Monday, 9 February 2009

Gonzales joins call for Comelec to review poll-automation plan

The Manila Bulletin

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has joined at least 38 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in asking the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to reconsider its decision to adopt a method of poll automation that is said to be "more costly" and "more vulnerable" to fraud.

Gonzales said that an open election system (OES) is a more credible method that can be adopted by the Comelec for the scheduled national and local elections in 2010.

He said the OES will "ensure a transparent and fraud-free automated election system," adding that the credibility of the forthcoming presidential elections in 2010 is a national security concern.

"I urge the Commission on Elections to reconsider its decision to adopt the much more expensive but not transparent Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system," Gonzales said.

He cited a two-page letter by CBCP’s social arm, the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), to Comelec chairman Jose Melo where the bishops expressed concern that the OMR system "may elicit more questions than (the Comelec is) capable of answering."

The CBCP also underscored the "grave duty of the Commission to utilize appropriate methods and technology to safeguard the sanctity of the ballot."

"We realize that the Commission sincerely wants to reform its tarnished image and it hopes to do so through the introduction of the Optical Mark Reader and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems. We regret, however, that these two technologies seem to be very costly in terms of procurement and storage and do not exactly guarantee fraud-free elections results," the bishops said.

"We fear, among others, the fact that OMR and DRE both operate through instantaneous and internal tally of votes, which the electorate cannot manually recheck or validate," the CBCP added.

Among the signatories are Archbishops Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro; Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato; Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando (Pampanga); Ramon Arguelles of Lipa (Batangas); Romulo Valles of Zamboanga; and Bishop Broderick Pabillio of Manila.

Gonzales echoed the concerns of the bishops, saying the OMR has disadvantages that "can endanger the credibility of the 2010 elections and can consequently spark a political crisis."

"Poll automation experts have already raised their concerns about the vulnerability of the OMR to wholesale fraud, which can be done just by a few computer technicians, with or without the connivance of the Comelec or of vendors of the machines," Gonzales pointed out.

The bishops also said that in contrast to the OMR, the OES "espouses transparency from voting to the tallying of votes and makes all election data readily available to all groups for their own monitoring purposes."

"We believe that the OES reflects our aspirations for a fraud-free 2010 elections," the church leaders said.

"The fact that the voting and precinct counting are transparent to the voting public makes wholesale cheating extremely difficult to execute," they added.

The bishops also pointed out that the OES is the "least costly" among automated election technologies available to the government.

According to the bishops, OES combines manual voting and precinct counting with automated canvassing from the voting center to the national level.

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