Friday, December 18, 2009

Comelec rejects power contingency measures

By Marie A. Surbano

Original Story:

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is certainly taking on more risks related to the 2010 nationwide automated elections.

Apart from relying solely on what the winning bidder, Smartmatic-TIM, tells the poll body by way of justifying the delays in delivery schedules for the counting machines, and giving out guarantees that there will be no snags in the plans to hold automated elections, the Comelec yesterday junked the contingency measures submitted by state-run National Power Corporation (Napocor) as precautionary measures to address any impending power supply shortage in the upcoming May 2010 polls.

According to Comelec Commis-sioner Gregorio Larrazabal, the contingency measures submitted by the Department of Energy (DoE) through Napocor would no longer be needed since the 82,200 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines the poll body will be utilizing in the May 2010 elections have suficient power reserves.

This despite the fact that the

transformers used by Smartmatic during demonstrations of the machines early on going on the blink.

“The machines can all work until 16 hours, so there is enough power supply. Therefore, there is no need for any contingeny measures for any possible power interruption,” Larrazabal said in an interview.

He added that the Commission and the supplier, Smartmatic-TIM were very keen on ensuring that even in the remote possibility of power failure, this will not cause any hindrance in the conduct of the elections next year.

“This is precisely the reason we made sure that there is enough power reserve. We don’t want to encounter any problem during the election day itself,” Larrazabal further said.

In its draft contingency plan, the DoE said there is an impending power supply shortage in Luzon by 2010 and this could very well affect the conduct of the May 2010 political exercise.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes earlier revealed that Luzon is seen to enter the critical phase by 2010 when it is expected to experience rotating brownouts.

The Power Supply and Demand 2008-2017 report of the DoE, also reported that Luzon is facing a critical period this year as it would need 3,000 megawatts of power during the 10-year period but that there are only around 600 MW of committed projects and 3,380 MW of indicative projects to date while Visayas, which is already suffering from rotating brownouts needs 500 MW during the 10-year period. There is, however, only 320 MW of committed projects currently and only about 186 MW are indicative. Mindanao also needs 600 MW during the period but only has 100 MW of committed projects while the remaining 576 MW are indicative projects.

Napocor also asked Congress for a budget allocation of P6 billion to construct, repair and maintain existing power plants in the coutry to ensure the reliable supply of electricity as well as to fund its rural missionary electrification project under the Small Power Utilities Group (SPUG).

Luzon, a rich vote area, based on the data of the Comelec, has more than 20 million registered voters.

Larrazabal assured that there is nothing to worry about since the Comelec has already clustered further the precints to 74,000 from the previous 82,000 from more than 200,000 precincts.

He said each precinct will be assigned one PCOS machine and with 82,200 machines they would still have 8,200 reseved units that could be deployed to areas that would need the machines or in cases of failure.

Comelec and Smartmatic, during a congressional hearing on the computerized polls, admitted that that they expect more hitches, adding to the delays in the delivery of the automated machines.

Despite the consortiums many breaches of the contract and terms of reference for the nationwide polls, Smartatic, it was found, was not being penalized nor held accountable by the poll body.

Despite these failures and hitches, Comelec officials gave a 100 percent guarantee that full nationwide automated polls will push through.

Lawmakers sitting in the joint congressional oversight committee on the Automated Election System (AES) expressed alarm as even the delivery of the software, they were informed, had hit a snag.

Senators and congressmen expressed their inclination for a possible shift to manual or partial automation, in case of a worst case scenario, if full automation would not be feasible, despite all the preparations, arrangements and funding provided by both Congress and the Executive.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile agreed that resorting to manual system should be an option rather than not have any elections at all, saying that it would be disastrous for the country if there will be a postponement of the electoral exercise.

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