Congress prodded on poll automation budget

Published by rudy Date posted on February 17, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang urged the House of Representatives yesterday to hasten the approval of the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the modernization of the 2010 elections that President Arroyo has certified as urgent.

Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio said Speaker Prospero Nograles and House appropriations committee chairman Junie Cua of Qurino province earlier gave assurances that “whatever kinks there were have all been ironed out.”

“The sooner it is approved the better. We’re hoping that there would be no more delays,” Claudio said.

He said Cua told him the Commission on Elections (Comelec) could actually start the bidding for the automated counting machines even before the measure is approved.

He said the automation of elections is in the 10-point agenda of the Arroyo administration and “we’re hoping that it would finally come to fruition.”

Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer earlier said that Congress must pass the measure within the next three weeks to ensure the automation of the 2010 polls.

“The budget must come out by mid-March because later than that we will have to go back to manual elections,” Ferrer said, adding that the Comelec could not conduct the bidding for the purchase of the voting machines unless there is a certificate of availability of funds.

He said the poll body has agreed to use the optical mark reader (OMR) for the 2010 general elections.

The OMR was successfully used in the last elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, he said.

Too much at stake

Sen. Richard Gordon called yesterday on the Comelec to choose a poll automation technology that would eliminate “wholesale cheating” in next year’s presidential elections.

“Too much is at stake in the May 2010 presidential elections, hence, the Comelec should choose a system that would finally get rid of wholesale cheating that usually mars elections in our country,” he said.

Gordon noted the Comelec’s chosen technology would “dictate the results” of the 2010 polls.

“Using an automation system that is invulnerable to manipulation would erase public suspicion that the Filipino people’s sacrosant votes would be stolen from them,” he said.

Gordon said the use of an effective poll automation system would put an end to divisiveness in the country.

“If the Comelec will ensure that the automated system to be used will stop manipulating election results, we would finally see candidates who were truly elected by the people emerge as victors,” he said.

“It would mean that our country has indeed achieved true democracy.”

The Open Elections System (OES) was proposed to the Comelec by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action.

However, Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said it was not mandated by Republic Act 9369, the Poll Automation Law.

The Comelec prefers the OMR over the Direct Recording Electronics (DRE) because it is much cheaper and produces a ballot or paper trail.

The OMR and DRE were both tested during the August 2008 regional polls in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

However, for next year’s election, the Comelec wants an improved version of OMR in which counting machines would be placed in polling precincts.

Under the OES, voters would cast their votes manually and after the close of voting, the ballots are read and tallied as traditionally done with the election returns.

The ERs will then be brought to an encoding center and uploaded to a national central database. — Paolo Romero with Sheila Crisostomo, Philippine Star

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