Sunday, 1 March 2009

An appeal to the Philippine Congress

Naked self-interest
Philippine Daily Inquirer
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view/20090301-191657/Naked-self-interest

WHEN the 14th Congress came one step closer to concluding the work of the 13th, by passing, on second reading, the budget for poll automation, it did so by paying lip-service to modernizing elections while keeping in place the old mechanisms of fraud. It inched closer to authorizing poll automation, while taking a giant step backwards by inserting a provision requiring that a new law has to be passed, detailing how, exactly, the automation is to take place.

Blogger Rom Sedona in her blog www.smoke.ph, does a splendid analysis of how sneaky, and ultimately, destructive of the avowed aims of electoral automation this congressional requirement will be. She starts with a quote from Kampi grand pooh-bah Luis Villafuerte, who explained that “the House would also craft ‘special legislation’ on how the manner of voting, the mode of canvassing and the transmission of results would be done.”

The effect of requiring a new law, to amend or replace RA 9369, is that it will trap the P11.3-billion appropriation for computerizing elections. If it has taken this long—the past Congress’ entire three-year life span and the present one, now midway in its term—to even appropriate funding, what more for passing yet another law? And as blogger Sedona points out, both the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) say that the money has to be released by the start of April, if any realistic hope of automating the 2010 polls is to survive.

And yet this is also premised on the Comelec (which is bogged down in extensive consultations with the public and civic groups over what manner of automation to pursue) having a free rein to put in place a mechanism backed up with a semblance of a consensus. What the House of Representatives is saying is that it intends to duplicate the process embarked upon by the Comelec, but without any plan to adopt the Comelec’s findings. This means, as we all know, the House going into a lengthy, ignorant discussion that starts from scratch because it is unlikely to take legislative notice of the process already concluded by the Comelec.

At the very least this opens up the possibility that legislators with a vested interest in preserving the equity of the incumbent can insert all sorts of provisions to ensure that their biggest power in the electoral exercise—to delay, so as to frustrate, inconvenient election results—is maintained.

Blogger Sedona actually considers it possible that Congress—House and Senate—could conceivably pass the necessary new legislation by the middle of the year. About two months past the Comelec-PPCRV schedule for kicking off the automation process, and slightly less than a calendar year from the 2010 polls. In this manner Congress could accomplish the ultimate act of Pontius Pilate-style hand-washing, by virtuously insisting they not only passed a budget allocation, but a spanking new law; but, of course, they won’t admit that they did so without leaving enough time for automation to be properly put in place.

The blogger believes that if the Comelec is to take the money, with too little time to put in place a functioning system for automating elections, it will take all the blame and, with some justification, reap public condemnation. Better for the Comelec to remind everyone, as Sedona points out, that to truly automate requires a three-year process, which means true automation, at best, for the 2013 mid-term elections.

It’s therefore necessary for the public to be reassured, at this point, by the administration majority in the House, that it will pass the amendatory legislation it requires, soon. And that it will do so giving full consideration to the system of automation the Comelec has decided on after due consultations with the public. And that the Senate will do its part, as well, and that both chambers won’t slip in any surprises to serve their own electoral interests in the bicameral conference committee. The Senate goes on break on March 7; the House, on the 20th. We need a new law, therefore, in a matter of days.

Can this be done? Probably not. Which means the real interest of legislators lies in preserving the messy electoral status quo going into 2010.

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