Press Release
March 5, 2009

Chiz calls for vigilance in the automation of 2010 polls

With the approval of the P11.3 billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 polls by the Senate, opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero called for an intensified vigilance against a repetition of the controversial Mega Pacific experience which, until now, continues to be a symbol of the government's otherwise reckless efforts to achieve an honest, orderly and peaceful elections.

In explaining his vote of "no" to the approval of the supplemental fund, Escudero likened what may seem as an honest attempt to automate the coming elections to "signing a blank check" in favor of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

"Why? My position is simple. I am not opposed to the automation of the elections, but I abhor the idea of approving an P11.3-billion budget without the benefit of pilot testing and in the absence of a Terms of Reference. Put another way, why should we spend taxpayers' money if we still do not know what to buy and worse, if we are not sure if it will work," the senator, chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System, explained.

"But since it would seem that this ambitious attempt to automate the coming elections would get congressional approval in the next few days, what we can do is be more vigilant. Let it be said that the Senate oversight committee will watch every step of the way. We cannot afford another monumental scandal wrecking our last chance for clean, accurate, fast and honest elections."

To do this, Escudero said, Comelec has to be transparent in its every move and transaction, as "all eyes will be watching" how the poll body intends to carry out the automation of the 2010 vote.

The senator cited some of the similarities between efforts to automate the coming elections and the Mega Pacific deal which cost the country P1.3 billion.

First, the Mega Pacific deal involved counting machines, and so does this P11.3 billion supplemental budget. Second, the previous deal would have utilized the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology, while the present plan is to use a variant of the same system.

"Third, we would be buying 80,000 machines for 2010, compared to 1,300 during the Mega Pacific deal. Housing the Mega Pacific machines costs us P3 million a month, while a projected P77 million will be spent keeping the new machines come 2010," he said.

He added that in the Mega Pacific deal, the bidder or contractor would have full discretion on how to automate the system of the elections, the same discretion given to whoever wins the bid for 2010.

Escudero said all of these analogies and similarities bring about a lot of concerns that what happened in the Mega Pacific deal would be repeated.

"Comelec does not even have a TOR to inform us what we are exactly buying with P11.3 billion. I am not willing to spend even a single centavo for a system which is not tested, for a system we cannot even describe or define or a system that we're not even sure to deliver a clean, honest and fair election," he said.

"I am not against automation per se. I am in favor of automation as a concept and as a process. My fear is really simple: if they equate clean elections with automation, how can we be sure that we are not going from manual cheating to automated cheating? Or from retail cheating to wholesale cheating?"

Escudero said he will use his position as chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Automated Election System to keep a "watchful eye" on the planned automation of the 2010 elections.

News Latest News Feed