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SC upholds poll automation—Comelec chief

Posted on: September 8, 2009

SC upholds poll automation—Comelec chief

By Tetch Torres, Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:45:00 09/08/2009

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Computing & Information Technology, Judiciary (system of justice)

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has ruled that the automation of the 2010 elections is legal, Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Melo told INQUIRER.net Tuesday.

An official of the high court who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media confirmed Melo’s disclosure of the decision that could lift the final stumbling block to the computerization of the polls.

“We were told the ruling was 11-3-1, with 11favoring the Comelec, three filing concurring dissent, and one abstention because he or she is out of the country,” said Melo.

The associate justices who issued dissenting opinions were Conchita Carpio-Morales, Antonio Carpio and Arturo Brion while Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing is on leave, the source from the high tribunal said.

High court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez did not confirm the decision, saying it would be released Thursday because they were still waiting for the separate and dissenting opinions of the justices.

Melo welcomed the ruling, saying, “We are happy with the outcome because this means tuluy-tuloy na ang automation [there’s no stopping automation] and our detractors plea have been judged by the High Court. They should just work with us to make 2010 automation a success.”

The Supreme Court ruling stemmed from a petition by lawyer Harry Roque, convener of the Concerned Citizens’ Movement (CCM), for the tribunal to issue a temporary restraining order against poll automation, saying the Comelec and technology form, Smartmatic and Total Information Management, allegedly violated laws, citing among others, the absence of a pilot test, which was supposed to have been done as early as the May 2007 elections.

Roque noted that Section 5 of Republic Act 9369 mandated that for the regular and national polls, “the automated election system shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to be chosen by the Comelec.”

Petitioners added that the contract was also “frontloaded” as it required the Comelec to pay up to P4 billion out of the P7.194-billion contract prior to its delivery of the 80,200 machines to be used for the 2010 elections.

However, the Office of the Solicitor General said the poll automation contract did not violate RA 9369.

“The only condition imposed by Congress in RA 9369 for the automation of the 2010 elections is that the AES to be procured must have demonstrated capability and must have been demonstrated capability and must have been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad,” the OSG said.

“Had legislators intended that a ‘pilot testing’ be mandatory, they could have categorically expressed the same in a language that is clear and straightforward,” he said.
Melo said that conducting a pilot test was impossible for “lack of budget and material time” to lease machines and contract a technology provider since Republic Act 9369 or the amended poll automation law was passed only in February 2007, three months before the May elections.

In June, the Comelec awarded the P7.2 billion poll automation project to Smartmatic-TIM, which would provide 82,200 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to automate the counting, canvassing, and transmission of votes from precinct to board of canvassers.

But preparations for the project was delayed after the petition was filed by Roque, which prompted the Comelec to go slow on its preparations in anticipation of a TRO, similar to what was issued against a similar automation project in 2004.

The automated elections in 2008 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which used both PCOS and direct recording electronic units that served as electronic display ballots, was enough testing ground for automation, although it was “not a pre-condition to automate the 2010 polls,” said Melo.

Melo said the Comelec could now go full blast for automation and arrange payments for the deliverables from Smartmatic-TIM such as the software licenses and the integration of project management office to manage the project together with the poll body’s PMO.

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