Automated Election Bill gets Senate nod

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — After almost a year of deliberations, marked with bitter and long debates, the Senate yesterday voted 13-0 and approved the Automated Election Bill, shortly before adjourning for a three-week break.

Disagreement over a key provision of the proposed law between the bill sponsor, Senator Richard Gordon, and Senator Sergio Osmeña III forced the Upper Chamber to a marathon session Wednesday night that ended at 12:45 a.m. yesterday.

Despite the marathon session, the Senate failed to vote. “This is a great leap forward for our country. This about making sure that every vote of every Filipino is counted, and counted properly. This about giving the future of the Philippines back to its own people,” Gordon said.

Gordon noted that year after year allegation of fraud accompany the outdated manual system of election and that it has ensured the only the powerful and wealthy stay in power—the ones who can cheat and buy votes.

Under the bill, the automated election system would be used in the 2007 elections in two provinces and two cities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, with the specific location for the pilot testing to be determined by the Commission on Elections.

According to Gordon, the pilot testing of the automated election system next year is estimated to cost P1.2 billion.

By 2010, the automated electoral system would be implemented nationwide. An oversight committee—composed of three representatives each from the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Comelec—will review the law every 12 months from the last election for further refinement or adjustment.

Among others, the bill mandates that the automated electoral system should be “technology neutral,” meaning it would use the most suitable technology presently available to for the system to allow for flexibility in upgrading it as technology advances.

Gordon said that under the automated election system, the results would be transmitted immediately to the concerned parties, including the Comelec, the political parties, media, citizen watchdog, to remove the element of delay that cheaters have exploited in the past.

But the automated election system would still produce paper-based record of the votes, or voter-verified paper audit trails, as a means to check the veracity of the summary of results transmitted, if necessary.

“The cheating happens when people are tired from watching the vote, and when the count slows down. By automating the process, the counting will be instantaneous and the results transmitted immediately at the end of the voting day, straight from the precinct to the world. This is how we will stop the cheating and protect our democracy,” Gordon said.

Despite the bitter debates, Gordon said he was grateful for his colleagues, including those from the minority and the majority. When he called for a vote anew to end the period of amendments yesterday, Senator Jinggoy Estrada rose and took the cudgels for his fellow lawmakers in the minority bloc, reiterating their reservations on the measure. Yet, Estrada said he would defer to the wishes of the majority.

A vote of 10-0, with abstentions from Estrada and his mother, Senator Luisa Ejercito Estrada, signaled the passage of the measure.

The bill was filed in 2005, and the committee hearings began on Oct. 17 of the same year. Gordon sponsored the measure on March 2006.

A counterpart bill had been approved by the House of Representatives and the two chambers of Congress need to meet in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the versions of the bill.

Gordon expects the bicameral conference committee meetings to start shortly after Congress resumes its session on Nov. 6.