About l7 months before the 2010 elections, the automation of the voting and counting process remains uncertain because the Commission on Elections, Malacañang and Congress could not get their act together to get the ambitious project going.
There is no budget yet for the automation project although Senate leaders have pledged to approve a bill allocating funds for it.
Senator Richard Gordon is blaming the Comelec for the snafu.
He said the poll body has yet to present a proposed supplemental budget, which will be the basis of the House of Representatives and the Senate for enacting the corresponding appropriation law.
“Right now, it isn’t clear whether automation is possible for the 2010 elections since there is no supplemental budget yet submitted by Comelec to Congress,” said Gordon, principal author of the Automated Elections Act (Republic Act 9369).
But even assuming that the supplemental budget is submitted by Comelec, Congress can act on it only if it is accompanied by an official certification of the national treasurer that funds are available for the purpose.
Comelec at first proposed a P23-billion budget for a nationwide automation of the 2010 elections. But Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, and Gordon, then chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, succeeded in persuading the poll body to trim down the budget to Pl3.5 billion.
The amount will be released on a staggered basis but the bulk should be made available this year.
Despite the fact that the budget for the poll automation is just in the nature of a pledge of approval by the senators, Gordon has advised the Comelec to start the process of competitive public bidding for the project.
Comelec Chairman Jose Melo has issued a statement that they will follow Gordon’s advice.
Under the 2009 national budget, the Comelec has an appropriation of P5.3 billion but this is intended mainly for its regular operations, including salaries of personnel and not for the acquisition of computerization equipment.
A congressional oversight committee, chaired by Gordon and Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin, has given the go-signal to the Comelec to implement the full automation of the next national and local elections after the successful pilot automation project—the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao last August.
Gordon stressed that it is in the best interest of the poll body to undertake full automation of the 2010 polls because “it will help them redeem themselves from the waning public trust and confidence in them and the electoral process.”
“The full automation of the 2010 elections is a game changer because it will not only elevate the country’s electoral exercise from Third to First World class but also erase public suspicion that the Filipino people’s sacrosanct votes would be stolen from them,” Gordon said.–Fel V. Maragay, Manila Standard Today