Only Gordon optimistic about poll automation

By Carmela Fonbuena,

Posted at Feb 15 2010 08:17 PM | Updated as of Feb 17 2010 11:16 PM

6 other presidential bets worried

MANILA, Philippines - At least 5 of 7 presidential candidates who participated in a presidential forum on Monday have no confidence in the first-ever nationwide automated elections.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) presidential debate, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Senators Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III and Jamby Madrigal, environmentalist Nicanor Perlas, and Jesus is Lord leader Eddie Villanueva expressed concerns over the readiness of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in overseeing the automated polls on May 10.

It was only Senator Richard Gordon who believes that Comelec can do it, although Olongapo City councilor JC Delos Reyes half-heartedly said he is expecting "regularity" in the polls.

Senator Manuel Villar and former President Joseph Estrada were not present at FOCAP'S "Presidential forum: Who can fix the mess?"

Delayed machines

Teodoro, the bet of the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD, is particularly concerned with the delays in the delivery of voting machines.

"The importance of election to the integrity of the country in the future is vital. There should be no doubt as to the credibility of the electoral exercise. I think the automation is fine, but the way it was implemented [is a cause for concern]. The last machines will be delivered on the 21st of this month, I believe. The teachers will only be trained once in March. The exercise on a national scale is in May. It's an ambitious project," Teodoro said.

"The logistical difficulties of delivering the machines are big. So we would like to find out, once and for all, from the Comelec, in as objective a manner as possible, whether or not it can be implemented in a credible manner given the circumstances. I remember my father in the SSS [Social Security System] before was trying for 10 to 15 years to computerize. There were glitches until the end of his term. What more with new technology, new machines, and with a [machine] delivery gap from the exercise of only two to three months?" Teodoro said.

"Those are the facts confronting me as an outsider. Naturally, I have my doubts. It is incumbent upon the Comelec to really disclose an honest-to-goodness appraisal of what they can do, what they cannot do, and what we should expect from them," Teodoro said.

Comelec's failure

The Liberal Party's (LP) Aquino said the Comelec is not doing its part to allay people's fears.

"There sees to be a lackadaisical move prevailing in Comelec.... when we look at how they are implementing this particular project (automation). They have been rushing the project, even with lack of material time. I am still kind of perplexed that there isn't more of a move to calm the people's sentiments, fears, and anxieties. There doesn't seem to be that importance that the Comelec should be putting into ensuring that this whole process is a credible exercise," Aquino said.

The failures exposed during the machine testing are proof that we should be concerned, Aquino said.

"One has to wonder, if that is already one failure, what are other failures that we have to learn of or to envision? At the end of the day, can we be satisfied with a statement that says, 'We tried our best.'?"

Nevertheless, Aquino said "failure of automation does not mean automatically failure of elections." He called on the voters to pressure the various agencies of government to implement the things they are supposed to do.

Electronic cheating?

Despite repeated reassurances from the Comelec that the machines cannot be hacked, Madrigal and Perlas were not convinced.

"It is clear to me that that the automated elections, no matter how good the intentions, is actually [facing] really serious problems. There are so many things that can work simultaneously on so many levels--whether it's the computer design, the source code, and the calibration. With all of these, the probability of failure is so strong. The probability is increasing every day. I would actually support moves to make sure that we also have a manual count probability in case this happens. There is possibility of electronic 'Garci' happening in 2010," said Perlas.

"I agree with Mr. Perlas," said Madrigal. "There is barely enough time to automate, and it is highly suspect of Comelec for not releasing the source codes."

"I was given a brief by IT experts. Apparently, the machine chosen cannot verify that who you voted for is going to be the one counted. They took out the feature. [With that feature in place], technically, you can see if it's Aquino [you voted for]. You can verify and then you say, 'Go ahead.' They took out that feature. This is scary for someone with a lot of money who can hack into the system. That is why I am for alternative manual count to be a check and balance against those people supported by the administration," Madrigal added.

Convenant for peaceful transition

Meanwhile, Villanueva called on the presidential candidates to agree to a covenant against any attempt to sabotage the peaceful transition of power.

"Millions of our people refused to exercise 'People Power' because of their hope that this 2010 could be a window of opportunity for peaceful change. If the powers that be would resort to another violation of our constitutional right to have this peaceful democratic election, I am afraid that millions of our people would not be stopped anymore," Villanueva said.

"To prevent this possible scenario, I am asking my fellow presidentiables (sic) to agree to a covenant that once this happens, all of us should oppose any total violation of democratic and constitutional right of our people to a peaceful change of power," Villanueva said.

Dangerous cynicism?

In expressing his confidence with automated elections, Gordon took swipes at the other candidates.

"I don't agree. I think we should be ambitious in this country," Gordon said, in response to Teodoro's concerns about the poll automation delays and glitches.

"We should try to make that ambition [poll automation] happen. If we are going to be president, and we're gonna be incredulous of our capability as a country, then we may as well not lead. I think that it's important that we try to show that we can get Comelec to deliver on the machines," Gordon said.

Gordon is the principal author of the automated elections law. "It took me 4 1/2 years to convince my colleagues to do it. It is always met with cynicism and distrust," he said.

"I cannot see the situation where it will fail because that will create anarchy in this country. I don't think we should go back to manual elections right now because we have invested so much money into the system, and because I think it will work. If we go back to manual, you make your bet and sleep on it. We all have PhDs in cheating in this country so enjoy it," Gordon added.

An absence of confidence

Delos Reyes said the problem with poll automation is the "absence of confidence in government."

"That is pervasive in our people. It's terrible," he said. Nevertheless, Delos Reyes acknowledged that there's reason to doubt.

"I would want to believe that there is still the presumption of regularity here. Although there is reason believe that we have to go into emergency mode," he said.

Aquino defended his position on poll automation.

"I don't think it is our cynicism. I think it is facing up to that sad fact that there are certain quarters that are not perhaps as interested in having a credible elections in May 2010," Aquino said.

"It is important to have options in the face of the situation," added Perlas.