Bishops divided on poll automation system

Published by rudy Date posted on March 9, 2009

Catholic bishops are divided on what automation system should be adopted for the 2010 national polls, with one bloc preferring the position of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the other bloc lobbying for the open election system (OES).

With the expected passage of the P11.3 billion budget to bankroll the poll modernization next year, the bloc lobbying for the OES has not given up hope that COMELEC would reconsider its position.

Under the OES system, votes cast are tallied manually at the precinct level. Election results are then encoded into a computer and posted on the web. The Board of Election Inspectors certifies the results using digital signatures.

The results posted on the web are then accessed by the city and municipal board of canvassers to produce the statement of votes and certificates of canvass. The same goes for the provincial and national board of canvassers.

But the COMELEC has expressed preference to use the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology as the additional P11.3 billion fits the financial requirement needed to fully automate the elections nationwide. The OMR system does away with the manual counting and tallying of votes, with the machines doing this job.


Yet, a group of bishops has expressed reservation about the OMR technology, citing issues of transparency and the expenses involved. The group has written COMELEC chair Jose Melo to reconsider his position on using the OMR. has learned that a lobby group composed of former COMELEC officials was behind this group’s position.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, in his capacity as chair of the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA), for instance, wrote Melo urging him to use the OES as an alternative system to OMR.

“During this time of financial crisis, we ought to be frugal. We need to identify a system that is least costly and transparent. Surely, we don’t want to waste billions of money to buy a system that does not exactly guarantee a fraud-free election result,” Pabillo said.

The NASSA is the social arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Pabillo said the advantage of using OES “lies in the fact that the voting and precinct counting are transparent and is the least costly system.” The OES system will only cost P4 billion compared with the P8 billion for OMR, he added.

Pabillo also joined other bishops who included Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma; Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato; San Fernando Archbishop Paciano Aniceto San Fernando (Pampanga); Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, and Zamboanga Bishop Romulo Valles,  who sent a separate letter to Melo urging the use of the OES system.

In that letter, the bishops echoed the concern of Pabillo.

The position of these bishops is backed by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, who also argued that the OES is less expensive and more transparent.

Lobby group

Yet, sources at the CBCP said other bishops, including those in the hierarchy, back the COMELEC position to tap the OMR. One indication that the CBCP is not united on the issue is the body’s lack of official position on automation, a CBCP source said.

Essentially, however, the bishops are in favor of the automated system as one way of ensuring clean and honest elections.

We learned from one source that the bishops’ divided position was prompted by a presentation delivered by one lobby group during its plenary assembly last July.

The lobby group presented the advantages of the OES and disadvantages of the OMR system. The group was able to convince some bishops that the full automation of the election process, from voting to tallying and tabulation of votes, could be manipulated.

An official of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said it is not yet clear how the divided positions of the bishops would affect the dynamics between Church officials and the Namfrel and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). Namfrel and PPCRV are both church-based election watchdogs.

These two election watchdogs support, in principle, the use of the OMR system.

The Namfrel and PPCRV have maintained close operational ties with the Church for its election watchdog duties. The Church, through its social action centers, provide the backbone of Namfrel and PPCRV operations. — ARIES RUFO,

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