Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Philippine poll automation budget approved by March

Jhoanna Frances S. Valdez and Bernard U. Allauigan
BusinessWorld Online

CONGRESS WOULD meet a March deadline set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to pass a multibillion-peso supplemental budget to automate next year’s general elections.

The Comelec has said that passing the P11.3-billion budget beyond March would scuttle plans to hold automated elections on May 10, 2010, and that the system would revert to the fraud-prone manual count.

Quirino Rep. Junie E. Cua, committee on appropriations chairman, said House Bill (HB) 5715, which he authored, would be passed in the House of Representatives this week.

"Prior to the passage, we have scheduled a three-day demo period of the machines starting [yesterday] to allow [the congressmen] to have personal appreciation and understanding of the operation... because it is a new system," he told BusinessWorld.

Senate finance committee chairman Edgardo J. Angara said in a separate telephone interview that the Senate will pass its version within February. The Senate proposal has the same amount.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said both chambers of Congress would ratify the measure before it goes on break on March 6.

"We will approve that; otherwise, we will have no money to conduct the [automated] elections," he told Senate reporters.

Comelec Chairman Jose Armando R. Melo said it needs the supplemental budget up and running no later than April.

"We really need the budget by March, but we can still manage to work things out if [the budget] will be released to us in April," he said in an interview.

He added that unless the funds are available, they cannot proceed with the bidding for voting and counting machines and the subsequent publishing of the bidding’s terms of reference.

"We would then have to revert to the manual counting of votes," he said.

Mr. Melo said they plan to buy direct recording electronic, a touch pad technology; precinct count optical scan; and central count optical scan.

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