the most successful adult literacy programs in the world. Both did not step down from their posts, arguing that the new canonical law came into effect after they had been appointed to the Nicaraguan government.

In 1983, when the Pope visited Nicaragua, there was tension when at one event, Ernesto Cardenal approached the Pope and knelt to kiss his ring. The Pope pulled back his hand and shook his finger at the priest.

Monsignor President?

Despite what seems to be a hardline Vatican stand, there’s actually a Catholic bishop who ran for president and won. This is Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, who also has roots in liberation theology. He trained as a teacher, and then became an SVD (Society of the Divine Word) priest. He served as a missionary in Ecuador and then returned to Paraguay, only to be expelled by the Stroessner military regime because of his activism. He returned in 1987, two years before Stroessner was ousted, and stayed on to serve Paraguay. He was outspoken on issues of social justice, eventually becoming bishop of the diocese of San Pedro.

In 2006, this “Bishop of the Poor” decided to run for president and applied for laicization or a temporary leave from the priesthood, but his request was turned down because, his superiors said, bishops were not eligible for laicization. Lugo decided to run anyway and was suspended. He ran against a woman candidate of the conservative Colorado Party. Lugo won in the 2008 elections, breaking the Colorado Party’s 62-year hold on Paraguayan politics. The Vatican has since granted Lugo’s request for laicization.

Lugo is one of several leftist presidents now in power in Latin America, refusing to accept any presidential salary because the money “belongs to more humble people.”

Jesuit congressman

I should mention one last case here, from the United States, where a Jesuit, Fr. Robert Drinan, was Massachusetts congressman from 1971 to 1980. He was a liberal Democrat and ran on an anti-Vietnam War platform, unseating a congressman who had held office for 14 terms. (You read right, 14 terms, not 14 years—the US has no limits on the number of terms you can hold office.)

Drinan was outspoken, advocated Nixon’s impeachment and pushed for government funding for family planning and abortion. But he gave up his post in 1980 after Pope John Paul II banned priests from running for office. Drinan remained active in teaching, and continued to speak out on political issues. He died in 2007.

Should Father Ed run or not? I’m ambivalent too. I respect the Kaya Natin team of alternative politicians but I worry about how effective Catholic priests can be, laicized or not. A recent article by Jonathan Chow, “Different Standards, Different Faiths” on the website “Religion, Politics and Globalization Project” (rpgp.berkeley.edu) looks at what seems to be a double standard, where Protestant ministers can run for public office without too many eyebrows being raised while people — from popes to bishops, Protestants or Catholics — hesitate when it comes to Catholic priests assuming public office.

Chow notes that there is a difference between Catholic and Protestant clergy, the former having to obey the Vatican, which technically is a “temporal state that is also a theocratic monarchy.” If Panlilio were to run, he would have to be very clear about his stand on a number of issues, from family planning to social justice, and if he has views different from the positions of the Vatican or the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, will he able to remain independent?


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Catholic hierarchy says no to Panlilio

Posted in Church, Election, Filipino Catholics by Erineus on March 25, 2009

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:55:00 03/25/2009

The movement launched by a nebulous civil society group, oozing with messianic ardor, to draft Pampanga province’s Gov. Ed Panlilio for president in 2010 to save this country from the rapacity of the much-maligned “traditional politicians” has roiled the Catholic Church over the very secular notion of separation of church and state in a republican polity. The furor was sparked by the statement of Panlilio that he was “open to the possibility” of seeking the presidency in response to the civil society call.

The draft initiative seeks to make Panlilio run in 2010 with Isabela province’s Gov. Grace Padaca as running mate. The movement has described this tandem as credible “alternatives” to the widely reviled “trapos” [traditional politicos; literally, dirt rags], stigmatized as responsible for the degradation of politics over more than 50 years of representative democracy in this country.

It did not take much for Panlilio to succumb to, or to be titillated by, this flattery to consider himself as a much awaited messiah of Philippine politics.

We have always been exposed to the notion since the 1986 People Power Revolution that our political salvation lies in military coups and soldiers with messianic complex, of the likes of Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan, Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes III, and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim — all failed coup makers. Now, the restless do-gooders in civil society, in a desperate search of alternatives outside the traditional political establishment and political elite, have narrowed their search to a member of the Catholic clergy as a political leader in times of crisis. This time the favored notion by civil society is if the trapos, and the soldiers have failed in reforming society, the man of the cloth might fill the leadership vacuum and become the inspired “man of the hour.”

Unfortunately for the promoters of this project in civil society, the Catholic hierarchy is not of the same mind. The Catholic hierarchy has been unsettled by the implications of this draft movement on the principle of separation of church and state.

Panlilio, who ran for governor in 2007 on a reformist and anti-corruption platform, defeated two administration-backed candidates, one of whom was identified with the underground lottery “jueteng” and the other with quarry syndicates in Pampanga. As governor, he wears two hats: that of a salaried public official and that of a priest on a vague status, considered by the hierarchy as “on leave.” As such, he stands astride a blurred line separating secular and priestly functions, which has bred conflict of interest situations as a secular power and minister tending to the spiritual needs of his flock as well to their secular concerns.

These conflicting demands have often been irreconcilable. For example, he was caught in a bind when he accepted cash handouts amounting to between P250,000 and P500,000 from Malacañang, distributed to congressmen, governors and mayors purportedly as assistance for their local projects, although the sums were actually intended to secure their support for a move to quash the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Panlilio later tried to return the money but Malacañang refused to accept it.

As a power holder and a priest, Panlilio unwittingly appeared to put into practice the dual secular and spiritual status of Iranian ayatollahs in a theocratic state, in a polity that declares a constitutional separation between church and state. The susceptibility of Panlilio to the inveiglement of a movement to draft him for the presidency and the embarrassing contradictions of his dual role were too much for the Catholic bishops to tolerate.

In what sounded like an ultimatum, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, read the riot act to Panlilio. In a statement titled, “On the Question of Political Leadership,” Lagdameo minced no words in warning Panlilio to quit the priesthood if he runs for president in 2010.

Lagdameo cited a decree of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which forbids bishops, priests and religious from active involvement in partisan politics. Lagdameo said, “I presume that Governor E. Panlilio, who is a priest, has been told about this and knows it. If he plans to run for the presidency, in view of the separation of the church and the state, it is best for him to seek dispensation from the priesthood. And so he will be free to engage in partisan politics.”

Lagdameo explained that “dispensation from the priesthood” would mean removing Panlilio’s identity and authority as a priest. Panlilio was suspended from performing priestly duties when he ran for governor in 2007.

Lagdameo also reiterated the Church’s non-involvement in partisan politics. “The Church does not support and endorse any political candidate,” Lagdameo said. “This applies also to Governor Panlilio.” It would be up to civil society or members of the laity to identify and encourage potential and “non-trapo” leaders for political renewal. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI who said, “A big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values of society.”

Lagdameo said there were alternatives to the kind of political leadership at present. “I believe that our country is not lacking in people from civil society who have the gifts of authentic, credible, moral and patriotic leadership,” he said.

In plain words, the message is: The clergy is off limits as a recruitment ground for political leadership. The Church cannot be more emphatic than that. Fold your tents.


EDITORIAL – Beyond poll automation

Posted in comelec, Election, Modernization by Erineus on March 25, 2009

Updated March 25, 2009 12:00 AM

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Finally, a special budget has been signed into law for poll automation in 2010. Not a hybrid type – automated in most parts of the country, manual in a few areas… such as Maguindanao, perhaps? The greatest fear of those who opposed hybrid elections was that manual voting would be retained in selected areas so that those not yet familiar with manipulating automated voting could still cheat the old way. The fear went both ways, with some quarters believing that it would be easier to cheat using vote counting machines.

Regardless of where one stands on poll automation, concerns about electoral fraud in 2010 persist. That fear can be useful if it increases public vigilance against cheating. Public expectations are unusually high that the general elections next year will herald long-awaited reforms. The Commission on Elections, working with electoral watchdogs and other concerned groups, should do its best not to frustrate those expectations.

The other day President Arroyo signed into law the supplemental budget for poll automation. Palace officials said she wanted to make modern elections part of her legacy. The enactment of the supplemental budget lifts the last barrier to the holding of fully automated elections. The next step is to ensure that the new system lives up to its promise of clean and orderly elections and a quick vote count.

Problems can start right at the procurement of vote counting machines. The nation is still stuck with P1.2 billion worth of automated counting machines, all delivered and fully paid for, that are deteriorating, unused, in a rented warehouse. For 2010, the bidding and awarding of the contract for the machines must be aboveboard. The machines must then be tested for glitches and protected against hacking and tampering.

It will take more than voting machines to make elections credible. The Comelec must clean up voters’ lists. It must level the playing field for all candidates by enforcing elections laws on campaign spending and premature campaigning. Law enforcement authorities must also do their part by preventing poll-related violence and harassment of voters. There are many ways of undermining the true will of the electorate. Poll automation is just one step in making the 2010 elections credible.

Most Pinoys say 2010 polls to push through; Noli still leads

Posted in Election, Surveys by Erineus on March 21, 2009

By Helen Flores Updated March 13, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – A majority or 65 percent of Filipino adults believe that the May 2010 elections will take place as scheduled even as Vice President Noli de Castro continued to lead the presidential race, independent pollster Pulse Asia reported yesterday.

Pulse Asia’s February 2009 survey showed that De Castro remained the top choice of Filipinos to succeed President Arroyo in 2010, garnering 19 percent preference rating.

Sen. Francis Escudero came in close second with 17 percent; followed by former President Joseph Estrada, 16 percent; and Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., 15 percent.

Sen. Loren Legarda came in fifth with 12 percent, followed by Senators Manuel Roxas II, eight percent and Panfilo Lacson, six percent.

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay was also included in the survey, receiving two percent of the votes while Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairperson Bayani Fernando got one percent.

The non-commissioned survey, conducted from Feb. 2 to 15, used face-to-face interviews of 1,200 representative adults aged 18 years old and above.

The survey showed that 65 percent of Filipinos believe that there is a big possibility that the next elections will push through according to schedule – a sentiment shared by small to big majorities (55 percent to 76 percent) across geographic areas and socio-economic classes. One in 10 Filipinos or 13 percent believes otherwise and 22 percent are undecided on the matter.

Escudero and Villar welcomed the survey results, both saying the people will ultimately decide on election day.

Meanwhile, leading presidentiables and vice presidentiables will be among the panelists in the Rotary Club of Downtown Manila’s first “Open Forum on Good Governance and Public Service” on March 25 at the De La Salle University in Taft Avenue, Manila.

The forum will also have as panelists personalities of known independence, probity and integrity.

Lawyer Alejandro Rodriguez Jr., president of Rotary Club of Downtown Manila, said the forum intends to elicit the participants’ commitment and insights on good governance and public service as well as on urgent matters of national concern.

Much trouble

Fifty-one percent of Filipinos agree that the postponement or cancellation of the May 2010 elections will cause much trouble in the country.

On the other hand, 27 percent of Filipinos do not believe that much trouble will ensue if the May 2010 elections are not held, while 21 percent are ambivalent on the matter, the survey said.

In the vice presidential race, the Pulse Asia survey showed that 26 percent of Filipinos would vote for Escudero while 22 percent would choose Legarda if the elections were held today.

The only other personality who scored a double-digit vice-presidential voter preference is De Castro with 14 percent.

The February 2009 survey, meanwhile, showed that public interest in the May 2010 senatorial elections remains high.

Pulse Asia said 16 of 65 personalities included in the senatorial survey have a statistical chance of winning if the elections were conducted now.

Currently leading the senatorial race is Sen. Jinggoy Estrada whose overall voter preference of 52.8 percent.

The senator thanked his supporters and said he is humbled by his current ranking.

Sen. Pia Cayetano received 48.8 percent; Roxas, 48.8 percent; Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, 47 percent and former Senate president Franklin Drilon, 42.7 percent.

Sen. Jamby Madrigal would be re-elected by 38.8 percent of Filipinos while Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. would win another senatorial term with the support of 37.8 percent of Filipinos.

Aquilino Pimentel III got 36.1 percent; National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Ralph Recto, 35.5 percent; former Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, 33.8 percent; and Optical Media Board (OMB) chairperson Edu Manzano, 33.4 percent. Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chair Vicente Sotto III has 31.2 percent.

Also included in the list of probable winners are news anchor Korina Sanchez with 28 percent; Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, 27.6 percent; Binay, 27.2 percent; and Sen. Richard Gordon, 26.9 percent.   – With Sandy Araneta
View previous articles from this author.


Automated election can be used to cheat

Posted in comelec, Election, Modernization by Erineus on March 16, 2009

By Manuel A. Alcuaz Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:17:00 03/15/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Graft & Corruption

IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT many people, including senators and congressman, are under the impression that election automation would automatically lead to clean elections.

In an automated election, good old Garcillano might not be able to employ his old tricks. But there are countless computer whiz kids who could modify programs and alter voting results electronically.

Many ways to cheat

If we look at the election process, there are many ways to cheat.

1. People in power or with lots of money could buy support from local leaders or directly from voters.

No automated system can prevent this.

2. In the old days of guns and goons, voters were either coerced to vote for certain candidates or scared away and their ballots used.

We thought we had progressed beyond this. Unfortunately, cheating prevailed in 2007 in Maguindanao and other areas.

3. Ballot box stuffing or ballot substitution.

With the proposed Comelec Automated Election System, ballots would have to be substituted before these are fed into the counting machine.

This is a little more difficult, but the actual production of the fake marked ballots is a lot easier. And it is harder to identify ballots marked by one person.

4. Misreading/mistallying of votes during precinct count.

Normally, OMR counting machines can be very accurate. But who can tell if the machine has been programmed for automated and undetected dagdag bawas? Comelec has not done enough to assure the public that this will not happen.

5. Substitution of election returns (ER).

This may have happened in the 2004 elections in ARMM.

We suspect that in Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo and Bohol, Namfrel and the other parties may have been given fake ERs.

An honest, automated system would prevent the substitution of ERs with previously prepared faked ERs. But we can never tell if manipulation is done inside the OMR counting machine.

6. Substitution of ballot box and ER on the way to the municipality.

In the automated system, electronic ERs would be sent to the municipal canvassing center through the communication system.

How can we be sure that the results transmitted are not changed at the source or at the receiving end?

7. Fraud in the computation of the municipal COC.

This is hard to detect if the precinct results are not visible to watchers.

In the automated system, we will not see how computations are done in the canvassing server. There is no independent means to cross check what the server generates.

I think that contrary to the common belief that delays create opportunities for cheating, some delays are needed for checking and auditing.

In an automated election, moving too fast without checks and audits could result in massive cheating.

8. Substitution of Municipal COCs on the way to the province.

This could have happened in Muslim Mindanao in 2004.

Proponents of automated systems suggest that this would be prevented with secure electronic transmission. There still is the possibility of manipulation within the system.

9. Fraud in the computation of the provincial COC.

This could have happened in 2004 and could happen again within the provincial canvassing server.

10. Substitution of COCs on the way to Congress and Comelec.

This could have happened in 2004. And even with an automated system, this could still happen.

11. Errors in computation of national total.

Counting machines

The P9.5 billion the Comelec intends to spend on the rental of 80,000 OMR reading machines will not hasten the completion of national election counting. But the use of reading machines could lessen retail cheating in peaceful areas.

However, OMR voting is not a deterrent. For cheaters, OMR voting facilitates the production of ballots.

Hazards and safeguards

Comelec would like us to assume that automation will prevent cheating.

That is not true. Let us make sure that safeguards and audits are instituted.

The OMR system is similar to the classic, paper-based election system, except that:

1. Voters mark candidate of choice instead of writing the name.

2. The OMR ballots are machine-counted instead of being read and tallied.

For those who think that cheating can only take place when human hands are involved, this would look like a fraud-free system.

Comelec’s new procedure calls for each voter to physically feed his ballot into the machine.

A picture of the ballot is then taken.

As we pointed out earlier, the voter in some areas may be influenced or forced to feed another ballot into the machine.

Programmed to cheat

Let us pretend we are in a precinct where law and order prevails, and you are the voter feeding in your ballot.

How can you be sure that the machine will not change one or more of your votes?

How can you be sure that the total votes in the printed ER are truly what the voters in the cluster voted for?

The law provides for testing of the machines prior to Election Day.

If the machines are not stand-alone, how can you be sure that a modified program was not downloaded on Election Day to add votes for certain candidates and subtract from others (electronic dagdag bawas)?

At the end of counting, the original program could be restored.

The Election Law should call for stand-alone machines.

To verify that the OMR machines are counting properly, the two parties and the Citizens Arm should be allowed to run their test ballots before the start of counting and at the end of counting.

If discrepancies are detected, these should be noted and could be the basis for reverting to a manual count or a protest.


The Comelec proposes to automatically transmit election returns from the 80,000 OMR counting machines to the municipal servers.

While this is the fastest way to do it, it does not guarantee honest elections and does not provide transparency of the election counting process.

If the OMR counting machines can send electronic ERs to the municipal servers through the communication system, someone who knows the system well could change the programs on the machines from a remote and undetected location.

The best way to detect fraud is to create and provide at least seven printed and electronic copies of the ER.

The OMR Counting Machines should not be equipped with any communication capability.

There should be a separate stand-alone PC from where the ERs can be sent to the municipal canvassing/consolidation server as well as to the seven organizations entitled to receive the seven copies of the ER.

The Comelec AES does not provide for visible canvassing or parallel transmission and canvassing.

This will raise concerns about the honesty of the count and would certainly result in a loss of credibility of the results.

The Comelec should provide PCs for the major parties in each municipal tabulation center.

There should also be at least three projectors in each canvassing center.

The projectors would show the statement of vote for the municipality.

Watchers would be able to compare the projected totals on the three computers (Comelec, majority and opposition).

The COC should not be finalized until the discrepancies are resolved.

There are 1,631 cities and municipalities, 80 provinces, 13 regions and two national canvassing centers for a total of 1,736 sets.

Let’s provide 10-percent backup sets. That would be 1,910, let’s say 2,000.

The total cost would only be P360 million.

Cost reduction

One could easily reduce the cost of the OMR Counting Machines by increasing the cluster size per OMR machine to 10 and allowing feeding of ballots into the machines by the BEI after the end of voting.

That would mean savings of at least P4.5 billion, which is more than enough to pay for a transparent and more credible transmission and canvassing system.

Hopefully, wholesale cheating could be lessened.

But let us not expect canvassing for national candidates to be done in three to four days.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is president of Systems Sciences Consult Inc. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit .)


Kaya Natin! airs support for full poll automation

Posted in comelec, Election by Erineus on March 6, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:30:00 03/04/2009

We, the founding leaders of Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, fully support the Commission on Elections’ program for the full automation of the 2010 elections. We believe that the Filipinos’ right to elect our leaders is one of the main pillars of our democracy, thus we stand firm on our belief that this issue of fully automating the upcoming elections is very critical to our country’s future.

Given the history of widespread cheating in our country’s past elections, we believe that by fully automating the upcoming electoral exercise, election cheating and fraud can be minimized, thus ensuring that the true mandate of the people will be served. Aside from this, the full automation of the elections will help minimize human error and at the same time allow for the Filipino people to know the results of the elections within a lesser period of time.

As local government leaders, we have seen the importance of electing effective and ethical leaders through fair and honest elections. The full automation of the elections will help level the playing field, especially for morally upright and good intentioned candidates who may not have enough financial resources to hire poll watchers to guard their votes. By electing good leaders, the Filipino people can expect good governance leading to more efficient delivery of basic services.

We call on our lawmakers to work for transparent, clean and honest elections by immediately passing the necessary supplemental budget for the full automation of the upcoming elections.

We call on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to appeal to her allies in Congress to pass the budget necessary for the full automation of the upcoming elections.

Finally, we call on all Filipinos to join us in exerting pressure on our government leaders, especially on our congressmen and senators, for the immediate approval of the supplemental budget that will assure us of a fully automated election in 2010.

JESSE ROBREDO, mayor, Naga City; GRACE PADACA, governor, Isabela; EDDIE PANLILIO, governor, Pampanga; SONIA LORENZO, mayor, San Isidro, Nueva Ecija; Teodoro Baguilat, governor, Ifugao


Council lauds Senate nod on poll fund

Posted in comelec, Election, Legislation, Senate by Erineus on March 6, 2009

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 12:29:00 03/05/2009

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.