Philippine group calls for fair voting technology

The Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines (ITFP)is lobbying for a technology-neutral automated election system and is now callingfor support from technology experts to come up with recommendations.

“We are in the process of coming up with suggestions foramendments to RA 8436 and we are opening this to technology expertsto give their two cents worth in the design of a technology thatcould be used for the elections,” said Maria Corazon Akol,president of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation(PHILNITS) and member of the ITFP.

Akol was one of the petitioners that sought the nullification ofthe modernization contract entered into by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) with systemsintegrator Mega Pacific eSolutions Inc.

In a recent press briefing, she said the ITFP is now not onlylobbying for an automated but technology-neutral election system,but also that the Supreme Court ruling on not using the AutomatedCounting Machines (ACMs) be respected.

The Comelec had awarded to Mega Pacific a P1.3 billion (US$25.27million) contract to supply ACMs for use in the May 2004 elections,but the Supreme Court voided Comelec’s contract with Mega Pacificafter finding that the poll body violated the law and its ownbidding rules when it awarded the contract.

In December 2004, the Comelec filed a motion with the SupremeCourt requesting to use the ACMs for the Autonomous Region ofMuslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections in August 2005. The Supreme Courtdenied the petition, citing “utter lack of merit.”

Lately, however, reports have been coming out about the plea ofsome sectors for the Supreme Court to once again reconsider andallow the use of the ACMs in the 2007 elections.

Reacting to these news reports, Augusto Lagman, former ITFPpresident and also one of the petitioners for the nullification ofthe poll modernization project, raised several questions includingwhy the Comelec keeps on insisting that they be allowed use ofACMs, why the commission has not recovered the money paid to MegaPacific, and why the Office of the Ombudsman has not filed anycharges.

“What we want to stress here is not whether the machines work ornot, the argument is the process of acquiring the machines; justbecause the machines are working does not mean we should use them,”said Akol.

According to her, the Comelec must respect the order of theSupreme Court and stop pushing for the use of the machines justbecause “they’re there anyway.”

Standing by its resolution that the ACMs failed to pass the”critical requirements designed to safeguard the integrity of theelections,” the court said “Comelec must follow and not skirt ourdecisions. Neither may it short-circuit our laws andjurisprudence.”

“We therefore have two requests: that the P1 billion contractpayment be recovered and that the Ombudsman come up with a report,”said Lagman, further quoting statements from the Supreme Courtresolution: “True, our country needs to transcend our slow, manualand archaic electoral process. But before it can do so, it mustfirst have a diligent and competent electoral agency that canproperly and prudently implement a well-conceived automatedelection system.

“We can count on another manual system for the 2007 elections,but we can maybe expect some improvements to the system that may beimplemented through new technology,” said Akol. However, if the lawis not amended, then it would be too late for 2007 because even ahybrid system will not be allowed, she said, referring to RA 8436which specifically states that only an optical mark reader (OMR)should be used for automated counting.

“There are many possible alternatives to speed up elections, butthe law must be amended first so we could recommend a possiblesolution for the 2007 elections,” said Lagman, adding that theamendment to RA 8436 is already going through interpolation in theSenate.

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