POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 2015 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Time lack may force use of all-new PCOS

SHEER lack of time is pushing the Commission on Elections to a corner where the only option appears to be to buy for P7.986 billion the 94,000 (23,000 + 70,977) new Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines needed for the May 2016 national elections.

The Comelec still has the 82,000 PCOS veterans of the 2010 and the 2013 elections stored in a Laguna warehouse. But no one, including supplier Smartmatic-TIM, wants to refurbish the old hardware – also because of lack of time.

Elections held every three years are calendar events that are more predictable than earthquakes and typhoons. It should not be too difficult to plan and prepare the personnel and equipment needed for the nationwide time-motion exercise.

But the Comelec under then chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. let the days pass without preparing the PCOS machines sitting idle in the bodega. Now the poll body is under time pressure to acquire pronto 94,000 new PCOS machines just to stay on schedule.

The new Comelec under chair Andres Bautista, who is still not confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, is stuck with the 82,000 old election machines that nobody wants to bring up to date and be usable.

Smartmatic did not bid for the refurbishing of the old equipment, saying it cannot guarantee it could finish the stripping and repairing of the machines and deliver them humming like new by March next year, or two months before the May 9 elections. Comelec wants them by February.

On the other hand, the 94,000 brand-new PCOS (whose lease/purchase contracts are still not a done deal) can be delivered earlier, ready for immediate use, by January 2016. The new upgraded machines cost less at P59,000 each, compared to the old ones priced at P60,000,

After delivery, if the deals push through, the unreconstructed Comelec would have to grapple with the gigantic logistical problem of deploying them trouble-free to some 90,000 polling precincts throughout the archipelago. An excess percentage of the units will be on reserve.

Win-win compromise on PCOS proposed

TO BREAK the seeming impasse, election lawyer Romy Macalintal, proposed a win-win deal whereby Smartmatic would agree to refurbish half of the old PCOS machines and sell to Comelec about half of the new ones at a discount.

Macalintal deplored that the old PCOS machines might go to waste if Comelec fails to convince Smartmatic to refurbish and upgrade them for only P3 billion for the 2016 elections.

The Comelec expects some 54 million registered voters out of a population of some 100 million, 65 percent of whom are of voting age (at least 18 years old). The voters will be assigned at 550-600 per precinct.

To reduce the number of PCOS machines needed, some neighboring precincts will be grouped, each cluster served by one PCOS machine linked in redundant lines to specific town, provincial, national and watchdog servers.

We are just talking here of the Hardware, not yet the Software that runs the PCOS and the system, and the Peopleware who will manage and monitor the whole system to ensure clean and credible automated elections this time.

In suggesting a compromise, Macalintal said: “If I were Comelec, I would offer Smartmatic a win-win proposal: half of the number of PCOS machines to be repaired and half of the number of new PCOS machines to be leased at likewise half their respective prices, thus:

“Smartmatic to refurbish one-half of the 82,000 PCOS machines for P1.5 billion and Comelec to lease from Smartmatic half of the 71,000 PCOS machines for P3.9 billion, or a total of P5.4 billion for refurbishment and upgrade of 41,000 PCOS and for lease of 35,000 new PCOS machines, thereby saving the government P2.4 billion without putting to waste the P9.7 billion.”

He added: “Smartmatic, which has done substantial business with the Comelec and other companies in the Philippines, could show its good faith and concern for an honest elections in our country by accepting this type of proposal for the lease and repair of its PCOS machines.

Squatters delay NGCP line upgrading

THE NATIONAL Grid Corp. of the Philippines faces a dilemma over the long overdue upgrading of its 230-kilovolt San Jose transmission line. The reason: informal settlers refuse to allow NGCP linemen to enter its properties to conduct line and tower inspection, maintenance and upgrading.

The NGCP has been trying to talk with them but they refuse to move, causing further delays in the upgrading that should have been completed two years ago. The NGCP holds the right-of-way in the transmission line project in Quezon City, Caloocan City, Valenzuela City and San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.

The project was originally targeted for completion in 2013 to address the bottleneck in the transmission network affecting the power supply in Metro Manila and nearby areas. It involves installing 19 kilometers of lines, power circuit breakers and associated equipment.

The San Jose facility is the main merging point of bulk generation coming from northern Luzon. Some 1,022 houses and structures are illegally standing along the San Jose-Quezon City line. Only 24 of the 85 families that agreed to receive payments have already been relocated.

The NGCP said if its right of way remains unusable, residents of Metro Manila and contiguous areas would experience intermittent power supply. It appealed to concerned government authorities to help clear the areas along the high-voltage lines.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 13, 2015)

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