Monday, April 10, 2006

Senate debates on 2007 polls

Excludes Comelec’s automated vote-counting machines


New computerized voting system being considered

The Senate Wednesday night agreed to exclude the controversial purchase in 2001 by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of P1.2 billion worth of automated ballot counting machines in future elections when it debated a consolidated bill authorizing the Comelec to use an ''automated election system'' (AES) in the May 11, 2007 elections and in subsequent electoral exercises.

This came after Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, accepted an amendment that this prohibition be categorically stated in the consolidated bill. The amendment was proposed by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. during last Wednesday night’s floor debate on the measure which was on its second reading phase.

The consolidated bill was based on the measures authored by Senators Edgardo J. Angara, Ralph G. Recto and Gordon. Further debate on the bill was suspended when only very few senators were left at the session hall.

The Senate went on a five-week Lenten recess starting yesterday. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will resume regular session on May 15.

Pimentel said there was no need to rush the passage of the bill because the Lower House still has to pass its version of the measure.

The Pimentel amendment effectively prevented the Comelec from using the P1.2-billion worth of automated ballot counting machines it purchased from Mega Pacific Solutions, a local company, and its South Korean partner.

The Supreme Court had ruled that the Comelec contract with Mega Pacific Solutions was null and void. It also asked the Comelec to recover the P800 million it had paid to the firm. Pimentel said the firm, which was still seeking an additional P400 million payment to complete the supply contract, no longer maintains an office in Metro Manila.

The bill defined the ‘’AES’’ as a ‘’system using appropriate technology for voting, counting, consolidating, canvassing, transmission of election results, and other processes in the conduct of electoral exercises.’’

The election returns and certificates of canvass transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as basis for the proclamation of a candidate, it said.The bill sought the appropriation of P1.6 billion for the purchase of electronic ballot counting machines.

Senators, however, said the national government might be allowed to lease the electronic equipment. Political observers said results of past electoral exercises were always under a cloud of doubt because ballots are read by election officials, tallies manually written and results are brought in boxes to towns, provincial capitols or to Manila in local and national elections.

The bill said an advisory council is proposed to be created ‘’to review and recommend the most appropriate, applicable and cost- effective technology to be applied in the AES and participate as non-voting members of the bidding and awards committee in the conduct of the bidding process for the AES. It also provides that among the three regular members of the board of election inspectors in every precinct, at least one shall be an ‘’information technology-capable person, who is trained and certified to use the AES.’’

Each board of canvassers shall also have as consultant an information technology expert trained and authorized to use the AES. Thus, the Comelec shall deputize information technology experts from government offices and agencies.

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