Monday, 2 March 2009

Pass that bill!

Written by Butch Fernandez & TJ Agcaoili
The Business Mirror

IT is now “a matter of national urgency,” according to Sen. Richard Gordon, as he prodded Congress to pass the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for full automation of the 2010 elections before Congress adjourns for the Holy Week recess.

The question that arises is how much time the Commission of Elections (Comelec) needs to have to be able to automate the polls. Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said the automation budget should be released not later than April to give the poll body sufficient time.

Time is of the essence and either there are some in the Legislature who are marking time—not wanting an automated poll that those for it say will drastically reduce, if not entirely eliminate cheating—or they are just plain uncaring.

This is the view of political observers worried by the turn of events concerning the critical 2010 presidential elections.

Some congressmen have reportedly refused to approve the automation budget because they are pushing for a “hybrid”—manual and automated in next year’s polls.

The Comelec and other sectors have strongly opposed the proposal, pointing out that it would go against Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law as well as defeat the anti cheating purpose of the law.

In a statement over the weekend, Gordon thus made a strong appeal to fellow lawmakers “not to fail the Filipino people in their long-hoped-for dream of having a clean, honest, and credible elections in May 2010 by removing all impediments to the holding of automated elections.”

He added he sees no problem that would bar timely passing of the bill in both chambers of Congress. “Poll automation sends a strong signal that wholesale cheating that often marred the country’s electoral exercises would no longer be easily carried out. We should not disappoint our countrymen.”

Gordon called attention to Congress’s going on recess from March 7. “With Congress not resuming until April 13, I am open to holding special sessions during the break so we can pass the automation budget and release it on time to the Comelec.”

Should Congress fail to approve the automation supplemental budget before it goes into recess, then the Comelec will have no choice but to go back to the manual system, according to commission spokesman James Jimenez.

Jimenez said the commission has to start preparations by April 1 because of the many undertakings they have to accomplish like the purchase of the machines and training of personnel to operate the automation machines.

“Under [the automation law] law, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) is required to train at least one IT-capable person to operate the machines. But then we will have to train two persons because if there is only one person and in case he goes sick during the election period, then who will take on his job?” said Jimenez at the Balitaan sa Tinapayan forum in Manila.

“And that training is no joke. They will have to undergo preparations and certification from the Department of Science and Technology [DOST]. Imagine there are 80,000 precincts nationwide and we have to train a total of 160,000 personnel. That is why we have to start as early as possible. Plus acquiring the machines is another thing,” he added.

“We have three days to convince the Congress to release the money. That is why we were focused doing the primers to be given to them over the weekend. [The primer] will present them all the facts that concerns them, about many things like the security of the system, accuracy etc… hopefully before they go into recess, we’d be able to convince them,” he said.

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