The way things are going at the pre-qualification bidding of IT suppliers for the 2010 elections, I now have this uneasy feeling that the country will again end up with another botched attempt at automating the polls and in its wake lays another MegaPacific mess.
Before going further, let me categorically say that I have complete faith in the current composition of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), particularly its chair, Jose Melo, and one of its commissioners, Rene Sarmiento, whom I both admire as men of integrity and probity. But sometimes, even the best intentions from the nice guys are not good enough…
The results coming out of the pre-qualification proceedings are, to say the least, disheartening. As I write this, there's no one left among the seven bidders--all have been disqualified. The two bidders which took part in the pilot implementation of the automated polls last year--Avante International and Smartmatic--have been disqualified, along with some other participants which I've heard of only now. The Comelec, however, isn't prepared to declare a failed bidding yet as it is waiting for the bidders to appeal their qualification.
This appeals process, of course, will again eat up a considerable amount of time. As it is, the Comelec is already hard-pressed to have the automated election system up and running.
On the other hand, the country's polls automation law has an interesting clause which allows the Comelec to enter into a negotiated contract with a specific IT supplier, given that the bidding fails.
But this early, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) has already frowned upon this possibility as this may give rise to suspicions of favoritism to a certain bidder. Henrietta de Villa, head of the PPCRV, said in a television interview that her group would rather see Filipinos vote manually again instead of the Comelec entering into a negotiated contract.
But voting old-style, in my opinion, is simply stupid and practically puts into waste the numerous efforts of various stakeholders and the election automation law itself.
If no one among the bidders is qualified to supply the Comelec with automated machines, the poll agency should consider lowering the pre-qualification requirements, but must conduct due diligence by seeking the opinion of the IT industry and other stakeholders on the reputation and capabilities of those that can meet these lowered criteria. On the other hand, if the Comelec is forced into entering in a negotiated contract, then let the agency take that route.
But the MegaPacific mess should remind us of the pitfalls of the Comelec being left alone. That's where the people's vigilance comes in.