Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Philippine poll automation budget approved

Emilia Narni J. David, Bernardette S. Sto. Domingo and Bernard U. Allauigan with Reuters

MALACAÑANG yesterday signed into law a supplemental bill allocating P11.3 billion for the lease of 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines to be used in the general elections next year.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said the signing of Republic Act No. 9525 gave enough time for the scheduled auction for the PCOS lease contract this April 27, even as one political analyst warned that the resulting timetable leaves no room for error in project implementation.

"The signing is very good news, because our timeline can be followed as scheduled; although the signing has been expected for quite sometime because we have been moving forward with our plans since last week," Comelec Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento said in a phone interview yesterday.

Comelec had been worried over the uncertainty of this funding, saying last January that it needed the law passed before March in order to give it enough time to prepare for the automation of the 2010 polls.

Mr. Sarmiento added that there have been at least five companies that have bought the terms of reference documents, so far, since March 18. Interested parties have until tomorrow to acquire these documents, at P1 million each. The pre-bid conference has been scheduled next Friday.

Presidential Political Adviser Gabriel S. Claudio told Palace reporters, "We see no more obstacles to the implementation by Comelec of a fully automated election system."

Mr. Sarmiento said that he does not think there would be any hitches in the implementation of poll automation. "It is the belief of the Comelec and of our chairman that there would not be any problems. We have great confidence, but of course, we are prepared for the possibilities," he said.

While Mr. Sarmiento and Comelec chairman Jose A.R. Melo said that the poll body does not foresee any more problems, one political analyst advised the government to be cautious.

Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that time may be a big stumbling block for the full implementation of the automation law.

"There is no leeway in the schedule right now. If there is failure of bidding, it will be difficult to renegotiate. There are many possible hitches like the delivery of machines that are up to specificationsour current scheduleno longer allows for any mistakes," said Mr. Casiple in a separate interview.

He added that the timetable of the poll body must be followed to the letter, so that the Comelec does not revert to manual counting. Mr. Melo had earlier warned that the commission may be forced to go back to manual mode should the machines fail field tests.

Sen. Francis Joseph G. Escudero, Senate panel chairman of the joint congressional oversight committee on automated elections system, said in a mobile "text" message yesterday that a joint hearing will be conducted on March 30 to tackle details on how the oversight panel will monitor budget spending by the Comelec.

"This is the single, biggest contract in government right now. Maybe this is why so many people are pushing for immediate automation without even knowing how it will work," said the lawmaker in a statement.

He said that he voted against the supplementary budget because Comelec failed to provide information on what machines it would buy.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo V. Puno, President Gloria M. Arroyo’s election strategist, said the automation of elections would mean that candidates would have to file nominations earlier than usual. Previously, nominations were done only four months before elections.

"They will have to file their certificates of candidacy by late November this year to allow the elections commission to print their names on the ballots," Mr. Puno said.

Meanwhile, Comelec also said that it has set aside April 20 next year for probable early voting in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"I am in favor of [holding the elections in ARMM early] so our attention and that of our security forces� will be focused in the ARMM. If that is the case there might be less shenanigans," Mr. Melo said in a media briefing.

But a bill for early elections must first be approved by Congress in order for early voting to be held.

The current 14th Congress reconvenes from its Lenten break this April 13 and will adjourn its second regular session on June 5. It convenes for its third, and last, regular session on July 27.

About 40-million Filipnos will vote for a new set of leaders,including the president, vice-president, 260 legislators and about 17,000 local officials in May next year.

It will be the first time that voting machines will be used in an election, and the results will be known within days of voting, instead of the month or so currently. Manual counting has also been blamed for chronic poll fraud. —


  1. Automation may be one of the most significant move the government could take for faster election counting but it doesn't really assure us that cheating and fraud in the 2010 elections will be eliminate,so everyone of us should also be cautious about that.Join movement such as “Boto Mo Ipatrol Mo” “Ako Mismo” and more.Still,we should guard our vote.

  2. This is a history in the making and we must be vigilant since automation is now brought on our shores.