Palace to public: Help ensure success of automated polls

Palace to public: Help ensure success of automated polls
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang decried yesterday people spreading rumors of a failure of elections on May 10 and called on the public to remain vigilant and help the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ensure the successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide automated polls.

The Comelec, on the other hand, dismissed speculations of a failure of elections that could favor President Arroyo, saying it is considering an independent unofficial partial count of the election results.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza commented on various allegations – including that of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – that the Arroyo administration was planning to sabotage the polls to prolong its grip on power.

“We are doing everything to make these elections very credible and the last thing that we should have is a failure of elections. I don’t think that’s good for the country,” Mendoza said.

No failure of elections

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, meanwhile, said the poll body is deliberating whether to allow the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and the Kapisan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) to conduct a separate tally of the results of the May 2010 polls.

Larrazabal said the proposal is for the PPCRV and KBP to consolidate the election returns or tally data from the Comelec’s website.

“As soon as the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines transmit the results, we will make the data available in the website and to the majority and minority parties,” he said.

He, however, emphasized that the poll body is discussing ways to prevent the possibility of “trending,” which could affect the credibility of election results.

“The thrust is that we will be releasing data every so often to keep the people abreast of what is happening, but posting the running total will still be discussed,” the commissioner said.

The sum of all fears

The idea of a parallel count sits well with Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manny Villar Jr., even as he admitted that he also had doubts about the automated system.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, reiterated his calls for the election of a new senate president to forestall “chaos after President Arroyo’s term expires on June 30.

“I have been in Mindanao lately and people there have been experiencing eight hours of power failure each day. If power shortage leads to automation failure in Mindanao, that’s 25 to 30 percent of votes gone,” he said.

Angara, who is one of the senators whose term lasts up to 2013, said that without results of the elections for national positions by noon of June 30 when the terms of the president, vice president, Senate president, and House speaker expire, “a frontier area will result, where he who has guns will be the winner.”

He noted that shifting to manual elections in problematic areas could also delay the results of elections for the national posts, amid the apparent lack of preparation of the Comelec and the political parties for manual counting.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s term ends this June, although he is seeking reelection.

Under the law, the Senate President is third in the order of succession to the presidency.

Angara said there is no question among his colleagues that the election of a new Senate president could assuage fears of a leadership vacuum.

There is also a possibility that the counting of votes for congressional and local candidates could be finished way ahead of those for national positions in the May elections, with Pres. Arroyo winning in Pampanga’s congressional race and being elected as House Speaker.

The speaker is fourth in the line of succession to the presidency.

Check Comelec expenditures

But the manual counting and the possible power vacuum in case of a failure of elections are not the only problems that need to be addressed, according to Senate Minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Pimentel called on the Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System to convene to help Comelec Chairman Jose Melo ensure the proper use of extra funds.

“There is so much money at the disposal of the Comelec that the temptation to provide operators with golden parachutes for their retirement is so great,” Pimentel said.

More than P2 billion was allocated for the cost of the election automation with Smartmatic aside from the P10 billion allotted for its operation under the national budget.

“For instance, the Comelec will have to deliver 76,340 ballot boxes to the election registrars of 120 cities and 1,501 municipalities. The total cost of transportation of those ballot boxes would sit at P519 million. That means that the cost of transportation per ballot box is P6,800,” he said. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Ding Cervantes, Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

He added that there is unverified information that another P499 million has been set aside for the delivery of the ballot boxes to 1,600 treasurers throughout the country.

Perlas: Postpone the elections

But independent presidential candidate Nicanor Perlas is painting a grimmer scenario.

Perlas called for a postponement of the national elections by three months, doubting the poll body’s ability to pull off the automated elections.

He said the glitches that plagued the recent Hong Kong absentee voting serves as proof of the Comelec’s lack of readiness.

He also noted that calls are being made for a review of the indelible ink contract and bidding process and took notice that the Comelec admitted in a forum that the winners will not be known within 48 hours due to the sheer number of candidates.

“The way things are being handled by the Comelec, the automated system will be the black hole of the election. Pushing through with the May 10 elections will just further plunge the country into chaos that is potentially violent,” he said.

Partido ng Masang Pilipino senatorial bet Jose de Venecia III, for his part, said the Comelec should remove its blinders and stop pretending that a “failure of elections scenario” is inconceivable. – Mayen Jaymalin, Ding Cervantes, Christina Mendez, Rainier Allan Ronda, Perseus Echeminada, Eva Visperas

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.