BY GERARD NAVAL
Original Story: http://www.malaya.com.ph/05102010/news1.html
AT least 50 million Filipinos are set to face the controversial precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines today as the country holds its first-ever nationwide automated elections.
Veering away from the decades-old, fraud-filled manual system, Filipinos are set to elect their next leaders, including the successor of President Arroyo, by simply shading an oval next to the name of their candidates of choice and feeding their ballots to the counting machine.
According to the Commission on Elections, this election will be historic because it will be the first time an automated system will be used not only in the country but in the whole Asia.
"We are finally moving away from the known flaws and weaknesses of the old ways of doing things and toward an automated election system that promises a speedy and accurate count, a highly efficient reporting mechanism that democratizes the count and canvass of election results, and most importantly, the extinction of dagdag-bawas (vote padding and vote shaving)," said Comelec Chairman Jose Melo.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they expect this election to be one of the most-watched in history as it would determine if a third-world country like the Philippines is capable of conducting an automated election.
"Whatever happens, they will learn from us so we are really expecting the 2010 election to be the country’s most watched electoral process," he said.
In the past elections, Filipinos had to wait for more than a month before knowing the winners.
The Comelec’s automation partner, Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp., said results can now be made available as early as two days after the elections.
The voting remains manual, albeit simpler, but the counting, transmission and canvassing are all set to go automated, making the process more accurate and faster.
Under the automated elections system, the electronic results of voting in each of the more than 76,000 clustered precincts are set to go directly and simultaneously to the municipal, provincial, and national board of canvassers as well as to the servers of the accredited citizens’ arm and the dominant majority and minority parties.
The Comelec described this "redundancy" as not only a compliance with the law but also as an additional security feature of the automated polling system, because this would assure that all stakeholders mandated to receive copies of the election returns will get them on time.
Melo, in a press conference at the National Canvassing Center at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, declined to give an estimate of the voter-turnout but noted that the interest is at a heightened level.
He said they would be satisfied if half of the 50,850,938 would come out and vote.
"We cannot really put a finger on it but, you know, the interest here is heightened because it is the presidential elections and like what happened in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) polls, people are curious about the machines. They would like to see how the machines will work," said Melo.
Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento is hoping voter turnout will surpass previous polls.
"In the past, we would hit 70-80 percent. Now considering two factors mentioned, it could hit even 85 percent," he said.
Still, Melo urged the public to go out and vote and help ensure that the elections would be clean, honest and peaceful.
"Go to the polling places early, prepared with your list of candidates. And huwag kayong magpapatakot. Huwag kayong magpapabili. Let us keep these elections as clean as possible," he said.
The Comelec has spent at least P7.2 billion in acquiring the services of Smartmatic-TIM and some 82,200 PCOS machines in June 2009 in a bid to speed up the electoral system.
However, critics continue to doubt whether the Comelec is capable of handling such a huge project given the lack of time, the poll body’s lack of credibility, and the vulnerability of the electronic results to automated fraud.
Just last week, the PCOS machines suffered a major glitch when they wrongly read several votes in the local positions in the final testing and sealing process in some precincts.
This prompted the Comelec to move the deadline of the final test of the machines from Friday to yesterday.
This has also caused a massive logistical effort from the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM in a bid to recover all the "misconfigured" compact flash cards from all the regional hubs where the PCOS machines have already been deployed.
The machine glitch last week was aside from the previous problems encountered by the system such as when the PCOS machines failed to transmit the results of the field tests and mock polls.
These glitches have prompted critics of the Comelec to take a step backward and think of postponing the elections for at least two weeks, but to no avail.
The Comelec has insisted it is fully capable of handling the automated polls.
"We want to stop talking already… we decided that the best way to prove our critics wrong is by simply doing it and prove that we can," said Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, who chairs the steering committee on automation.
The road towards Election Day was also not spared from the usual problems of illegal campaigning, negative propaganda among candidates, election-related violence, and efforts to undermine the party list system.
Several presidential candidates have been accused of exceeding the time limit of political advertisements allowed by the Comelec, which is only for 120 minutes per TV station and 180 minutes per radio station for the entire 90-day campaign period that began February 9.
Campaigning ended on Saturday, with Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino the favorite to become president after two main opinion polls showed he had a lead of about 20 points over his nearest rivals.
Analysts said Aquino might not win by as much as the polls suggested, and could still potentially be overtaken as he lacked the national party organization of his rivals, who are better able to get their supporters out to vote.
Former president Joseph Estrada has gained late momentum to catch up with Sen. Manny Villar.
Gilberto Teodoro is placed fourth with single-digit levels of support in opinion polls, while five other candidates registered minimal support.
A clear and accepted winner would be the most favorable outcome for investors, unless it was Estrada, while a disputed or inconclusive outcome would be expected to weaken markets.
Election-related violence also continues to hound the country as at least seven areas are unofficially declared as under Comelec control, including perennial problem areas like Abra, Nueva Ecija and Maguindanao.
The party list system was also again placed in a bad light after presidential son Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo and former energy secretary Angelo Reyes decided to run as their representatives.
Critics have raised hell over the possibility of Arroyo and Reyes getting House seats, saying this is a bastardization of the party list system which is intended to give underrepresented sectors representation in Congress. – With Reuters
Original Story: http://www.malaya.com.ph/05102010/news1.html