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

Marje Pelayo   •   May 16, 2019   •   1421

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

Comelec to revert weekday schedule for voter registration on Nov. 9

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 22, 2020

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced on Thursday (October 22) that it will revert to weekday schedule for voter registration beginning November 9.

When Comelec resumed voter registration last September 1, it was scheduled to be conducted from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said reverting to the weekday schedule will provide the agency time to disinfect offices on Saturdays.

“The Commission on Elections deems it necessary to revert to the weekday schedule to make way for Saturday disinfection days in all Offices of the Election Officer nationwide,” he said.

However, the Comelec official clarified that voter registration in areas under localized Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) will remain suspended.

Comelec also reminded the public that minimum health safety protocols will also be implemented during the registration to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“Wearing of face mask and face shield is mandatory, the number of people to be allowed inside the COMELEC office will be limited to ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements, and applicants are encouraged to bring their own pens,” Jimenez said. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

Ex-Comelec chairman Jose Melo passes away

Robie de Guzman   •   October 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) chairman Jose Melo has passed away, the poll body’s spokesperson announced.

In a message posted on Twitter, Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said Melo died on Sunday night. He was 88 years old.

“Sad news tonight. Just received word that Chairman Jose A.R. Melo, former SC Justice, and the COMELEC Chairman who oversaw the country’s transition to full automation from 2008 to 2010, has passed away. He was 88 years old,” Jimenez said.

He, however, did not disclose the cause of Melo’s death .

Prior to leading the poll body, Melo served as Supreme Court Associate Justice for nearly 10 years.

COMELEC has the power to postpone elections under certain circumstances —election law expert

Marje Pelayo   •   September 25, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Under specific circumstances, the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) has the authority or power to delay or postpone the conduct of an election.

This was clarified by election law expert Atty. George Erwin Garcia amid issues on a possible postponement of the 2022 national elections should the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic persist.

“COMELEC even has the power to postpone the elections or declare failure based on the Omnibus Election Code,” he added citing provisions of the law.

Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code  states: When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing, whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, shall postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause for such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.

News of a possible postponement of the 2022 election came after Pampanga Representative Mikey Arroyo asked the poll body if it would consider such a move given that the country is currently facing a health crisis.

“No matter how prepared we are, it will cause a serious dent on our health situation. Would you consider it?,” he asked representatives from COMELEC during Congress’ hearing on the agency’s proposed budget on Thursday (September 24).

“Has the thought that you’ll propose to postpone elections, has that ever triggered in your minds?” the lawmaker further asked.

In response, COMELEC Commissioner Sheriff Abas said the postponement of election is beyond the agency’s responsibility.

“I think  wala sa call namin sa COMELEC iyan (I think that matter is not COMELEC’s call). It’s the call of both the chambers of the House and the president,” Abas said. 

Commenting on the issue, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin claimed that to cancel the election is an act of treason while former COMELEC commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal Sr.  said there is no reason to postpone the elections because other countries have been able to conduct it despite the challenges in the middle of the pandemic.

To clarify the matter, Atty. Garcia explained that the elections can be carried out before or after the second week of May as mandated by the Constitution as long as there is a law passed by the Congress.

“Pwede iyang ilipat sa ibang araw man lang o ibang linggo, pwede ngang ibang buwan ilipat (It can be postponed to a later date or week or even month). Bakit (Why)? Kasi ang nakalagay (because it says) ‘as may be provided by law,'” Garcia said.

“But it needs a constitutional amendment if the elections will be done beyond the elected officials’ term,” he added.

Garcia explained that by conducting an election outside or beyond the deadline or the term of office is therefore extending the term of office of the incumbent.

Such a case is prohibited or is not allowed by law, he said, because of what the law calls as hold-over capacity and fixed term of elected officials.

For now, Garcia said, what is important is for the Comelec to prepare for the elections and this includes voter registration. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

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