Palace to use automated poll machines by 2010

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — BOTHERED by the slow count of votes cast in the May 14 elections, Malacañang yesterday called on all stakeholders in the political process to put in place an automated election system to replace the Philippines’ century-old method of manual voting and counting.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Arroyo administration was determined to see an automated system installed in time for the 2010 presidential election.

“If we are to exercise political will, three years is sufficient time for electoral reforms,” Bunye said. “Yet, for this miracle of modernization to take place, we need to act as one nation committed to elevating its electoral system to a state-of-the- art democratic exercise.”

Congress passed the Automated Electoral System Act, which was signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into law early this year.

Under this law, automated voting was given a P2.6-billion fund this year, and automation was to be implemented in two provinces and two cities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

But the Commission on Elections failed to implement the automation scheme because the law was passed too late.

Two House members echoed the call, and asked the election commission to start planning for full computerization of the 2010 election to hasten the proclamation of poll winners.

Lakas Rep. Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City and Kampi Rep. Rodito Albano III of Isabela said automation would also prevent confusion, doubts and allegations of fraud which marred the senatorial and local elections.

The Department of Education, which is in charge of the teachers who run the elections, is also calling for the automation of the electoral process, for a different reason.

“Our teachers need to be relieved of their election duties for their own safety. This can only be done if we finally computerize the electoral process,” Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said.

He made the call following the death of a high school teacher in a fire believed to have been intentionally started at the school where she had been on election duty in Taysan, Batangas.

In 2004, the Comelec purchased 1,900 automated vote-counting machines worth P1.3 billion for use in that year’s national and local elections. But the Supreme Court stopped the use of the counting machines due to technical defects and flaws in the bidding process.

The Philippines, which started holding elections during the American colonial period in 1906, still uses the much-maligned manual voting and counting system that has been replaced by automated voting machines the world over.

“Much can be solved by automation, but for this to happen, all elements—from legislation to budgetary support and a trouble-free, fully transparent and acceptable bidding process—must be in place,” Bunye said.

Bunye said that the President, in her Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, pointed out that electoral reforms, particularly automated elections, were essential to political stability.

“The administration is certainly up to the challenge of electoral reforms. Let us hope that such reforms will part of a nation-building agenda that all sectors and political parties can support as a vehicles toward constructive political engagement and increased people participation in national governance.”

Meanwhile, the Palace said that all questions on the results of the senatorial election in Maguindanao province should be addressed and resolved through the law.

Presidential adviser on political affairs Gabriel Claudio said it was unfair to conclude that the elections in Maguindanao were fraudulent just because the results were overwhelmingly in favor of the candidates of the administration’s Team Unity coalition.

“The integrity and credibility of the elections are paramount. All questions about the results in Maguindanao can be and should be addressed through the mechanism provided by law,” Claudio said in a text message.

The rival Genuine Opposition coalition said that the 12-0 results of the senatorial derby in Maguindanao in favor of Team Unity was statistically improbable and the result of manipulation of election returns.

Claudio warned against raising charges of cheating without hearing the side of election officials in Maguindanao.

“Let us give the official in charge of the election in that province the opportunity to enlighten us on how the election was conducted,” he said.