Philippine Senate approves e-polls budget

Once formally approved by President Gloria Arroyo, US$231.7 million will be set aside to support country's first fully-automated elections in 2010.

MANILA--After an intense public clamor, the Philippine Senate has finally approved a supplemental budget needed for the automation of the country's 2010 national elections.

Television reports said the Senate, voting 9 against 4, passed on Thursday a bill appropriating 11.3 billion pesos (US$231.7 million) for the computerization of the national polls in May 2010. The House of Representative, encompassing the lower house of Congress, approved a similar bill on Monday night, putting the fate on the computerized elections in the hands of the upper chamber before the whole Congress goes into Lenten recess this weekend.

The issue had grabbed national attention in the last few days after some members of the House of Representatives insisted on implementing a "hybrid" election, rather than a fully-automated one. Under their proposal, the voting will still be done manually, while the counting will be computerized.

This prompted a torrent of reaction from the public, particularly from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and civic groups, that accused the legislators of delaying tactics and sabotaging the planned automated elections in an attempt to defraud.

The legal sector and poll watchdogs such as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said the "hybrid" scheme could also be illegal since there is an existing law that mandates the full automation of the elections.

First nationwide e-polls
If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has expressed her support for the bill, formally signs the supplemental budget, the Philippines will hold its first nationwide computerized polls in May next year.

The country has long targeted to automate its polls because the traditional manual voting process had created massive irregularities and spurred public violence. A pilot implementation of the automated platform was held in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in August 2008, with promising results.

With the funding now available, the Comelec will begin preparations for the tender to have suppliers bid to provide the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) voting technology. The poll body added that it would conduct technical training for its personnel, as well as initiate information dissemination campaigns for the public on how to use the voting machines.

Last February, an advisory body tasked to assist the Comelec in the automation of the 2010 national elections submitted a recommendation to the poll body, detailing ways to make the procurement of the automation equipment "more transparent".

The inter-agency Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) said in its a resolution it suggested, among others, that the poll body:

  • publish all bids immediately after awarding;
  • publish all Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) decisions;
  • allow the public to participate as observers in BAC meetings; and
  • prohibit BAC members from making any contact with any prospective bidders, after the procurement process has commenced.

The resolution was signed by Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) chief Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III, who is also the chairman of the advisory council, and five other members of the committee.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.