POSTSCRIPT / November 13, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can Comelec safeguard integrity of 2004 polls?

WAIT FOR 2004: It is obvious that the objective of those unruly marches in Makati yesterday was to pressure President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to resign. (She won’t.)

Why disturb the peace to force a quick turnover when the May 2004 elections are just six short months away? If the opposition wants to change the sitting President, the best way to do this is to field candidates who can do better than the incumbent.

We owe it to ourselves and to our nation to focus on orderly and honest elections in 2004. We have well-defined democratic processes for political change. Let’s follow them.

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MATTER OF SURVIVAL: Adverting to next year’s national elections, we cannot overemphasize their importance to our survival as a nation.

Once the elections are marked by confusion, fraud and violence, their credibility is put in question. And failure of election in 2004 could lead to civil strife and a runaway situation that we may not be able to control.

Political parties and candidates, especially those running for president and other national offices, will advance their common interests if they worked together to ensure the credibility of the elections.

Whoever “wins” in a failed election will not be able to govern anyway. There will be no winners, only losers.

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COMELEC WAKING UP: On the part of the Commission on Elections, maybe all is not lost yet.

We are heartened to have noticed lately some positive moves in the Comelec, which impressed us earlier as rushing through a P5-billion electoral exercise without commensurate due diligence.

When it was pointed out that we don’t have the P5 billion anyway (P3 billion for the “computerization” aspects) nor the experience and expertise to computerize the process nationwide, Comelec relented and agreed to use the automated counting machines only in few selected areas.

And when it was pointed out that it was foolish for the Comelec to spend P300 million for its own Quick Count when this parallel count could be done by experienced private groups for free, the poll body again took back its earlier disapproval of Namfrel’s proposed Quick Count.

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POSSIBLE VOIDING: With these moves, the contractors salivating in the wings may have been set back by several millions, but then national interest is higher than the interest of some people in Comelec and their business friends.

Having shown willingness to shave potential earnings, we think Comelec commissioners might as well go all the way in the name of conscience and patriotism.

For instance, the Comelec might want to review its controversial deal for the supply of automated counting machines and other computerized equipment rather than wait for the embarrassing possibility of the Supreme Court voiding the contract.

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STAND-ALONE: One point raised against the contract was that the automated counting machines being sold by the Mega Pacific consortium to the Comelec were not stand-alone as required by law.

The idea behind the ACMs being stand-alone is to prevent possible cheating through the tampering of data from the outside. In short, to prevent cheating.

Lawyer Alfredo Lazaro, spokesman of Mega Pacific, clarified to us that their machine is a stand-alone “compliant to the Request for Proposal of the Comelec.” He gave the features of the ACM using Optical Mark Image Recognition (OMIR) technology as:

It cannot accept input of data from external device as it has a transmission port only for sending out (output) of election results through electronic transmission. It has no mouse and keyboard, operating through the use of push buttons/function keys with preset commands with minimum human intervention.

It has an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) that enables it to run for 10 minutes in a power brownout.

It has an automatic feeding of OMIR ballots at a maximum of 400 ballots per feeding, a reading speed of at least 50 ballots per minute and a reading accuracy of 100 percent. It detects fake, spurious and recycled or previously read ballot with Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) coding.

It can be operated only by authorized election officers and a Comelec operator using their unique USB key with predefined “VeriSign” 128-bit digital certificate and 16-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN).

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 13, 2003)

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