Timeline: Long Road to Poll Automation

By Leilani Chavez, Purple Romero and Maria Althea Teves, abs-cbnNEWS.com and Newsbreak

Posted at Jul 01 2009 10:53 PM | Updated as of Dec 16 2009 11:36 PM

Editor’s Note: In this timeline, our researchers take you through the bumpy and tortured road towards election automation.

It has been seventeen years since the first initiatives to automate Philippine elections. The effort has spanned three administrations (Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) and five national elections (not counting barangay elections and the ARMM gubernatorial elections).

The controversy between partner firms who won the automation bid, however, threatens to derail automation once again for the 2010 polls.


Ramos Administration

1992
July – Operation MODEX (Modernization and Excellence) is born under the leadership of Commission on Elections Chairman Christian Monsod. The program had eight components: 1) flexible legal background, 2) systemization of the present method of registration, 3) modernization of the electoral process, 4) continuing election education campaign, 5) establish databank with the design and operations of a management information system, 6) upgrading of facilities and equipment, 7) decentralization and reorganization of Comelec structure and 8) development and motivation of Comelec personnel.


1993
June – International consultant in election administration Mari Garber from Maryland, USA, in collaboration with the Philippine Computer Society, conducts a study “Modernizing Philippine Elections” to scan alternative technologies to modernize the Philippine electoral process.

July – The Optical mark sense or punchcard system is presented and recommended by Andersen Consulting as a possible technology fitted for the Philippines in its Information Systems Planning (ISP) study for Comelec.

August – Comelec sends requests for proposals and bids to local and foreign suppliers of canvassing equipment, including shortlisted suppliers suggested in the July Andersen ISP study.

October – The Comelec inspection team meets with manufacturers and IT specialists in the US in a 15-day inspection trip. The team consists of Commissioner-in-charge of Modernization Project Regalado Maambong, Planning Deparment Director Ernesto Herera, Technical Consultant for Modernization Project Alwin Sta. Rosa and Andersen Consulting President Baltazar Endriga.
 

1994
January-March – The Comelec begins preparations in anticipation of the approval of the modernization bill into law by the Congress. Three companies Comelec met from the US inspection trip (American Information Systems, Inc. (AIS), Business Records Corporation (BRC) and National Computer Systems, Inc. (NCSI)) perform equipment demonstrations attended by media, representatives of National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Congress and Citizen’s groups.

 April-September – The bidding period set for suppliers of canvassing equipments.

September-December – BRC is selected as supplier of canvassing equipments. Initial meeting is held between Comelec and BRC drafting a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for Modernization. Two contracts are set to be signed with BRC: 1) acquisition of eight demo units and 2) purchase of 492 units of canvassing equipment. Comelec sets to pilot the new election system in the May 1995 elections, still subject to Congressional approval.

End of 1994 – No contract is signed with BRC pending the passage of a law allowing for use of the proposed new election system. Comelec conducts public demonstrations of the automation equipment in the House of Representatives, Senate and other interested organizations using two demo units on loan from BRC.


1995

February – Monsod resigns as chair of COMELEC. Bernardo Pardo becomes acting chair. Comelec conducts information campaigns on the proposed new election system while waiting for the pilot modernization bill start to take off.

March 15-16 – Equipment on the proposed automated election system is displayed during the Database Expo '95 Exhibit in Makati. Two BRC demo units are used in the presentations.

June 7 – Then President Fidel Ramos signs into law Republic Act 8046 or "An act authorizing the Commission on Elections to conduct a nationwide demonstration of a computerized election system and pilot-test it in the March 1996 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and for other purposes."

October – Comelec clarifies bidding requirements on the number of machines needed in the ARMM election. Rules require that one package (software/equipment) should cover two municipalities and be able to finish counting within municipalities in 24 hours, all districts in 48 hours, and must finish regional consolidation in 72 hours. Public biddings begin.

November – Comelec accepts the bid of AIS.

December 29 – Ramos signs RA 8176, an act that postpones the March 1996 ARMM elections to September 9, 1996 to give Comelec more time to prepare for the first computerized election and to give way to the peace process.


1996

January – Involved parties sign the contract of the winning bidder, AIS.

March-April – AIS delivers 42 model 150s machines to the commission. The machines undergo testing procedures and Comelec finally accepts the machines by April. After accepting the machines, Comelec begins the technical preparations for the ARMM elections.

May - The Comelec's Management Information System (MIS) personnel undergo technical training from AIS representatives.

June 11 – Ramos signs into law Republic Act No. 8189 (Voter’s Registration Act of 1996) providing for the modernization and computerization of the voters’ registration list and the appropriation of fund therefore “in order to establish a clean, complete, permanent and updated list of voters. Comelec’s Voter’s Registration and Identification System (VRIS) project will be implemented under the act.

July – Personnel who qualify as machine operators undergo another training.

September – Three weeks before the election, ARMM field officials and assisting Comelec field personnel receive training.

September 9 – ARMM election day. The results are out in the allotted periods. The pilot-testing is declared successful.

October-December – Nationwide demonstrations of the machine are conducted.


1997
December 22 – Ramos signs Republic Act 8436, otherwise known as “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, Providing Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes.”

Components of RA 8436 include: 1) Implementation of Comelec’s VRIS project, 2) National Precinct Mapping and the 3) Certified Voters’ List Verification where the Comelec’s project of Automated Counting and Consolidation of Results System (Accors) will be implemented. Accors is Comelec’s supposed solution for clean voters’ list.
 

Estrada Administration

1998

October 8 –President Joseph Ejercito Estrada appoints Luzviminda Tancangco as Comelec acting chair.

1999
January – DOST prepares test ballots for authorized testing of the machines.

January 10 – Tancangco’s term as Acting Comelec chair ends but she remains a commissioner.

February – Machine testing begins. Harriet Demetriou is appointed Comelec chair. After four days, the DOST recommends the suspension of the testing as several problems cropped up during the testing.

April – AIS becomes Election Systems and Software, Inc (ES&S) and with local partner, Telecommunications and Computer Technologies, Inc. (TCTI) conducts technical assessment of all 68 machines. According to the inspection, several machines need replacement while majority need minor tune-up.

September 9 – Comelec issues invitations to pre-qualify and bid for supply and installations of information technology equipment and ancillary services for its VRIS project. Photokina Marketing Corporation (PHOTOKINA) pre-qualifies and is allowed to participate as one of the bidders. PHOTOKINA’s bid amounts to P6.16 Billion and garners the highest total weighted score and is declared the winning bidder.

2000
September 9 – Comelec Chair Harriet Demetriou announces in a forum organized by the Philippine Press Institute that qualified bidders for the contract for computerized counting machines will be announced September 10. Winning bidder will be announced end of October.

September 28 – Comelec issues Res. No. 3252 approving the Notice of Award to PHOTOKINA, which PHOTOKINA immediately accepts. Parties formalize the contract with Commissioner Mehol K. Sadain and Atty. Rodrigo D. Sta. Ana as acting negotiators for Comelec and PHOTOKINA respectively.

October 2000 – An independent group Eclipse Laboratories, Inc., in Minnesota, US tests how resistant driver’s license whose card core was made of “Teslin” are. Teslin will be used by PHOTOKINA and is used in the Social Security System (SSS) cards. Eclipse Laboratories discovers that the cards can be tampered with easily. Heat weakens the adhesion of the top laminate on the card core, the layers separate by simply wedging an X-acto knife (same as scalpel) between them. When top is removed, data such as birthdate on the card is erased by scratching it with the knife and cleaning the surface with alcohol. New data can be entered using dry letter transfer material. Original photograph is covered by another person’s photograph. The card can be re-laminated.

October 31 – Namfrel executive director Telibert Laoc alleges that the Comelec Committee on Modernization, headed by Commissioner Tancangco, deliberately delayed implementation of Accors project.

November 3 – Comelec opens bids for the Automated Counting and Consolidation of Results Systems (Accors) project.

December – Bidding for Accors project fails.

Commissioner Sadain, acting negotiator in the contract, submits draft of the contract providing a price that did not exceed the certified available appropriation but only covering PHASE I of the VRIS project—that is, the issuance of registration cards for 1M voters in certain areas only. The draft contract provided that subsequent completion of the whole project shall be agreed upon in accordance with the annual funds available for it.Comelec Chairman Harriet Demetriou issues memorandum to Comelec en banc expressing her objections to the contract between Comelec and PHOTOKINA. Demetriou says she cannot sign the draft of the VRIS contract with Photokina because it lacks “provision on tamper-proof securities.”

 
Arroyo Administration

2001

February 2 – Terms of Chairman Demetriou, Comissioners Julio F. Desamito and Teresita Dy-Liaco Flores expire. Alfred Benipayo is new Comelec Chairman. Resurreccion Borra and Florentino Tuason replaced the retired commissioners.

February – PHOTOKINA writes several letters to Comelec requesting formal execution of contract, but no avail.

February – May 2001 – Chairman Benipayo announces that the VRIS Project is scrapped. He also announces his plan to “re-engineer” the entire modernization program of Comelec replacing the VRIS project with his own version.

May – Due to failed biddings and lack of time, poll automation for the May 2001 elections was cancelled.

October 2, 2001 – Senator Edgardo J. Angara directs the creation of a Technical Working Group (TWG) to assist the COMELEC in evaluating all programs for the modernization of the COMELEC including the PHOTOKINA contract.

PHOTOKINA files with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 215, Quezon City a petition for mandamus: prohibition and damages against Comelec and all its Commissioners. (Docketed as Special Civil Action No. Q-01-45405). PHOTOKINA alleges three reasons for filing the petition: 1) deliberate refusal of Comelec to formalize their contract, 2) Benipayo, committing grave abuse of discretion, announced that VRIS project is junked and has plans to re-engineer Comelec’s entire modernization program, 3) Comelec’s failure to perform duty under the contract has cause PHOTOKINA to incur damages since it has spent substantial time and resources in preparation of the bid and the draft contract. PHOTOKINA applies for writs of preliminary prohibitory and mandatory injunction during the hearing of its application for the issuance of a temporary restraining order.

December 19– Judge Ma. Luisa Quijano-Padilla issues a resolution granting PHOTOKINA’s application for a writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction.

2002
January – Newsbreakfinds out that cost-effectiveness is another factor that needs to be clarified in the PHOTOKINA deal: the cost of manufacturing 40 million voters’ ID cards under the five-year VRIS project of Comelec with PHOTOKINA is $147.89-M or P7.39-B (P50 exchange rate) – triple the cost of SSS card, but they use the same card core which is Teslin. Photokina has increased the amount from P6.16-B (1999 bidding price) to 7.39 B for “project contingency.”

June 5 – Benjamin Abalos, former Metro Manila Development Authority Chair, is appointed Comelec chair.

August – Namfrel and other civil society organizations file an impeachment complaint against Comelec Commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco for alleged graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution. The complaint is endorsed by Rep. Monico Puentevella.

September 18Comelec chair Benipayo and Commissioners Borra and Florentino Tuason, Jr. question the decision of the QC RTC Judge Quijano-Padilla before the Supreme Court.

October 29 – Comelec adopts, in its Resolution No. 02-0170, a modernization program or Automated Elections System (AES) Project for the 2004 elections consisting of three phases:

Phase 1) Computerized system of registration and voters validation (biometrics system) of registration

Phase 2) Computerized voting and counting of votes

Phase 3) Electronic transmission of results
 

2003
January 24 – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issues EO No. 172 allocating P2.5-B to exclusively fund the AES project in time for May 10, 2004 elections.

January 28 – Comelec issues an invitation to bid for the procurement of supplies and services needed to implement the three phase of the AES.

February 3 – The House of Representatives votes to dismiss the impeachment complaint of Rep. Puentevella against Commissioner Tancangco.

February 10 – President Arroyo, upon the request of Comelec, issues EO 175 authorizing the release of a supplemental budget of P500-M for the AES project. The issuance instructs the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to ensure that the supplemental budget be used exclusively for the AES project under Rep. Act No. 8436 (The Process of Voting, Counting of votes and Canvassing/Consolidation of results of the National and Local Elections).

February 17 – Comelec releases “Request for Proposal” to the public providing that bids from manufacturers, suppliers and/or distributors forming themselves into a joint venture be may entertained as long as the Filipino ownership thereof shall be at least 60%.

February 18 – The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) convene a pre-bid conference and gives prospective bidders until March 10, 2003 to submit bid proposals.

March 10 – Mega Pacific Consortium (MPC) submits its bid. A letter dated March 7, 2003 expressing that Mega Pacific eSolutions, Inc. (MPEI) Election. Com, Ltd. (Election. Com), We Solv, Inc. (Oracle) agree to form a consortium to bid for the AES project is attached to the bidding documents.

April 15 – Comelec promulgates Res. No. 6074 awarding the contract for Phase 2 to Mega Pacific and enters into a contract with the latter to implement the AES project even after the Technical Working Group (TWG) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) submitted a report to BAC noting that MP consortium obtained failed marks in their technical evaluation.

On the same day, Comelec also enters into a separate contract with Philippine Multi-Media System, Inc. (PMSI) called the “Electronic Transmission, Consolidation and Dissemination of Election Results Project Contract,” which is the Phase 3 of the AES project. Comelec is bound and obliged to pay PMSI P298,275,808.90 for the leased 1,900 units of satellite-based Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT), other equipments and services.

May 16 – Comelec makes Res. No. 6074 available to the public.

May 29 – The Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines (ITFP) writes a letter to Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr. protesting the award of contract to the Mega Pacific Consortium citing their non-compliance with eligibility as well as technical requirements.

June 6 – Comelec Chairman Abalos rejects the protest.

August 5 – ITFP files a petition for certiorari and prohibition for the nullification of Res. No. 6074 approving the contract for Phase II of the AES project to the Mega Pacific Consortium to the Supreme Court. (This is docketed as Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines, et al. vs. COMELEC, et al., G.R. No. 159139)
 

2004
January 13 – The Supreme Court nullifies the P1.3-billion poll automation contract awarded by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to the private consortium of Mega Pacific e-Solutions. In a decision penned by then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, the SC ruled that the Comelec’s bidding process was tainted, raising questions on the eligibility of the consortium.

The High Court also orders the Ombudsman to determine the criminal liability of Comelec officials and asks the Office of the Solicitor General to help the government recover the P800 million-initial payment given to the Mega Pacific.

January 14 – Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo orders the Field Investigation Office to probe the deal

February 2 – Commissioner Tancangco’s term at the Comelec ends.

May - Presidential elections are held. Once again, election automation fails to push through.

October 7 – The FIO submits its findings to the Ombudsman's Legal, Monitoring and Prosecution Division, triggering the preparation of an official complaint against Comelec officials for entering into the anomalous contract with Megapacific

Those who were found criminally liable are Abalos, Borra plus the other commissioners, BAC members led by finance chief Eduardo Mejos, former law department head Jose Balbuena, Lamberto Llamas, and Bartolome Sinocruz Jr.

Also recommended for indictment before the Sandiganbayan are Megapacific incorporators Willy Yu, Bonnie Yu, Enrique Tansipek, Rosita Tansipek, Pedro Tan, Johnson Fong, Bernard Fong, and Lauriano Barrios.

December 14 - The Senate adopts Report No. 44 of its Blue Ribbon Committee, which held the Comelec criminally liable for the awarding of the contract to the Megapacific and asks for the resignation of Abalos et al.
 

2005
December 22
- The ITFP files a manifestation and supplemental petition at the SC questioning Ombudsman's lack of resolution on the Megapacific case.

2006
February 14 – The SC issues a resolution ordering the Ombudsman to show cause as to why it should not be held for contempt following its failure to conclude its investigation on the Mega Pacific deal.

March 2 - The Ombudsman invokes its autonomy as an independent body, saying that the High Court could not dictate the flow of its proceedings and the practice of its mandate.

March 15 – The Senate committee on Constitutional Amendments files Senate Bill No. 2231, which calls for partial automation.

June 9 – The House approves HB 5352 amending RA 8436 or the Election Automation Law, paving the way for full automation.

June 28 - The Ombudsman issues a resolution which essentially overturned the recommendations of its field investigators. Only Commissioner Resurreccion Borra is held responsible for the Mega Pacific mess. The body clarified, however, that only the House of Representatives has the jurisdiction on the case of Borra because he is an impeachable official.

September 27 - The Ombudsman clears Abalos, the Comelec commissioners and MegaPacific of criminal charges for lack of probable cause and overturns its June 28 resolution.

October 9 – The Senate passes Senate Bill No. 2231

October 13 - Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Sergio Osmeña III, Panfilo Lacson, Alfredo Lim, Ma. Ana Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal, Luisa Ejercito Estrada, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, Rodolfo Biazon and Richard Gordon ask the SC to annul the Ombudsman’s September 27 resolution and to penalize Ombudsman Gutierrez for her alleged abuse of discretion.
 

2007
January 9 – The bicameral conference committee sends its consolidated bills to Pres. Arroyo for signing.

January 23 – Pres. Arroyo signs the bill into law, now known as RA 9369

August 24 – The Comelec issues a Request for Information for automated election systems which would be used in the 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao
 

2008
February 8 – The Comelec issues Resolution No. 8415 where it orders the automation of the elections in Maguindanao using the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology in Maguidanao and Optical Mark Reader (OMR) technology in other parts of the region. The DRE system is a touch-screen voting machine, while the OMR is a ballot-counting machine.

February 12 – The Department of Budget and Management releases an P800 million-budget to the Comelec for the automation of the ARMM elections

March 11 – The Comelec opens the bidding for the automation of ARMM elections. Out of 11 companies which purchased the bid documents, only two showed up in the public bidding

March 15 – Smartmatic-Sahi Joint Venture passes the eligibility requirements for the DRE technology. Smartmatic International Corp., a Netherlands-based company teamed up with Filipino company Strategic Alliance Holdings Inc. (SAHI) in 2008 to form the consortium, Smartmatic-SAHI Technology, Inc. The other bidder for the OMR technology, Sandz Solutions, fails.

March 24 – The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee suspends the bidding requirements under the Government Procurement Reform Act to enable the automation of ARMM elections.

April 1 – The Comelec opens the bidding again, this time for for OMR technology. Active Business Solutions Inc and Avante International (Avante) fail to qualify for the OMR technology.

April 8 – The Comelec BAC recommends the scrapping of the ARMM automated elections after Smartmatic-Sahi Joint Ventures failed to meet the technical qualifications for the DRE.

April 11 – The Comelec adopts BAC’s recommendations, leading to a failure of bidding.

April 25 – The Comelec decides to push through with the automation after the Senate warned to revoke the budget of the agency

April 29 – The Comelec awards the ARMM automation project to Smartmatic Sahi Joint Venture for the DRE technology and Active Business Solutions Inc and Avante International (Avante) for the OMR technology.

May 5 – The Comelec pegs the cost of the automation of ARMM elections at P500 million .

May 9 – The Comelec signs the P135 million-contract with Smartmatic – Sahi.

May 15 – The Comelec finalizes the deal with ABS and Avante.

June 23 – The Comelec starts the training of the Board of Election Canvassers and Board of Election Inspectors on the technology to be employed in the ARMM elections.

August 11 – Comelec conducts the ARMM elections.Problems were encountered in the electronic transmission of the poll results in Maguindanao, forcing election officials to resort to manual (USB) transmission. Poll results were announced in August 14, three days after the election day.

In Maguindanao, which used the DRE, 99 percent of the votes were reportedly transmitted to Manila in less than 24 hours. For areas which used OMR, 99.5 percent of the votes in Shariff Kabunsuan came in, 61.80 percent in Lanao del Sur, 73.20 percent in Basilan, 30.95 percent in Sulu and 42.70 percent in Tawi-Tawi hours after the elections.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that election was delayed in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu because bad weather slowed down the transport of ballot boxes from voting centers to the municipalities. Meanwhile, votes from Ditsaan-Ramain in Marawi City were transmitted in around three days already due to technical problems.
 

2009
January 7 – The Comelec submits a P13.9 billion-budget for the automation of the 2010 elections to the DBM.

March 5 – The Senate passes the P11.3 billion-supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 elections

March 19 – Eleven prospective bidders obtain bid documents from Comelec for the automation of the 2010 elections; only seven pass bidding requirements

March 24 – Pres. Arroyo signs RA 9295 which allocates funds for the automation of the elections

March 30 – The Comelec holds a pre-bidding conference

May 4 – The Comelec conducts the public bidding, which was originally scheduled on April 27. The bidding was moved due to the request of four bidders which needed additional time to modify their respective proposals.

Comelec - Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC)disqualifies Avante and Indra Systems Consortium for failure to comply with bid requirements. Indra Sistemas S.A, Hart Intercivic and Strategic Alliance Holdings Inc. did not submit an ISO certification. Avante was stricken out of the list after it failed to submit documents proving that it has engaged in three similar projects.

May 5 – The poll body disqualifies another bidder, the Sequoia Voting Systems-Universal Storefront Services Corp. because it was not able to submit an import-export license

May 7 - The Comelec-SBAC disqualifies Syrex Inc.-Amalgamated Metro Philippines-Anishin Inc. and the AMA Group of Companies; the Syrex consortium failed to submit its certificate of registration from the Securities and Exchange Commission while AMA has not passed its license to import. Only the submission of Israel’s Gilat, which has partnered with the local F.F. Cruz & Co. Inc., is left for review.

May 8 - The Comelec disqualifies all seven bidders for failing to meet bid requirements.

May 14 – The Comelec Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) reconsiders four bidders: Indra Sistemas (Strategic Holdings, Inc./Hart Intercivic); Smartmatic/Total Information Management Corp.(Smartmatic-TIM); AMA group of companies/Election System and Software and Gilat/F.F. Cruz and Company, Inc./Filipinas Systems.

May 15 – The Comelec disqualifies AMA group of companies/Election System and Software because it did not submit the Certificates of Acceptance related to its contracts with the states of Michigan and Minnesota in the United States. The conglomerate files an appeal.

May 16 – The Comelec disqualifies Gilat Satellite Network Ltd. with F.F. Cruz and Co., Inc. and Filipinas (Prefab Building) Systems Inc because it failed to meet technical requirements. Smartmatic-TIM and the consortium of Indra Sistemas, Hart Intercivic and Strategic Allicance Holdings are declared qualified to bid for the project

May 19 – The Comelec-SBAC sticks to its earlier decision disqualifying the conglomerate of AMA Group Holdings and Election System and Software. The company files a second motion for reconsideration

May 20 – The Comelec declines to reconsider the Sequoia Voting Systems and Universal Storefront Services Corp. on the grounds that the consortium has not operated for at least three years and has also failed to submit its Income Tax Return.

May 24 - The Commission on Elections grants the appeal of AMA Group Holdings Corp/Election Systems and Software International Inc. and counts them again as bidders for the 2010 poll automation contract.

May 25 – The Comelec disqualifies AMA Group Holdings and Election System and Software because it has no system design specification and training manual

May 27 – Smartmatic-TIM meets the requirements and offers the lowest bid at P7.2 billion

May 28-29 – The Comelec tests Smartmatic-TIM’s machines

June 3 – The SBAC recommends Smartmatic-TIM to Comelec

June 9 – The Comelec awards the contract to Smartmatic-TIM

Sources: Newsbreak, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the websites of the Supreme Court, Comelec, Senate and the House of Representatives.