What’s holding PH from having a smooth automated election?

Marje Pelayo   •   May 16, 2019   •   1404

2019 midterm elections at Commonwealth Elementary School, Quezon City (Rodel Lumiares/PVI)

MANILA, Philippines – It took the Philippines 18 years before it finally applied the automated election system (AES) in 2010, the time when Benigno Aquino III was named the country’s 15th President.

The plan to fully automate the electoral process was raised in 1992 by then Commission on Election (Comelec) Chairman Christian Monsod during the term of then President Fidel Ramos.

Speaking to UNTV News, Monsod explained that the main purpose of automation was to expedite the election process and to make the job easier for the Commission.

“The vision is really to have the returns faster. It’s two – accuracy and speed. Those are the two objectives,” Monsod said on Thursday (May 16).

In 1996, the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was declared a success.

It was then that the computerized election system in the country was pilot-tested using the technology provided by a U.S. company American Information System, Inc.

In December 1997, Republic Act 8436 or “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes” was signed.

However, it was applied only to specific areas like Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and not to the entire Philippines.

During the term of former President Joseph Estrada, poll automation did not push through.

In 2004, the administration of then president Gloria Arroyo awarded the P1.3B poll automation contract to Mega Pacific E-Solutions but the Supreme Court (SC) nullified the contract due to irregularities in the bidding process. A complaint against then Comelec Commissioner Benjamin Abalos Sr., other commissioners and executives of the Mega Pacific E-Solutions was filed in relation to the contract but the case did not prosper due to lack of probable cause.

It was in 2008 that Smartmatic-Sahi Joint Ventures entered a contract with Comelec as the provider of the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Technology while the Active Business Solutions Inc. and Avante International provided the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) Technology.

The said technologies were applied in the ARMM elections that time but several glitches manifested.

In 2009, the contract for the 2010 presidential elections was awarded to Smartmatic-TIM, the same technology provided tapped in the succeeding polls in 2013, 2016, and this year 2019.

This preference to Smartmatic raised doubts and questions to the credibility of the election process.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for one, suggests that Smartmatic must be replaced by a different technology provider.

 “Matagal na noong January pa (ay) sinasabi ko na yan. Ang problema noong nag-privilege speech ako (ay) nakapag-award na ang COMELEC. Remember, kasi napakadaming problema,” Sotto said.

(I have been reminding them, ever since January. But then when I gave my privilege speech, Comelec already awarded [the contract]. Remember, there were many problems before.)

The recently concluded 2019 midterm polls was not spared from glitches and problems as many SD cards appeared defective and more vote counting machines malfunctioned as compared to the election in 2016.

But the poll body argues that it is only Smartmatic that passes their bidding requirements aside from the company’s experiences in the previous elections.

Comelec added that this year, not all election materials were provided by a single supplier which, according to the agency, justifies why there were defective supplies.

“In 2016, bundled ang aming bidding…Ngayon iba ang supplier ng makina, iba ang supplier ng SD cards, iba rin ang supplier ng papel at marking pens so doon ang nakita naming problema hindi masyadong nagma-match,” argued Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas.

What the poll body is looking at this time is whether or not to still reuse the VCMs despite their service in the two consecutive elections. – (with details from Rey Pelayo) Marje Pelayo

DBM slashes COMELEC’s proposed budget for 2021 by more than half

Marje Pelayo   •   September 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is asking Congress to increase its budget for next year as it prepares ahead for the 2022 presidential election.

The poll body initially proposed a budget of almost P23.7 billion for next year, but this has been slashed by more than half.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved only P10.41 billion for COMELEC’s 2021 budget.

According to COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez, a huge portion of the slashed amount was intended for measures that will be adopted during the 2022 national elections amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The COMELEC was planning to rent additional vote counting machines.

“Iyong gagawin namin sa present budget, kung iyan lang ang maibigay sa amin, is ire-refurbish namin (What we will do with the present budget — if that’s the only amount we have — is to refurbish),” COMELEC Chairman Sheriff Abas.

Around P65.4 million voters, an increase of 13.76 percent from last elections, are expected to vote in 2022.

“Kapag marami ang botante at nagsisiksikan sila sa isang makina, medyo unsafe iyan pagdating sa situwasyon natin ngayon na pandemya (If there is a huge voter turnout and everyone flocks to one machine, that’s unsafe given the current situation in this pandemic), ” explained COMELEC Spokesperson Director James Jimenez.

Based on COMELEC’s plan for the elections, the number of voters inside precincts would be reduced from 12 to 5 to maintain safe physical distance.

COMELEC is also mulling on holding the election for more than one day to reduce the number of voters coming to the venues.

The online filing of candidacy is also being considered.

Meanwhile, Agusan del Norte representative Lawrence Fortun is worried about the turnout in the 2022 elections if the poll body fails to convince Filipino voters that it is safe to go to polling precincts physically.

“If COMELEC cannot assure our voters of their safety, considering that electoral activities really draw large crowds, many might not be able to vote,” Fortun said,

The poll body is also waiting for election-related bills to address fears of virus transmission.

These include early voting for persons with disability and senior citizens, as well as voting via mail.

COMELEC also plans to apply the best practices in other countries who have held elections in the middle of the pandemic, such as South Korea.

There is also a bill that aims to push for hybrid elections.

However, COMELEC estimates that P50 billion to P60 billion will be needed for hybrid elections. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Comelec announces newly nominated poll commissioner

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 21, 2020

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday (September 21) announced its newly nominated poll commissioner, Atty. Michael Braganza Peloton.

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas in a statement said, Peloton will be able to greatly contribute in further improving and revolutionizing electoral processes due to his vast experience in the field of law and information technology.

“Commissioner Peloton joins Comelec at an exciting and challenging time, as we have already started preparations for the 2022 national and local elections in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Abas said.

Abas also said Peloton will serve as commissioner until February 2, 2027 after replacing Commissioner Luie Guia who retired last February. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

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Former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. passes away

Robie de Guzman   •   August 11, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., passed away on Tuesday morning, the poll body’s spokesperson confirmed.

In a message to reporters, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said Brillantes passed away around 11 a.m. He was 80 years old.

“He will be fondly remembered by his grateful COMELEC family,” he said in a separate message posted on Twitter.

Jimenez also said that an official statement letter will be issued by the commission later.

He did not disclose the cause of Brillantes’ death but in July, the former official’s family announced that he had been intubated after testing positive for novel coronavirus disease.

Brillantes served as Comelec chair from January 2011 to February 2015.

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