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

by Marje Pelayo   |   Posted on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

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

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Death toll in Nepal floods rises to 55, thousands displaced

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

The death toll in Nepal from flash floods and landslides rose to 55 on Sunday (July 14), with dozens missing and injured, the government said.

Ten thousand people have been displaced from their homes as incessant monsoon rains pounded many areas in mostly mountainous Nepal since Thursday (July 11), submerging large areas of land, inundating homes, and destroying bridges and roads across the country.

A Home Ministry statement said 55 people had been confirmed dead and 33 injured, with 30 still missing.

India’s north eastern state of Assam has also been hard hit by the floods brought by the monsoon, with at least 1.5 million people displaced and 10 dead.

In the Chittagong division of Bangladesh there have been 10 deaths and about 500,000 displaced, with 200 villages flooded.

Officials said in some areas rains had eased but rivers in the eastern part of the country were still above flood level.

The Kosi River, which flows into the eastern Indian state of Bihar, was among those that had risen above the flood level.

The Kosi has been a serious concern for both India and Nepal since it broke its banks in 2008 and changed course, submerging large areas of land and affecting more than 2 million people in India’s Bihar state. (REUTERS)

(Production: Emily Cooper)

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Iran ready to talk to U.S. if sanctions lifted

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking at televised address | Courtesy: Reuters footage

Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday (July 14).

“When a big power that is a bully, well then we have to stand up to it. It must stop being a bully. We have always believed in talks. Always, right this hour, right this moment, if they stop the oppression, if they stop the belligerence, if they lift sanctions, return to the table, return to to logic; we are ready,” said Rouhani.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration says it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues.

But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the United States withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018.

Confrontations between Washington and Tehran have escalated, culminating in a plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute. (REUTERS)

(Production: Vin Shahrestani)

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Nine killed in plane crash during skydiving trip in Sweden

by Robie de Guzman   |   Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2019

Mobile phone footage of plane crashing near river | Courtesy: Reuters footage

Nine Swedes were killed on Sunday (July 14) when their plane crashed during a skydiving trip near Umea, a small university city in northern Sweden.

The small plane designed to carry parachutists crashed on an island on the Ume river shortly after take-off, police spokesman Peder Jonsson said.

Those on board were on a skydiving trip.

The police said that all the victims were Swedish, with one person holding dual citizenship. The names of the victims have not been disclosed.

Authorities said the cause of the accident was not yet known.

The region’s main University Hospital of Umea confirmed there were no survivors and relatives of the deceased had been notified. (REUTERS)

(Production: Emily Cooper)

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