election returns

Congress preparing for presidential vote count – Nograles

Congress preparing for presidential vote count – Nograles
By Jess Diaz
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives and the Senate have started preparations for the counting of votes for president and vice president on May 31, Speaker Prospero Nograles said yesterday.

“We are committed to fulfill our constitutional mandate as the national board of canvassers for presidential and vice presidential votes. The world is keenly watching the May 10 elections. We cannot afford to fail,” he said.

Nograles also urged the Commission on Elections and its automation contractor Smartmatic-TIM to move fast to address the malfunctioning of some precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

He said the Comelec should assure the public that these machines and their software would work on Monday.

Under the Constitution, it is Congress that is empowered to count the votes for president and vice president and proclaim the winners.

The counting will start on May 31 when the House and the Senate resume session.

Some lawmakers have criticized the decision to reconvene three weeks after the elections, saying a 21-day period is a long wait during which unofficial tabulations would have already determined the winning presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Since Monday’s election is computerized, Congress should have opted to convene much earlier to start its canvass, they said.

Nograles said a bicameral team led by House Secretary General Marilyn Yap and her Senate counterpart Emma Reyes has been tasked to draft the canvassing rules for submission to the two chambers when session resumes.

He said House and Senate officials have met with Comelec commissioners on how to expedite the canvassing, which will be done at the Batasan complex in Quezon City.

Under the Constitution, the Comelec would transmit the provincial and city results for president and vice president to the Senate president for safekeeping.

The Senate president would send the results to Congress when it begins its task as a canvassing board.

In the past, the results were written in certificates of canvass (COCs) filled out by members of the city and provincial board of canvassers.

In the old manual system, it took weeks before the canvassing boards could send the COCs to Congress.

It is not clear what kind of document the boards would now transmit to Congress with the automation of the elections, but it should not take long to prepare such document since counting at the provincial and city levels is also computerized.

Nograles also urged the people to remain vigilant against any attempt to subvert their will on Monday.

Transparency

The Senate, for its part, has assured the public of transparency in the canvassing of elections returns.

“The Senate is tasked to ensure faithful compliance with the constitutional mandate and to provide for orderly and systematic proceeding of the canvassing of COCs and ERs of candidates for the position of President and Vice President,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.

“In this regard, we have put in place rules and guidelines (Policy Order 2010-006) that will strictly be enforced 24 hours a day, everyday, starting at 6 p.m. of May 10, for as long as COCs and ERs will be brought and delivered to the Senate grounds, and subsequently transported to the House of Representatives for canvassing,” Enrile added. – With Christina Mendez, Donnabelle Gatdula, Evelyn Macairan and Pia Lee-Brago

Poll results to come up on big screens

Poll results to come up on big screens
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Poll watchers and watchdogs will be able to see the canvassed election results as they come in on May 10 on large screen monitors and projectors that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has agreed to install at all canvassing centers.

The Comelec agreed to put up the monitors after representatives of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and information technology groups met with Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal on Friday to discuss their proposals on the monitoring of the results of the May 10 automated national elections.

Their suggestions were aimed at ensuring that the transmitted tallies would reflect the ballots cast into the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that would be used for the first time in the country.

The PCOS machines —82,200 were ordered from Smartmatic TIM Corp.—will read and record votes cast using machine-readable ballots. At the end of the voting day, the machines will print 30 election returns and transmit the results to various servers.

Larrazabal said the Comelec had agreed to place large-screen projectors in 1,637 municipal canvassing centers, which would show the results from the precincts after the polling ends at 6 p.m. on May 10. Kristine L. Alave

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

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondo
The Philippine Star

How can the Comelec properly automate — when rackets distract it? Since 2008 at least 18 big-ticket expenditures have brought the poll body shame:

• ARMM poll automation 2008 — Bidding for the P600-million project flawed. Only Smartmatic-SAHI qualified at first; the only other bidder Sandz Solutions failed. Later Smartmatic-SAHI flunked technical tests. Still Comelec awarded it the contract for direct recording electronic (touch-screen) voting in Maguindanao.

• ARMM election paper — Supply of voter registration and election forms won by lowest bidding newcomer Advance Paper Corp. Then, Comelec debarred Advance because allegedly blacklisted — a falsity. Contracts handed out to higher bidders Consolidated Paper Products, Philand Industries, and Forms International, three of nine firms that have been cornering Comelec deals. Comelec lost P8 million. Ex-chairman Ben Abalos and successor Jose Melo were sued last week for approving and implementing the transaction.

• Automated Fingerprint Identification System, 2009 — P1.6-billion fingerprinting of 50 million voters supposed to be rushed in time for May 2010 election. Bidding reportedly rigged for NEC-Japan, partner of Unison, one of the nine frequent Comelec contractors. Soon after signing the deal, Comelec lengthened implementation period to three years, giving NEC-Unison P600 million in savings. But contract price stayed the same. Paper and printing contract given to Consolidated Paper.

• Carbonless paper — P180 million-P400 million worth of paper for Election Returns, Statements of Votes, and Certificates of Canvass for manual balloting. Contract reportedly given to Noah Paper Mills, one of the nine. All this will go to waste since Comelec opted for full automation.

• Watermarked paper — P800 million worth of paper for manual ballots awarded to one of the nine. No clear bidding. Now also useless with automation.

• 2010 Automated Election System — Bidding for P11.2-billion project faulty. Five bidders debarred for incomplete submissions, but Smartmatic-Total Information Management passed even if also lacking. Bid was P7.2 billion, 36 percent lower than agency budget, grounds for rejection under old Public Bidding Act. In test run, battery wire of the precinct count optical scanner shorted and burned. Still Comelec awarded contract. After which, Filipino-owned TIM nearly backed out for being eased out of control by Barbadian Smartmatic. They then reincorporated as 1920 Business Inc. In Hong Kong last Sunday the PCOS in one of 20 voting precincts rejected all ballots, resulting in 5-percent failure rate. Automation law requires 99.995-percent accuracy.

• Ballot boxes — P243,367,740-fabrication of 77,000 boxes awarded to Smartmatic without bidding, on lame excuse that only it knows the exact size of its PCOS. Original design was for transparent polycarbonate, but Comelec switched to opaque plastic to avoid sunlight soiling ballot ultraviolet markings. Boxes thus became like common trash bins. Yet price remained at P3,160 apiece, thrice costlier than the old P900-metal box.

• Ballot paper — While part of Smartmatic’s commitments under its P7.2-billion offer, the Comelec is mum if the supplier is again one of the favored nine.

• Ballot redesign — Smartmatic saved two to three inches in ballot length — consequently tons of paper — when listing of candidates was made horizontal instead of vertical. Yet Comelec did not renegotiate price cut.

• Late PCOS delivery — Smartmatic missed by two weeks its deadline to deliver first batch. Under the contract, it should have been fined one percent of contract price, or P72 million, per day of delay. But Comelec exempted it.

• Performance bond — The contract required Smartmatic to post one-percent performance bond, or P1.12 billion, based on approved budget, for the duration of the procurement. Smartmatic took out a letter of credit from HSBC in the equivalent $25.3 million to obtain Comelec’s notice to proceed. Then, with no legal basis, Comelec let Smartmatic withdraw $21 million and leave only $4.3 million.

• Ballot transport — First batch of 12 million printed ballots trucked from Quezon City to Manila for P92 million. No bidding.

• Voter education — P240 million nearly awarded sans bidding to Comelec communication consultant who owns ad agency.

• Packing paper and services — for Optical Mark Reading ballots. P180-million contract allegedly went to Synergy Corp., one of the nine.

• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — P480 million went to security barcode instead, but for the same low effectiveness.

• Ballot-secrecy folders — P700 million awarded to OTC Paper Corp., one of the nine, to fabricate 1.815 million “special” covers for Election Day. No bidding, only unsolicited proposal with no clear Swiss Challenge. Work was for 22 folders in 82,500 precinct clusters, when there are only 76,340 clusters. En banc approved contract on say-so of Comelec Bids and Awards Committee, then rescinded it when poll watchdog PPCRV protested.

• Ultraviolet lamps — P28-million deal first awarded to OTC Paper Corp. as lowest bidder and consolation for scrapping of P700-million folders. Precinct officers will use the lamps to read secret ballot U/V marks. This is because Smartmatic switched off the PCOS U/V reader when it couldn’t get the right mix of ink during ballot printing. Thus, this should be paid for by Smartmatic, not Comelec. After public scrutiny, Comelec called for re-bidding because the three bidders, including Philand and Embu Integrated Trading Co., had insufficient papers after all.

• Indelible ink — P77-million contract given to Texas Resources Corp. for ink to mark voters on Election Day. When PPCRV exposed Texas’s ink to be erasable, Comelec said it would hold new bidding. Then it claimed the mix was indelible after all when inkbottle was shaken before use. No, really.

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“Life is not what you see on the surface; it is lived in the depths of your experience and love.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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E-mail: [email protected]

Wider ballot audit sought

Wider ballot audit sought
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Electoral reform groups have renewed calls for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to allow a wider random manual audit of ballots before the proclamation of winners in the May 10 polls to “lend credence to election results.”

The Automated Election System (AES) Watch, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg) and Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) said a limited manual audit done after proclamation would further cast doubt on the results of the automated polls.

AES Watch convenor Alfredo Pascual said a random manual audit is now “central to ensuring the integrity of the May 10 elections given that the pleas of concerned citizens’ groups for measures to address the internal vulnerabilities of the AES have remained unanswered.”

“(Random manual audit is) the last line of defense against fraud in the elections,” Pascual said in a statement jointly issued by AES Watch and Cenpeg.

A random manual audit is provided for in Sec. 29 of Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law, which states that “where AES is used, there shall be a random manual audit in one precinct per congressional district randomly chosen by Comelec in each province and city.”

This means that one ballot box from a congressional district will be audited to check if it had been counted accurately by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine.

But since there will be more than 76,000 voting centers in the coming elections, poll watchdogs deemed it necessary to expand the random manual audit.

In an interview, CER executive director Ramon Casiple maintained that they have long proposed to the Comelec the expansion of the random manual audit and that it should be done before the proclamation but nothing has happened.

“They do not want it done that way. Maybe they are worried that it would create chaos. Imagine what will happen if after an audit, you find out that a PCOS machine had counted the ballots wrongly. But through this system, we’ll be able to see if what comes out from the PCOS machines is really the people’s will,” he added.

Pascual said the Comelec should not “give premium to speed over credibility.”

He added that it is more important for the public to know what is happening in the PCOS machines so that they would believe in the results of the elections.

LP to Comelec: Redeem yourself

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party (LP) has urged Comelec officials to redeem themselves by ensuring clean and peaceful polls in May.

The Comelec’s credibility had been tarnished due to alleged massive cheating by candidates, allegedly including President Arroyo, in 2004.

LP officials, led by standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his running mate Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, had expressed apprehensions about a possible failure of elections because of the Comelec’s lackluster response to alarming developments in its preparations for the country’s first automated election.

Aquino and Roxas appealed to the Comelec to immediately resolve technical glitches cited not only by the LP but other election watchdogs as well, to ensure the credibility of the polls.

The LP tandem also urged the poll body to authorize the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) to conduct a public official count; stop the harassment of LP’s local candidates; accredit the LP as the dominant minority party; and allow an independent review of the PCOS machines’ source code two weeks before the actual elections.

Aquino and Roxas lamented that Comelec officials seemed to have simply shrugged off these alarming developments in the political front that could affect the results of the May 10 elections and allow Mrs. Arroyo to stay in power or install a candidate friendly to her.

They said the appointment of Gen. Delfin Bangit as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; the reshuffle of police directors without the authority of local executives; the Supreme Court decision allowing Mrs. Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice to replace retiring Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno; and the declarations of deputy presidential spokesperson Charito Planas and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales of a possible military junta or a transitional revolutionary government if the poll automation fails, among other factors, could shake the credibility of the coming elections.

As this developed, an alliance of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East yesterday urged Filipino communities and organizations of OFWs abroad to help guard their votes as the one-month overseas absentee voting begins on April 10.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, said the encouragement and ready support in terms of services provided by these organizations to their members would result in relatively high absentee voters’ turnout compared to previous overseas absentee voting.

Migrante chapters in the Middle East, according to Monterona, will officially issue a note calling on their members and urging fellow OFWs to cast their votes early and not to waste time, especially those who are far from designated polling precincts usually located at Philippine embassies, consular offices, and foreign service establishments.

ERs can no longer stop proclamation

The Comelec, meanwhile, said it will no longer allow the stoppage or delay of proclamation of winning candidates in the May 10 polls on the basis of election returns (ERs).

Citing Resolution No. 8804 or the Rules and Procedures on Disputes on the Automated Election System, the Comelec said that “pre-proclamation controversy” now covers only two issues – illegal composition of the Board of Canvassers (BOC) and illegal proceedings of the BOC.

“A pre-proclamation controversy refers to the proceedings of the BOC which may be raised by any candidate or by any registered political party or coalition of political parties, or by any accredited and participating party-list group before the board or directly with the commission. The basis of the canvass shall be electronically transmitted results,” the resolution reads.

The BOC is composed of an election officer who acts as chair, city or municipal treasurer and district school supervisor.

In previous polls, a candidate’s victory can be challenged using issues concerning the ERs, the document containing the summary of votes obtained by candidates in a polling precinct.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that if ERs would still be considered for pre-proclamation controversy, the proclamation of candidates would be delayed, thus defeating the purpose of automation which is to speed up the electoral process.

Under the resolution, “there is illegal composition of the BOC when, among other similar circumstances, any of the members do not posses legal qualifications and appointments.”

The information technology-capable person required to assist the BOC under Republic Act 9369 or the Poll Automation Law shall be included among those whose qualification may be required.

Illegal proceedings of the BOC, on the other hand, is when the canvassing is a “sham or mere ceremony, the results of which are pre-determined and manipulated as when any of following circumstances are present: precipitate” canvassing, terrorism, lack of sufficient notice to the members of the BOC, and improper venue.” – With Pia Lee Brago and Aurea Calica

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