Henrietta de Villa

Voting machines fail

Voting machines fail
76,000 memory cards to be replaced
By Michael Lim Ubac, Tarra Quismundo, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Now, it can be told officially. The tests produced weird results.

This sent embarrassed officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, scrambling to save the historic computerized balloting on May 10 by recalling 76,000 compact flash (CF) cards that are in the heart of the counting machines.

“We didn’t expect this to come out, but we are responding on time,” Cesar Flores, spokesperson for Smartmatic-TIM, at a nationally televised news conference said.

Flores blamed the glitches, which first surfaced in two precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines last month at the start of advance overseas voting in Hong Kong, on “human error.”

“We are taking all measures to remedy this,” Flores said, just five days before the May 10 national and local elections.

“We are optimistic that there will be no failure of elections,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento. “We are taking all measures to remedy this.”

“I will not be honest if I will say that my confidence has not been diminished because, as I said, what will happen next?” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec’s citizen’s arm.

In mock elections on Monday conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM in six towns in Occidental Mindoro, votes for presidential candidates Manny Villar and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were counted for Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of the administration party, according to the Nacionalista Party (NP).

This prompted supporters of Villar led by his NP spokesperson and senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla to rush to the Comelec office in Manila to file a complaint.

Automated cheating?

Remulla showed to reporters a tally sheet from the PCOS and a manual count.

“There were five votes for Villar, five votes for Aquino, but when it came out (in the machine), there were no votes for Villar, no votes for Noynoy and 10 votes for Teodoro,” Remulla said.

“Is this automated cheating?” he asked, adding that the inability of the machines to properly count the votes in the mock elections proved persistent talk of a failure of elections.

Comelec officials reported that in tests in three far-flung towns of Cuyo, Magsaysay and Brooke’s Point in Palawan province, the machines only read portions of the ballots containing the names of candidates for national races, according to the Inquirer’s Southern Luzon Bureau.

Similar problems occurred in tests in the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga.

Flores said that the eleventh-hour glitch surfaced Monday during testing and sealing of machines in 50 to 100 precincts to show that the automated election system is working and has no malicious data.

Cards to be replaced

He said the problem was in the flash cards, equivalent to the SIM card in cell phones.

Although the company has no final numbers on defective compact flash cards, it is moving to replace the memory cards for all the 76,000 PCOS machines already sent to regional hubs for field distribution, according to Flores.

Present at the news conference were representatives from the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and its technical evaluation committee, and Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections.

The wrong tallies stemmed from the memory cards, Flores said.

He noted that the cards contained wrong “instruction” regarding the local ballot face that caused the PCOS machines to give “contradictory” readings of the names and the votes for the local contests.

Officials said the PCOS machine read the races for the national posts correctly.

Precinct-specific cards

Each PCOS machine contains a compact flash card which has the details on the specific precinct. It has the number of voters per precinct and the names of the candidates vying for local posts, among others.

For the ballots, which are precinct specific, to be read and recorded correctly, the program inside the card and the software inside the PCOS machine must work together.

During the printing of the ballots, the spacing of the local ballot face was adjusted to double space from single space, the formatting used for the national contests.

This change was not included in the compact flash card, Flores said. As such, the PCOS machine read the local ballot face as if it had a single-space format, causing the machine to wrongly allot votes to certain candidates or skip other names.

“The flash cards inside the PCOS were not able to locate certain candidates to positions,” Flores explained.

“For some reason, the configuration was telling the machine that the second row visually is actually the third row,” he said. The next row was read as a “blank space,” he said.

Who’s to blame?

Although there had been several mock elections and the PCOS machines were tested before they were dispatched, the problem was not discovered until Monday, Flores said.

He said that the ballots used in the mock elections and in the warehouse testing had different faces from the ballots that would be used on May 10.

Flores blamed the Comelec for the snafu, saying the poll body did not want to use real ballots to test the PCOS machines. The Comelec was authorized to print no more than 50.7 million ballots, the number of registered voters.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Smartmatic-TIM had 20,000 flash cards on hand, which they had started to configure with the right instructions.

The company has also ordered more memory cards from local and overseas suppliers, he added.

Flores said the problem was “surmountable.” Correcting the instruction on the memory cards is “easy,” he said, adding that the challenge the company and the Comelec face is on the delivery of these cards to the precincts.

‘It will be done’

Although the schedule was “tight,” Flores said the company would be able to change the compact flash cards starting Wednesday night.

“It is a tight schedule but it can be done and it will be done,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM had yet to finalize the delivery of the replacement cards.

Larrazabal said the Comelec was devising a procedure for the orderly recall of the flash cards to allow for an inventory. He said the Comelec would probably destroy the defective cards recalled.

Pending the replacement, the Comelec and Smartmatic canceled the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines.

Flores said the operation would resume on Thursday and Friday. Machines that will not pass the testing and sealing will not be used on May 10, he said.

New round of tests

Under the law, the testing and sealing operation of the PCOS machines is scheduled three to seven days before the elections.

“The machines from Tuesday will be tested again on Thursday. Some on May 7. All machines will be tested before Election Day,” Larrazabal said.

CAC chair Ray Roxas Chua said he did not expect defective memory cards to cause delays in the last-minute election preparations.

“We are not sugarcoating this. This is definitely a setback, but one that is not insurmountable,” said Chua, who is also information and communications technology secretary.

De Villa said she had received several calls and text messages from volunteers reporting problems with the PCOS machines in Pasay, Parañaque, Makati, Pasig and Las Piñas, and Batangas and Mindoro.

“Most of the complaints were PCOS failure, PCOS did not count, PCOS counted national (votes for national candidates) but could not read the local, all candidates for mayor except one,” De Villa said.

Problem can be fixed

She said that the Comelec had vowed to fix the problems. She expressed confidence in the automated polls and disagreed to proposals to hold a total manual count of election results. “It will just be confusing,” she said.

“And how can you validate a system with a process that is also corrupted? We wanted to automate because we were so unhappy with the manual system that has been corrupted, so why are we validating a new system with a corrupted system?” De Villa told reporters.

In the provinces, officials said unexpected problems arose during the testing and sealing of the vote-counting machines, prompting the suspension of their distribution. They said the Comelec office in Manila had sent instructions that technicians would be sent instead to fix the problems.

In San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, acting election officer Perlita Villanca told local radio dzVT that the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines had been deferred. PPCRV volunteers reported that in Magsaysay, Sta. Cruz and Sablayan towns, the machines did not count votes for a congressional candidate.

In San Fernando, the Comelec recalled PCOS machines in Central Luzon after 95 percent of some 700 units used in tests in Pampanga and Bataan failed to count votes for local candidates.

Officials said the distribution of machines in Cebu, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, in Region IV, composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan had been ordered suspended.

Comelec Director Juanito Icaro said the advice from the Comelec national office was only “to stay put” and technicians would be sent instead. With reports from Redempto D. Anda, Marrah Erika Lesaba, Maricar P. Cinco, Fernan Gianan, Mar Arguelles and Madonna T. Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carla Gomez and Nestor Burgos Jr. and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; Tonette Orejas, Charlene Cayabyab, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Delmar Cariño and Charles Keith, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Comelec prepares for manual audit

Comelec prepares for manual audit
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is preparing for a random manual auditing of elections results, according to Henrietta de Villa, head of the poll body’s committee on random manual audit.

She said part of the plan is the deployment of an additional 3,500 public school teachers to ensure the accuracy of random manual auditing.

De Villa said the committee has recommended the creation of a special board of election inspectors to undertake the manual audit.

The Comelec has rejected calls for a parallel manual canvassing of poll results, saying it is no longer necessary since a random manual audit is enough to do the job.

The Philippine Bar Association (PBA) insisted yesterday that parallel manual counting of votes is not an impossible task for the Comelec.

PBA head and former ombudsman Simeon Marcelo stressed that preparations for manual counts in all precincts for five elective posts could be completed in less than five days.

“Yes, it’s not as simple as buying vinegar in the grocery store. It’s as simple as counting money the way bank tellers do,” he told The STAR in reaction to a statement from Comelec spokesman James Jimenez over the weekend that a manual count was “almost impossible” at this point.

De Villa said she agreed with the Comelec’s position that a parallel manual count would defeat the purpose of automation and would be tantamount to putting together two systems: manual and automated.

She also said the Poll Automation Law does not mention anything about having parallel manual counting.

De Villa, who also chairs the church-based poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting or PPCRV, said the recommendation for the creation of SBEIs is now awaiting Comelec’s approval.

She explained that fatigue had been a very big factor that had affected the accuracy of manual election system in past elections.

“But if we will have the SBEIs instead of the regular BEIs, the teachers will not be very tired and they would exhibit fresh look, fresh minds in conducting the random manual count,” De Villa said.

Last week, the Comelec decided to increase from one to five per legislative district the number of precincts to be subjected to the random audit.

A total of 1,145 clustered precincts will be subjected to random manual audit involving three BEI members. She said the involvement of 3,435 members of the SBEIs would be necessary.

Not impossible

Marcelo said it would only take a day or two to print additional election returns and three more days to deliver them to polling precincts all over the country.

“If only Comelec will agree, it’s not impossible at all. We just want parallel manual count for five positions – president, vice president, congressman, governor and mayor – and that will just take an hour,” he explained.

Marcelo said their proposal is the last external check to verify results of the precinct count optical count (PCOS) machines.

Meanwhile, local business leaders are scheduled to meet with the Comelec today to discuss the group’s proposal for a parallel manual count for president, vice president and mayor.

The Makati Business Club has urged the public to support the parallel manual count for an honest elections.

With the elections two weeks away, the group, which included Bishops Oscar Cruz and Deogracias Iniguez, called on the Comelec to rule on the matter immediately and not to wait until April 29.

Meanwhile, Malacañang called on critics yesterday not to destabilize Comelec, adding that it is in the final stages of election preparations.

He said the Comelec would need all the support from the public to ensure its success.

“What we believe in is the law that mandates an automated counting of votes. If there would be different results from the two (automated and manual), what would be followed is the results from the automated count,” Olivar said.

“We can’t be shifting from one mode of counting to another. We must learn to respect the law,” Olivar said.

Meanwhile, former president Joseph Estrada said the automated elections should be done in urban cities while far-flung areas should adopt the manual count. “Even in the US, they have not perfected the automated system, how much more here and right now, in Mindanao, there is brownout almost everyday. There could be a   24-hour brownout on the election and this might result in a failure of elections,” he said.

In Davao City, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino senatorial candidate and spokesman on poll automation Joey de Venecia III said Comelec’s rejection of parallel manual count might actually compromise the credibility of the automated system.

“It is puzzling that while the Comelec and Smartmatic officials broke out the champagne for completing the printing of official ballots several days ahead of their deadline, they choose to ignore multi-sectoral calls for a parallel manual count that’s precisely meant to validate that the untested precinct count optical scan (PCOS) system works,” De Venecia said.

“Has the digital dagdag bawas system been set up?”

De Venecia was among the politicians who arrived in Davao City to attend the 60th birthday celebration of evangelist Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ The Name Above Every Name congregation.

De Venecia said that a Princeton University study has found that PCOS machines could be infected with a malicious ware that could carry out automated vote shaving and switching.

Worst, he said, the malware has self-erasing capability thus it cannot be detected easily.

He said the possibility of the malware infecting the PCOS machines may be counter-checked by manual counting.

“It is plain to see that if the count for president, vice-president and mayor are accurate, then the people will accept even the counts for councilors and congressmen,” De Venecia said.

With Jess Diaz, Edith Regalado, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Ma. Elisa Osorio, Rainier Allan Ronda.

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau
By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A domestic helper and a high school teacher were the first to cast their votes in Hong Kong and Palau at the start of the overseas absentee voting (OAV) yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Rowena de la Cruz, a domestic helper, had camped out in front of Hong Kong’s Bayanihan Kennedy town center on Friday afternoon and was the first to vote yesterday morning.

Noel Reyes, a 36-year-old teacher in Palau High School, was the first to vote in the

Philippine embassy in Kokor, Palau. Reyes wore a white t-shirt bearing the phrase “Ako ang Simula” when he voted.

Some 589,830 overseas Filipinos out of the estimated nine million Filipinos living abroad have registered for the OAV. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expecting a voter turnout of 60 to 70 percent.

Comelec records showed that Hong Kong has the largest number of Filipino absentee voters (95,355), followed by Saudi Arabia (90,022), United States (48,293), Singapore (31, 853), Kuwait (20, 256), Abu Dhabi (17,051), and Italy (13,313).

DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya said voting “commenced smoothly” in the 93 embassies and consulates general worldwide.

The OAV started at 8 a.m. in individual countries yesterday and will end at 6 p.m. Philippine time on May 10.

Absentee voting is automated in Hong Kong and Singapore. Voters in other countries can mail or manually cast their votes at the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate.

Malaya said the embassies and consulates can receive votes eight hours a day, or may adopt a flexible schedule to accommodate more voters.

Abs-cbnnews.com reported yesterday that De la Cruz, a member of migrant workers’ group Migrante, voted for Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda.

She also voted for NP senatorial candidates Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said, however, this should not set a trend.

“On the surface of it, it’s newsworthy… (But) we want to assure the public that this does not mean there is trending and we’ll study the situation,” he said.

Jimenez said the Comelec does not want the OAV to set trends that would influence local voters during the nationwide synchronized elections on May 10.

“We’ll see what we can do over the next few days just to prevent the appearance of trending. It’s very important for us that the election here in the Philippines will not be perceived as having been influenced by any outside factor such as trending or a bandwagon that will be generated by the OAV,” Jimenez said.

Automation test

Absentee voting in Hong Kong and Singapore, which has a combined voter base of 128,000, will test the automated balloting system to be used in the Philippines for the first time.

Precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will be used in the month-long OAV in the two countries, 20 of which will be used at the Bayanihan Center in Hong Kong.

“Through this (OAV), we will know whether or not this really works,” Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco said. “We hope to learn a lot from the process.”

Jimenez said the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong had been generally peaceful.

He said it took the voters a minute and a half to fill out the ballot, faster compared to five minutes recorded during initial field tests.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa said they were satisfied with the conduct of the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong.

“They (Comelec) prepared well, there was no problem on the first day. They conducted an extensive voter’s education,” De Villa said.

PPCRV is a Comelec-accredited citizen’s arm.

Women’s party-list group Gabriela yesterday urged Filipinos overseas to participate in the OAV.

“The essence of OAV is to allow OFWs, majority of whom are women, to exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders, thus it is important to ensure that the genuine will of our compatriots be upheld,” said Gabriela vice chairperson and second nominee Emmi de Jesus. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges

Charge culprits in P700-M overprice, bishop urges
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—“That’s a mortal sin.” And there have been reportedly others before that.

A Catholic bishop called for the filing of charges against the people behind the scuttled purchase by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of ballot secrecy folders for the May elections because of the huge amount that would have cost taxpayers.

“P700 million! Wow! Prosecute the culprits. That’s a mortal sin,” said Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan called for the resignation of Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino, who reportedly endorsed the award of the contract to OTC Paper Supply for the purchase of the secrecy folders at P380 each.

The senator said Tolentino should step down for the latter’s alleged “continued involvement in different electoral anomalies.”

It was the Comelec’s bids and awards committee (BAC) that recommended the awarding of the contract to OTC.

BAC chair Maria Lea Alarkon said the recommendation was based on the specifications approved by the poll body’s en banc.

The BAC members are Allen Francis Abaya, Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

The Comelec had initially planned to buy 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders worth P380 each, a contract worth nearly P700 million.

But on Monday the Comelec en banc scrapped the purchase of the folders after finding the price of each folder to be extravagant.

The Comelec has decided that it would just use the less expensive regular folders to help voters shield their ballots from prying eyes.

It has ordered an investigation of the case.

In a statement, Pangilinan cited two other controversial cases in which Tolentino had alleged involvement—the “scandalous” Mega-Pacific consortium and his “puzzling refusal to purge zombie registrants.”

“And his name figures prominently in this recent fiasco regarding the P700 million folders,” the senator said.

Mega-Pacific won the P1.2-billion contract to supply counting machines for the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court nullified the contract, but the Comelec had already paid the company a huge amount for the machines which remain unused.

Pangilinan said it was a wonder why Tolentino was still with the Comelec.

“Too much is at stake for our country to entrust its hope for a better future in inept leadership within the Comelec. This is precisely the kind of corruption that we’d like to put an end to after the elections. Let’s start now. Tolentino should resign. Our people deserve better,” Pangilinan said.

He said the Comelec could not afford to have lapses of judgment “this late and crucial part in the ball game.”

“The Comelec’s handling of the country’s first ever automated election leaves a lot to be desired based on what we’ve seen and heard. The last thing the Commission needs is to be embroiled in a graft and corruption controversy,” Pangilinan said.

The Comelec should also disclose the amount it had paid for other election paraphernalia, according to Renato Reyes of the election watchdog group Kontra Daya.

Reyes said the poll body might have bought overpriced items in the past based on the reasons that one of its officials gave for the initial approval of the purchase of the secrecy folders.

Reyes said the statement of the BAC chair that the P380 price tag was “reasonable,” because the Comelec had bought P320 binders in the past, just exposed its penchant for buying costly items.

Alarkon had noted that the binders were half the size of the ballot secrecy folders, and that P380 was the median price.

“This shows that the overpricing of paraphernalia has been going on for a long time under the nose of the Comelec,” Reyes said.

In the interest of transparency, the Comelec should also disclose how much it is paying or will be paying for other election paraphernalia, such as the indelible ink, ballots and ballot boxes, Reyes said.

The Comelec’s citizens’ arm, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said there should be a thorough probe of the processes that led to the initial decision to buy the expensive secrecy folders.

“Each resolution and each recommendation of the different departments must be examined very well because it could have been an oversight, but still the fact is it will cost the government so much,” PPCRV chair Henrietta de Villa said in an interview over Radio Veritas.

De Villa also said reports that there was incomplete staff work on the documents for the purchase of the folders should also be looked into.

“Any kind of staff work must always be efficient and complete. The commissioners, they rely on the work of the staff that when it’s presented to them it has already been fully prepared and scrutinized,” she said.

Malacañang said it would monitor the result of the investigation by the Comelec.

“Let us not distrust the Comelec just because of this issue. There are bigger issues that the Comelec is attending to and I think they’re doing very well,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza told reporters. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Supplier set to appeal scrapping of folder deal

Supplier set to appeal scrapping of folder deal
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – OTC Paper Supply is set to appeal the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to scrap its contract to supply some P700-million worth of ballot secrecy folders to be used in the May 10 polls.

In a telephone interview, OTC Paper Supply manager Henry Young said that he would file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec to win back the contract.

“We are preparing our MR now. We cannot easily give this up, especially since everything was done aboveboard,” he maintained.

The Comelec cancelled the awarding of contract to OTC after finding out that the secrecy folders cost P380 each.

Young noted that the materials used in the secrecy folders are durable and that its length is enough to enable voters to fill up their ballots in secret.

“Most of the classrooms are using armchairs and considering the length of the ballots, it would be inconvenient for them to merely fill up the ballots. There is risk that the ballots would be crumpled,” he added.

Asked about the price of the secrecy folders, Young claimed that P380 apiece is still cheap compared to the prevailing price of shorter plastic folders being sold in the market.

“Maybe it is better for the public to judge it themselves. They can check the prices of plastic folders – which are much shorter than ours – being sold in the bookstores,” he maintained.

Ironically, OTC Paper Supply submitted the lowest bid of P28 million for the 80,000 ultraviolet lamps needed for the coming polls.

But Maria Lea Alarkon, chair of the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), said this does not mean that OTC would bag the contract.

“It’s not yet over. There is still the post-qualification,” she said in an interview.

Young, however, revealed that he is consulting his lawyers about his plan to withdraw OTC’s bid offer for the UV lamps to avoid more controversy.

“I’m thinking if it is better to withdraw now or I’ll wait for BAC to decide on the winning bidder,” he said.

The other companies that submitted bid offers for the UV lamps are Embu Integrated and Philand Industry.

Alarkon added that they might be able to recommend to the Comelec a possible bid winner on Monday.

Flawed bidding

Meanwhile, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) called the bidding for the UV lamps flawed.

“As far as I know, the bidding was sort of in haste. Some of the (observers like PPCRV) were informed the day before while others were notified on the day itself,” PPCRV coordinator Arwin Serrano said.

“When I was requested to attend by (PPCRV chair) Ambassador (Henrietta) de Villa, it was already 11 a.m. so I arrived there in the afternoon,” he said in an interview.

“I didn’t see observers from outside the Comelec,” Serrano said. He said there should have been observers from the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit, among others.

Asked about the PPCRV’s allegation, Alarkon said that the UV lamps fall under the category of “emergency procurement” owing to the need to “deploy” the devices to polling precincts across the country at the soonest time possible.

“Under the law, there is no need to advertise (bid notices for) emergency procurement. But despite this, BAC still found it prudent to have it advertised,” Alarkon added.

“We need the UV lamps. They might not be able to deliver the 80,000 units if not through emergency procurement. We made a canvass and we can get only 3,000 in the market, so you really have to enter it in emergency procurement,” she added.

Special task force

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, for her part, ordered the creation of a special task force that would investigate alleged anomalies in the planned acquisition of ballot secrecy folders.

The task forces will launch a probe even if no complaint has been filed.

“The task force will evaluate the procedure conducted by the Bids and Awards Committee of the Comelec, to determine if it is in accord with RA 9184,” she said, referring to the Government Procurement Reform Act.

She said the body would also look into possible violations by Comelec officials of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“What is important is that an impartial investigation will be conducted, where all parties will be given the opportunity to present their side so that those who will be found responsible may be prosecuted, otherwise, they should be cleared of all accusations against them,” she said.

Support for Comelec

With the Comelec under fire, Malacañang said the poll body must be given all the support it needs to make the May 10 polls credible.

“You know the Comelec has to be not only supported, but they have to stay very credible also and what is happening with the procurement, it needs really some fast investigation,” Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said.

He said that the Palace will not interfere in the investigation of the Comelec on the alleged procurement anomalies.

Mendoza said that the Palace believes the Comelec is “doing very well” in handling the controversies.

He declined to comment on the call of some sectors for the resignation of the Comelec officials involved in the alleged scam.

“Let’s just leave it to the Comelec and let’s wait for the completion of their investigation,” he said.

“We continue to support the Comelec and Chairman Melo in its challenging task of delivering credible automated election, which should be everyone’s highest priority,” deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Mendoza also said an apology from Melo regarding the controversy was not enough.

“I think the apology is always welcome but there should be the investigation because there has to be some reasons why they are procuring this kind of a cover because this is new, this is not the usual cover that the Comelec uses in the previous elections,” Mendoza said.

Separate probe

Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) senatorial candidate Joey de Venecia III said the National Bureau of Investigation should uncover the anomalous relationship between the Comelec and its “favorite supplier,” OTC.

“The manner OTC is projecting its determination to still bag the folder contract indicates that it has back-channel information that the Comelec will reconsider its junking of the deal for being obviously overpriced. We reiterate our call for the NBI to take an active part in investigating this mess,” De Venecia said.  – With Marvin Sy, Michael Punongbayan, Jose Rodel Clapano

Comelec: Party-list bets have to belong to sectors

Comelec: Party-list bets have to belong to sectors
By Leila B. Salaverria, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Party-list nominees should “belong” to the marginalized sector they seek to represent, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Thursday said in a resolution aimed at preventing political opportunists and proxies from using the party-list system.

The nominees should also have a proven track record in their advocacy, the Comelec said.

In the resolution, the Comelec en banc set the parameters for the qualifications of party-list nominees, which would give citizens and groups grounds to petition for the disqualification of questionable nominees before the poll body.

A nominee is “one who belongs to the marginalized and underrepresented sector/s, the sectoral party, organization, political party or coalition he seeks to represent,” the resolution said.

The nominees should prove that they have “active participation” in the advancement of their party-list group’s causes.

Speeches, articles

Thus, the nominees and the group have to submit “documentary evidence,” such as speeches, declarations, written articles, and other positive actions showing the nominees’ “adherence to the advocacies of the party-list,” the resolution said.

Comelec officials said they issued the guidelines to clarify the “very broad” provisions on the party-list definition that have allowed just anyone to claim to be a nominee of a marginalized group.

Some party-list groups and nominees have no business in claiming to be a member of the marginalized sector, according to Commissioner Armando Velasco.

Velasco said half of the 187 party-list groups on the official ballot might not be for marginalized sectors.

Asked if there was anyone on the list who could be disqualified because of the new guidelines, he said “there could be some.”

Due process

Velasco declined to name names, saying that these nominees deserve due process and that he does not want to preempt the commission’s decisions.

He said some groups might challenge the Comelec resolution on party-list nominees, but he pointed out that the poll body was empowered during the election period to come up with such rules.

Party-list nominations recently came under scrutiny after some high-profile political figures were revealed to be nominees of marginalized sectors.

President’s Arroyo’s eldest son, outgoing Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, is the No. 1 nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy, a group that claims to represent security guards.

Bro. Mike Velarde, leader of the El Shaddai Charismatic Movement, is the fifth nominee of Buhay. The first nominee is his son Mariano Michael.


Ferdinand Rafanan, chief of the Comelec legal department, condemned the personalities who accepted nominations from party-list groups just to be able to sit in Congress and enjoy the perks of their position.

Rafanan described these nominees as “selfish.”

The party-list system, Rafanan said, was established to give voice to the underrepresented sectors of society. “It should be the powerless themselves who should represent their group. Otherwise the purpose is not served,” he said.

The Comelec’s citizens arm noted that some party-list groups were allowed to run in the May 2010 polls even though there were questions surrounding their legitimacy.

“This calls for a review because there are so many nominees who are not marginalized,” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

In a report posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website, De Villa lamented the accreditation of bogus organizations.

She said these groups were crowding out groups that truly represent the marginalized and were providing an easy way for traditional politicians to get into Congress.

Scrutinize nominees

In an earlier interview, De Villa encouraged voters to scrutinize the nominees of party-list groups to ensure that they would be voting for those who really speak for the marginalized and the underrepresented.

She said voters, in choosing a party-list group, should exercise the same zeal as when they are selecting their candidates for the presidency.

Even if party-list wins…

“They should invest some time and research on candidates. That includes the party-list,” she had said. A Pulse Asia survey released last month showed that 69 percent of voters were unaware of the party-list system.

The resolution said groups seeking to disqualify nominees should file their petitions with the Comelec clerk. The commission en banc will study the petition and decide on its merits.

Nominees found to have failed to meet the criteria would not be allowed to take seats in the House of Representatives should their party-list group win in the May 10 polls.

“If the evidence of guilt is strong, the proclamation of the nominee shall be suspended notwithstanding the fact that his group or organization received the winning number of votes in such election,” the resolution said.

Each party-list group is entitled to a maximum of three seats in the House, but the groups are required to submit the names of at least five nominees by March 26.

The party-list groups have until this Friday to submit their nominees to the Comelec.

Liberal Party hits 'dirty tricks' of Lakas-Kampi

Liberal Party hits ‘dirty tricks’ of Lakas-Kampi

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Francis Pangilinan of the Liberal Party (LP) described as “part of the dirty tricks” the latest result of a survey that reportedly showed Sen. Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party (NP) as the leading candidate in the presidential race.

Last week, Atty. Mike Toledo, campaign manager of Lakas-Kampi-CMD, was quoted saying that a Campaigns and Images Inc. survey showed Villar number 1, administration candidate Gilbert ‘Gibo’ Teodoro number 2, and Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III of the LP number 3.

The report claimed the survey was allegedly commissioned by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

But in a statement on Monday, the PPCRV denied they had commissioned the survey.

PPCRV chair Ambassador Henrietta de Villa said it has never been the policy of PPCRV to commission, participate or be involved in any survey whatsoever, nor has it authorized any group to do so.

“We express concern on this clear effort to mislead the public,” Pangilinan told reporters who attended a briefing at the Liberal Party press office at the 3rd floor of VGP building in Ayala Avenue, Makati City.

Pangilinan said that the opponents of the LP tandem are using dirty tactics to shift the public’s attention.

LP senatorial aspirant, Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, said the latest spin to the story is a clear indication of the alliance between the Villar’s camp and Malacañang.

“Sa totoo, si Villar ang nakikinabang sa spin,” said Hontiveros.

Atty. Alex Lacson, another LP senatorial aspirant said, “marami na talagang senyales ng Villarroyo alliance.”

Secret weapon vs Pacman?

Pangilinan also said the LP was briefed a few days ago by Pulse Asia on their recent, still unpublicized survey, but he refused to disclose details about it.

“Sa Pulse Asia na lang kayo magtanong. Ang masasabi ko lang ay masaya kami sa resulta”, said Pangilinan, grinning in front of reporters.

Pangilinan, husband of Megastar Sharon Cuneta, was also asked if there’s any celebrity that LP is lining up to match the presence of Pacquiao in Villar’s campaign.

He smiled and said: “Balak sana namin si Clottey, kaso natiklo, hindi nanalo.”

But tongue-in-cheek, Pangilinan added: “Di namin ilalabas ang secret namin”.

Teodoro brushes off ‘dirty tricks’ tag

Meanwhile, Teodoro brushed off the “dirty tricks” accusation of Aquino’s camp.

Teodoro was in Aklan on Monday to open the Eastern Visayas Regional Athletic Association meet in the town of Makato.

He also held a dialogue with students and teachers in Kalibo.

The administration candidate said he prefers to be number one on election day rather than rely on survey results.

Teodoro also belied former President Joseph Estrada’s claim that members of Lakas-Kampi-CMD have signified interest switching parties.

“If they jump ship, they probably are not worthy of the support of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD,” he said.

Fifteen of the 17 mayors of Aklan are members of the administration party, as well as the governor and congressman who will be running unopposed.

The town of Makato has adopted Teodoro as its “honorary citizen.” Teodoro believes he will be able to capture the Aklanon vote. — with reports from Jorge Cariño, and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News