Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Breaking News! Comelec mulling on selective automation

I had a chance to talk with various sources yesterday on the May 10 elections. And it seems likely that we will have a manual instead of an automated elections. And the manual count is being planned curiously and quite strangely, in Mindanao.

Why in Mindanao? No body knows for sure why there when the region was known as a traditional election hot spot and source of widespread fraud. Think of Garci and you'll remember Mindanao. 

A group of lawyers (Lente) and the IBP chapters throughout the Philippines are apprehensive about the automation, calling it a "very dangerous experiment". Lawyers worry on the expected huge number of disfranchised voters that this will create, given that it will take 22 hours for all voters to finish casting their votes while the law only allows half of the time. (Voting is only from 7am to 6pm--or about 11 hours).

The limited time already puts the entire process in jeopardy because of the huge number of voters per clustered precincts. If you have 50 million voters clustered in 50,000 precincts and every one votes, it will take 22 hours for every one to finish the casting of votes. The inevitability of a massive disfranchisement of voters will surely cast doubt on the entire poll process.

And granting, for the sake of argument, that everything is finished by 11 hours, you still have a huge problem---counting the ballots will be done in the evening which opens the possibility of physical sabotage. There are already groups out there who are thinking of destroying these optical machines to force manual counting.
Worst, both PLDT and Globe Telecommunications already indicated their unwillingness to provide Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM of digital data centers, fearing of sabotage. Seems that these two telecommunications firms will not risk their own multi-billion peso facilities for the elections. 

That's why, there's a bigger possibility now that the Commission on Elections will announce selective automation instead of full automation. The question is---will this change the contractual obligations of SMARTMATIC-TIM? 

Talks are rife that the Comelec will only do automated elections in Metro Manila, Metropolitan Cebu, Metro Davao, some key cities in Ilocos region and some in Northern and Southern Luzon. Mindanao will have manual counting of votes. 

It should be, given that the requirements are changing. Comelec already paid two billion pesos to Smartmatic-TIM. And given that it is still unable to deliver the rest of the counting machines even up to this time, government should re-visit its Contract and invite Smartmatic-TIM to sit at the negotiating table again and reduce the financial considerations of this contract.

In the end, the penultimate loser in all of these is still the Filipino People who pays billions for a project that the proponents planned to fail.