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Monday, April 20, 2009

COMELEC still 'ill-prepared, ill-informed' on poll automation

With barely 13 months to go before May 2010, Senator Chiz Escudero said the Commission on Elections is still struggling with the gargantuan task of automating the coming general elections as it copes with legal loopholes early in the bidding process.


"Comelec appears to be unacquainted with the intricacies of automation. The poll body still appears to be ill-prepared and ill-informed at this stage," Escudero said in a statement.


"We cannot afford to be an apprentice in this undertaking, playing trial and error at every turn. We cannot falter this early in the game, in the same way that we cannot incur more delays as May 2010 approaches."


In Monday's hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System, which Escudero co-chairs, he said the poll body hit a snag with a provision in its own Terms of Reference (TOR) that mandates that the winning bidder for automation should at least be 60 percent Filipino-owned.


Another provision states that the winning bidder should have a "proven track record" in automating elections.


"Given these provisions in the TOR, then no Filipino company can qualify, much yet comply, with the requirements of automating the poll. What is the point in putting that provision?


"Comelec had already asked for the release of the P11.3 billion budget for the automation of the 2010 polls. But they are not yet prepared to adopt the system, much more fool-proof it. This is a disheartening development."


Escudero found out that the issue was not even discussed during deliberations on the TOR.


The senator said that even the law does not require that the corporation that will win the bid in automating the elections should be 60 percent-owned by Filipinos.


"Given this impediment, what do we now do? Do we amend the law? Do we amend the TOR? Or do we go manual again this coming elections," he said.


"I have always maintained that we are not prepared for automation. But since it has already been approved and the funds for it had been set aside by Congress, then what we can do is be vigilant. And by doing so, we discover these legal hitches."


Escudero said he will wait for Comelec action on this issue, adding that the poll body should rise above this obstacle and prove that it can indeed handle the task of automating the elections.


The hearing was attended by Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Kiko Pangilinan, Makati Rep. Teddy Locsin, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Comelec chair Jose Melo, Comelec Commissioners Rene V. Sarmiento, Armando Velasco, Lucenito Tagle, Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino Jr., and Comelec legal head Ferdinand Rafanan.


Escudero said that he will schedule another hearing once the bids for the automation of the polls are opened.


"We have to keep a watchful eye on this issue. It strikes at the very heart of our hard-earned democracy. We must not lose it to carelessness and apathy," Escudero said.


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