POSTSCRIPT / November 12, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Suing the whole ZTE caboodle is right move

SUE THEM ALL: The Senate Blue Ribbon committee did right in recommending the filing of charges against First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and other big shots, including the alleged whistle blowers, involved in the $329-million broadband network contract with China’s ZTE Corp.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, is not a court. It did not have to compile overwhelming evidence of guilt to see, after its thorough investigation, prima facie indication that serious wrongdoing has been committed.

Let the proper charges be filed so the accused can prove their innocence before the proper court.

Also recommended for prosecution were businessman Jose de Venecia III, former government consultant Rodolfo Lozada Jr., who squealed after the transaction did not go their way, former socio-economic planning secretary Romulo Neri, former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos, and Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza.

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FRAUD-FREE AT LAST?: The Commission on Elections is overselling itself, and lulling the public, when it keeps spouting assurances that the automated national elections in 2010 would be “fraud-free.”

Optimism is good, generally speaking, but it should not border on delusion or self-hypnosis. The automatic counting machines to be used in the elections will not, by themselves, stamp out the fraud that has marred Philippine politics for generations.

The Comelec should not sound like it is in the forecasting business. It should tell the public the real score, so we the people can cooperate more intelligently in making possible an election that, although not totally fraud-free, is generally clean and credible.

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UNRELIABLE LIST: The poll body boasted the other day in a meeting with opposition politicians that the automated counting hardware, also known as the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine, to be used in the 2010 elections are more secure, fast, transparent and clean.

But an election is not just a matter of counting the votes and transmitting the results. It involves a lot more, including the registration and education of voters — and even election officials.

How can an election be credible if the registries in many places are padded with spurious voters and a great number of eligible new voters had been barred from enlistment by an inefficient system?

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COMPROMISED: The entire process starts with voters’ registration, which should be as honest as the automated counting. Unfortunately, the nationwide (and also overseas/absentee) registration has not received as much attention from the Comelec.

Our Postscript of last Sunday (“Comelec control over voters’ registry diluted”) pointed out the anomaly of having the all-important lists prepared by Comelec personnel many of whom are recommendees or runners of mayors and other local politicians.

Comelec insiders tell us that this is one of the reasons why the lists often read like they had been stacked in favor of certain politicians.

Insuring the integrity of the registry is a basic Comelec responsibility, but this aspect of elections has been compromised — and no responsible poll official seems to be doing anything about it.

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FAT IS BEAUTIFUL: Reacting to that column, Comelec Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento agreed that our observation is “cause for concern” and promised to bring it up in the next meeting of the Comelec en banc (the entire bench).

He said: “You are correct ‘garbage in, garbage out’ and we Filipinos do not want to see this happen in our 2010 automated elections.” We used the “garbage in….” line to warn that elections based on an unreliable voters’ registry will not be credible.

When will the Comelec act on this basic problem? Maybe the commissioners will be agog over it if computerized registration were covered by another fat contract worth P7 billion?

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EDUCATION: Another big problem soon to hit the Comelec is the overdue education of some 46 million voters, 400,000 teachers on poll duty, some 85,000 technicians, thousands of candidates, not to mention also the general public and election officials themselves.

If many Lotto bettors who mark numbers on a small betting card still end up making errors in preparing their cards, what more with less motivated voters who must mark up with precision a two-sided ballot that is about two feet long?

For instructional aids, there should be hi-tech PCOS devices where the ballots are inserted and counted. But the 82,200 machines to be supplied by contractor Smartmatic-TIM are still being assembled in a new site in China (no longer in Taiwan).

The ballot itself cannot be finalized and printed because the list of candidates from president down to councilor cannot be closed until after the Dec. 1, 2009, deadline. (But Comelec says that they are still within schedule.)

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TURF WAR: One big problem threatening voters’ education is a turf war within the Comelec. It is not clear whose job it is to conduct the voters’ education campaign.

At least two groups think they should go ahead — based on their defined functions and job descriptions — to plan and carry our the education program.

But when disagreements and a duplication of activities cropped up months ago, the Comelec top brass told everybody to stop conducting information or education activities.

That status quo ante order has suspended further preparation of materials and the holding of official education programs. Now nothing moves by way of voters’ education.

Maybe the Comelec bosses should let the automation bit rest awhile and devote time to this seemingly minor (to them) matter of educating themselves and voters on poll automation.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 12, 2009)

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