Monday, March 20, 2006

EDITORIAL – Remember poll automation?

The Philippine Star

Amid the continuing political tumult, some quarters at least still remember that the country has barely a year to prepare for the next elections. The Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws wants poll automation to be tested in two cities and two provinces during the mid-term elections in 2007.

Poll automation, which was supposed to be implemented during the May 2004 general elections, was aborted after the Supreme Court scrapped a P1.2-billion contract between the Commission on Elections and the Mega Pacific consortium. The SC decision also recommended the filing of graft charges against Comelec officials and Mega Pacific executives involved in the deal.

Months later, a group led by former Senate president Jovito Salonga filed graft charges with the Office of the Ombudsman against several Comelec officials led by Chairman Benjamin Abalos as well as executives of the consortium. The case remains unresolved. Like the case, poll automation remains in limbo, and nearly 200 computers with special software are unused and deteriorating.

Despite the vote-rigging scandal that continues to bedevil the Arroyo administration, lawmakers have shown little interest in impeaching Comelec officials.

With no one lifting a finger to clean up the Comelec or revive the poll modernization program, the nation is stuck with the same antiquated system of holding elections, and the same officials who will tally the votes.

The presidential vote-rigging scandal involving former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano should have given urgency to electoral reforms. Nearly a year after the scandal erupted, however, no effort has been made to overhaul the Comelec and implement measures that will discourage vote rigging. In Congress, long pending bills on campaign finance reforms continue to gather dust.

With barely a year left before the next campaign period, the best that Filipinos can hope for is partial poll automation in a handful of pilot areas. Even this plan, however, faces rough sailing. Everyone knows that the Comelec has no credibility and the electoral system needs a sweeping overhaul. Beyond whining about it, however, there is little movement toward electoral reforms.

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