POSTSCRIPT / January 29, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Just rent, not buy, poll automation equipment

SPLURGE: Instead of buying expensive election equipment that will require costly maintenance and become obsolete during the three-year wait for the next polls, the Commission of Elections should just lease the machines each time they are needed.

The way we throw away money on equipment that do not last long enough to justify their heavy price tags — not to mention the commissions that pad the cost — one would think we print money faster than we can spend it.

The House appropriations committee has just approved some P11.3 billion for automated voting equipment for the 2010 elections. That is FOUR TIMES the P3 billion that the Comelec under chairman Benjamin Abalos threw into a sinkhole in 2004.

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GUIDED BY GOAL: The management objective in May 2010 is to speed up and ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

We assume that automating the key stages — including the casting of the ballots, the counting of the votes, the consolidation and transmission of the count — with the use of high technology will achieve the objective.

Question: Can we not attain the same objective — and spend considerably less money — by just leasing or renting the equipment instead of purchasing and then getting stuck with them as they gather dust and grow obsolete?

Why do we prefer the more expensive route to reach the defined destination?

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LEARNING LESSONS: Somebody should compel the Comelec under chairman Jose Melo to tell the paying public what ever happened to the computerized equipment bought, but not used, by the unlamented Abalos commissoners.

Show in the audio-visual mass media the relics of that multibillion-peso scandal, so its lesson will be etched deeper in the public mind.

The Commission on Audit can recap how much money we lost on that deal, how much we continue to lose by providing warehousing and maintenance for those useless Abalos contraptions procured under a cloud.

The Supreme Court no less struck down the purchase contract as invalid and ordered the prosecution of (ir)responsible officials.

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FOOLING THE PEOPLE: It is cruel to appeal to the patriotism of Filipinos, ask them to troop to the polls and vote wisely if the process is not clean. We are actually luring them into innocently validating the cheating and participating in a massive fraud.

In all electoral contests involving national officials (president, vice president and senators), despite pleas of complainant to go down to the contested precinct count this is never done.

In national elections, the veteran cheaters do not bother with the precincts anymore. They spend big money on operators who manufacture spurious canvass reports on the provincial and national levels.

The national candidate who does not contract these operators, some of whom are in the Comelec, and is unable or is unwilling to pay them is always in danger of losing.

The automation of elections is supposed to eliminate these operators, or leave them at least two steps behind until they are able to figure out new ways of rigging the results.

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GARBAGE IN: The vaunted hi-tech machines whose purchase diverts billions from the basic needs of the masses will be wasted if we do not purge and update the voters’ list BEFORE the automated elections.

There is supposed to be an ongoing registration and, we were told, a continuing purge of fictitious and unqualified voters. But how far and how deep has this cleanup gone?

Alas, the cleanup of the voters’ registries does not seem to elicit the same excitement among Comelec officials as the purchase of expensive automation equipment. How clean are the registries now?

So on Election Day (yes, Virginia, there will be elections in May 2010), we may just be feeding the automated machines tons of data mixed with garbage, and they in turn be spitting out garbage.

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RECALL POLLS: Somebody who looked like Atty. Romulo Macalintal told me that it is not true that the Comelec has given the final green light to the recall of Pampanga Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio and the setting of a special election.

Macalintal, who is starting to sound senatorial, happens to be the common election lawyer of President Gloria Arroyo and Among Ed. That he can juggle the two headstrong clients is a testimony to his political skill.

What actually happened, he said by way of clarifying an earlier Postscript, is that the Comelec asked the House — where all money measures originate — to appropriate some P93 million for possible recall elections in contested areas.

That fund request was taken by many as a hint that the poll body was about to schedule recall elections in Pampanga.

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WHY ME ONLY?: Macalintal said it would be discriminatory and a violation of the equal protection clause in the Constitution for the Comelec to pay special attention to Pampanga whose governor is known to be at odds with President Arroyo.

Comelec lawyers, I am sure, can dismiss such an argument since a dearth of funds cannot allow the simultaneous holding of elections in all disputed towns, cities and provinces. Some of them may hold it ahead of the others.

Just like in traffic enforcement, a violator cannot reject a citation by asking the accosting officer why he is cracking down on him and not other violators.

I once tried this “Why me?” line with a California Highway Patrol who caught me going beyond the speed limit. I pointed to the others zooming past us. “Don’t worry,” he said, continuing to write the ticket. “We’ll get them.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 29, 2009)

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