Thus said former Senate President and opposition leader Frank Drilon as he warned Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials today that Congress may not be inclined to allocate more funds to finance future automation of Philippine elections if it fails to automate the 2010 polls.
In his blog, frankahan.com, Drilon said he was "concerned" over the statement of Comelec Chairman Jose Melo that the chances for automating the 2010 elections were very slim, hinting at the possibility of conducting next year's elections manually.
Melo made the statement a day after Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) backed out of the partnership with Barbados-based firm Smartmatic Corp. the consortium that won the bidding for computerizing the 2010 polls. He raised the possibility of reverting to manual elections because time was running out for another bidding.
"I am concerned over the possibility of going back to manual elections next year," Drilon said. "The specter of wholesale fraud and a repeat of the infamous Garcellano caper once again loom in the horizon if manual elections will be held."
Drilon urged the Comelec commissioners to "do everything within their powers and within the boundaries of the law to pursue the automation of the 2010 elections."
The former Senate president added that he was confident that Melo and the other commissioners would take the necessary measures to ensure the holding of free, honest and orderly elections next year. "I believe Chairman Melo is a man of integrity. His sterling record in government service should speak for itself," Drilon said.
Drilon, who is also national chairman of the Liberal Party, warned that Congress may not be inclined to allocate additional funds for automation of future elections if Comelec fails to implement the poll modernization program next year.
"We must automate now or never," Drilon said. "If Comelec fails to automate the elections next year, I am afraid Congress may no longer be inclined to appropriate another sizable amount for the automation of future elections and we will be stuck with the primitive mode of manual elections for a long, long time."
On Tuesday, Melo said Comelec commissioners would sit in an en banc meeting within the day to discuss the poll body's next steps, including holding TIM criminally liable.
"(TIM) can be penalized under Section 65 of Republic Act 9184," he said, referring to the Government Procurement Reform Act. The law penalizes those who "withdraw a bid after it shall have qualified as he lowest calculated bid/ highest rated bid, or refuses to accept and award, without just cause…" Violators will be meted with imprisonment of not less than six years and one day, but not more than 15 years.
Melo said TIM president Jose Antuñez told him Monday that TIM was pulling out of the project, citing irreconcilable differences with Smartmatic. The reason for the pullout remains unclear, but word has leaked that the breakup was caused by corporate issues between Smartmatic and TIM ranging from the chairmanship of the board to funding disputes.