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All go for automated elections in 2010

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

Landmark measure junks manual electoral system

By Kristine L. Alave, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:53:00 03/06/2009

It’s full speed ahead for the computerized general elections on May 10, 2010, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Jose Melo said Thursday.

“We are ready. There will be full automation nationwide,” Melo said at a press briefing Thursday after the Senate passed the House-approved P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the elections on May 10, 2010.

The Senate approval of the measure at midnight Wednesday finally discarded the fraud-prone manual counting of votes in the country.

Instead of writing on ballots, voters will shade the spaces allotted for the names of candidates. The ballots will then be inserted into the optical machine readers to be placed in clustered precincts all over the country.

Melo said the Comelec would pursue the nationwide automation of elections, despite opposition and skepticism from certain lawmakers and information technology professionals.

Although exhausted from almost seven hours of debate, main proponents Senators Edgardo Angara and Richard Gordon beamed after the presiding officer, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, banged the gavel to adopt House Bill No. 5715, which the House of Representatives passed on Monday.

Angara said the supplemental budget was a landmark measure because it buried the electoral system introduced in the country since democratic elections started at the turn of the 20th century.

“It is the beginning of a new era of modern elections. I’m glad that my colleagues have embraced this march to modernization of the electoral process,” he said.

With nine of the 13 senators voting to support poll automation, Angara and Gordon declared in separate interviews after the plenary vote that the approval of the measure marked the end of the manual counting of votes in the country.

Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee and sponsor of the committee report, said the supplemental budget would bring back confidence in government, especially faith in the electoral system.

“It is the first block in confidence building. Faith in the Commission on Elections will begin. This bill is very crucial on the eve of a very crucial election in 2010,” Angara said in an interview right after the chamber adjourned for a month-long Lenten break at about 1 a.m. Thursday.

Results in two days

The results for national candidates from President, Vice President and senators will be known in two days, the Comelec said.

Comelec officials told senators before the plenary vote that technically voting would be manual, but the counting and transmission of votes would be automated.

The senators who voted for the measure were Senators Angara, Gordon, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Rodolfo Biazon, Lito Lapid, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Four senators—Benigno Aquino III, Jinggoy Estrada, Jamby Madrigal and Francis Escudero—voted against the measure.

Untested, undefined

“I am not willing to spend even a single centavo for a system which is not tested, for a system we cannot even describe or define, or a system that we’re not even sure of delivering a clean, honest and fair election,” Escudero said.

Madrigal said the planned automation could turn into a “nightmare” because the fundamental institutional reforms had not been implemented in the Comelec.

Legarda voted for the measure, although she said she was cheated in the 2004 elections when she ran for Vice President.

Legarda said that even in automated elections, the manner of manual voting was still greatly susceptible to fraud.

“I will vigilantly guard the Comelec in this process every step of the way in the hope that finally, free, honest and democratic elections can be held in our country that is truly reflective of the people’s will,” she said.

The approval of the measure prompted Zubiri, the Senate majority leader, to challenge the Comelec to do its job.

“We did our job, it’s time for you to do your job,” he said.

Focus on common good

Melo, who was present during the lengthy deliberations, assured the senators that the poll body could implement to the letter Republic Act No. 9369, or the Amended Automated Elections Law, which prescribes full automation of the country’s electoral exercise on May 10 next year.

The automation law was supposed to be implemented in the May 2007 elections but the Comelec sought a postponement, citing lack of time for preparations.

“With automated elections, our people can rely on the fact that their vote will be counted, and that their vote will mean change for the country, then they will stop being cynical. And once they stop being cynical, perhaps the focus will now be on the common good,” said Gordon.


At the press briefing, Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said the poll body would not consider suggestions to put on hold the nationwide computerized polls because of logistical problems. Neither will it look into the proposal of some IT experts to use the Open Election System, he said.

“Comments such as those are already too late in the day,” Ferrer said.


Melo said full automation under the Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS) would considerably reduce instances of fraud and cheating. It will also lessen election complaints because the system promises to be fast and accurate, according to the Comelec chief.

PCOS is a ballot-based system in which the voter will mark his choices on a specially printed ballot that features security markings. The ballot will then be fed into a scanner, which records and stores the votes.

Bidding by end March

Melo said the Comelec was within its timeline for the election preparations.

Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is set to sign the budget in the next few days, the Comelec sees the start of the bidding for the PCOS supply contract by the end of March.

Melo said the Comelec was set to approve the terms of reference (TOR) for the bidders on Friday and publish it next week.

“We want to give the service providers the opportunity to comment on the TOR then we will begin with the bidding process soon,” he said.

Rent 80,000 machines

The Comelec aims to award the contract before May 22 to give the winning bidder ample time to configure the machines. The poll body said it would rent around 80,000 machines for the 2010 elections.

Eleven foreign firms have expressed interest in bidding for the PCOS contract. These are US firms Sequioa, Avante, ES/S, Hart and Scantron; Venezuela’s Smartmatic; United Kingdom’s DRS; India’s Bharat; South Korea’s DVS Korea; Gilat Solution of Israel and Spain’s Indra System.

“These companies have demonstrated capabilities and good track records of successfully holding actual elections abroad,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.

Based on the Comelec calendar, the supplier should deliver the machines to the Comelec on Nov. 28 and test the machines in December.


The long wait for automation

Posted in comelec, Editorial, Election by Erineus on February 26, 2009

Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

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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.

Philippine Star

It’s now or never for poll automation in 2010

Posted in comelec by Erineus on February 25, 2009

Today’s Ash Wednesday marks the start of the observance of Lenten season in the Christian world. A few more weeks, the schoolyear ends and summer vacation is here. Speaking of vacation, I took the opportunity in last Monday’s no school classes due to the EDSA-1 anniversary holiday to assist my twin sons to fulfill their patriotic duty to register as first time voters.

We went to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office where they were supposed to personally file their registration. This is because they would have to be photographed through Comelec’s computer machine. The same computer also processes other biometric data such as the voter’s signature and thumbmarks.

That was actually the second time that my sons and I went to the Comelec office to register. We tried the first time during their Christmas break in December. Unfortunately, the Comelec also decided to observe a break from their registration for new voters. I really found it odd for the poll body to jibe their Christmas break at the same time with school vacation when it is the only opportunity for new voters, most of them in college, to register while there are no classes.

It was a good thing this time President Arroyo did not declare a non-working holiday in all government and private offices on Monday for the celebration of the EDSA-1 anniversary. The Palace has obviously given in to the concerns, especially from the business community, on the repercussions to the country’s productivity of long weekend holidays. At these times of the global financial crisis, it would not do well for our country’s economy to have so many non-working days just to promote the “holiday economics” of the administration.

It was quite a surprise to me, though, to see there was a queue of people trying to register also as voters. I’ve noted there were color-coded voter’s registration forms. My sons were given white registration forms, I presume, for first time voters. The pink-edged registration forms, I gathered are for either transferees or for voters who want to reactivate their voter’s status after being de-listed.

Under our election laws, the Comelec has the power to de-list voters who did not participate in two consecutive elections in our country. This is one of the reasons, among others, I was told why there were cases of voters who do not find their names in the Comelec master list when they go to polling precincts by the time they decide to vote.

Anyway, the registration process took about an hour or so, because of the queue. They filled the registration forms in three copies one after the other. It was a tedious task for my sons who complained why the Comelec did not just provide a carbon paper. At the end of this process, the registrant is given a detached lower portion of one of the three copies. It will serve as their claim form to get their Comelec voter’s ID.

I seriously doubt as to how soon, if ever, my sons would get their Comelec voter’s ID. From my own experience, we even had ours registered no less at Malacañang Palace sometime in 2003 when the Comelec demonstrated their newly acquired data-capturing computer machines. It was supposed to usher in the modernization program of the Comelec on the use of automated election process by the holding of May 2010 elections. But believe you me, none of us Palace press corps got our Comelec voters’ ID card up to now.

The Comelec chief at that time was Benjamin Abalos who, as later events unfolded, got himself an early retirement last year. This was after Abalos got implicated in allegedly “brokering” for ZTE Corp. of China on the purported overpriced contract on the national broadband network (NBN) project of the government. As it turned out, Abalos was busy with projects other than his principal task to steer the Comelec modernization program as chairman of the poll body.

With retired Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Jose Melo now as the chairman of the Comelec, there has been renewed efforts by the poll body to meet that same goal: to automate Philippine elections by 2010. Upon advice of a panel of technical experts, the poll body earlier approved the use of the optical mark reader (OMR). The Comelec chose the OMR because this has “paper trail” or paper audit as proof of voting.

The use of this OMR technology was successfully tested in the last elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In OMR, the names of candidates are printed on a paper and voters choose their candidates by shading with pencil the corresponding ovals. It was designed to make it user-friendly. A voter need not be techno-savvy.

The Comelec asked for at least P11.3 billion in supplemental budget it submitted to the Palace last year. In turn, the Palace endorsed this to Congress for immediate approval to meet the timetable for automated elections by 2010. The technical working committee has already drafted the terms of reference (TOR) that spells out the financial and technical requirements for the OMR machines. Melo earlier expressed the hope that by Feb. 15, the budget has already been released so the poll body could start having the TOR published for bidding purposes.

It’s already way past that timeline. Hence, Comelec officials are getting worried, should I say in panic already, as Congress has yet to approve the automation budget. Our lawmakers are again scheduled to have their congressional recess by March 7 until after the Holy Week on April 12.

The Comelec chief echoed apprehensions about a new move in Congress to hold a “hybrid” or two systems of combined manual and automated elections. This new twist could further delay the approval of the Comelec’s supplemental budget. And with Charter change debate stirred anew in Congress, more trouble brews for the desired automation of the 2010 presidential elections.

Melo recalculated yesterday their timeline to get the budget before April 2, the deadline for the release of the TOR. Any later date than that, the Comelec estimated, will mean they have to go back to manual elections. He candidly admitted his fears “the Garcis in the Comelec would be alive once again” when the 2010 polls are done manually as usual. Everyone probably knows by now who “Garci” is.

View previous articles of this column.

By Marichu A. Villanueva

Updated February 25, 2009 12:00 AM

Two faces of Cha-cha

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Legislation by Erineus on February 21, 2009

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As in the past, Malacañang tried to distance itself yesterday from continuing efforts to revise the 1987 Charter through a constituent assembly. So why is KAMPI, the party of President Arroyo, the main proponent of the move? If the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino is doing this without the imprimatur of the President, or if the party is truly ignoring her purported calls to stop the effort, it’s another mark of bad leadership.

KAMPI has made noises about kicking out Prospero Nograles as speaker of the House of Representatives if he refuses to go along with Charter change through a constituent assembly, under which pro-administration congressmen intend to bypass the Senate if necessary. That must be why Nograles, despite a resolution he filed to amend a few economic provisions in the Constitution through the regular legislative mill, is himself gathering signatures for Cha-cha the KAMPI way. As of last count, according to reports, 165 signatures had been gathered — just 32 shy of the requirement to forge ahead with Cha-cha through a constituent assembly.

Proponents of this plan want not just an amendment but a revision of the Constitution, which would allow for a shift to a parliamentary form of government. The proponents have not ruled out the possibility that the plan could lead to the lifting of term limits and the extension of the terms of incumbent officials including President Arroyo.

The Commission on Elections has said there is no longer time for Cha-cha and the ratification of a new Charter before the general elections in May next year. Senators prefer Cha-cha through a constitutional convention, with the delegates to be elected alongside other officials in May 2010 at the earliest. Yesterday both Nograles and Malacañang vowed that the general elections would push through as scheduled. But there is no such reassurance from KAMPI, which is spearheading the Cha-cha effort.

The game plan, it seems, is for one face of the same creature to deny to the last breath that Cha-cha is still alive, while the other face actively works for its attainment. And if Cha-cha manages to squeak through, the two faces will become one in ecstatic celebration.

Updated February 21, 2009 12:00 AM