Senior House leader Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia on Wednesday invited fellow congressmen to sign a letter that he drafted calling on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to abandon its plan to fully automate the 2010 elections.
"The overwhelming sentiment of the members of this House, as expressed in the all-party caucus called by the Speaker, is that we are not for total automation of the May 10, 2010 elections.... but only for a partial or mixed automation--manual for the local and possibly automation for the national," Garcia told the plenary.
He said there are serious questions not only on the logistical capability of the poll body to implement full automation, but also on the legality and constitutionality of full automation.
Garcia is a member of President Arroyo's political party, Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI), and had previously sought the Speakership.
"I am hopeful that if the members of Congress will call the attention of Comelec, tell them, 'Wait. Dahan dahan. Try to review your position. Your original position is that there is a need for special law,'" Garcia told the House plenary on Wednesday.
Garcia painted a picture of what may happen in the 2010 elections.
"What if the system fails or breaks down in such number of places as to make uncertain and in doubt the results of an elections for a certain office, say the Office of the President, such that no winning candidate can be proclaimed? What will happen?" he said.
"The answers to the next two questions are too scary to contemplate. If I try to do so, it's like I'm being pushed to the edge of a cliff with my eyes always looking upward. If I do not want to look down, it is because I am too scared to see what lies down below," he added.
Asked if going to the Supreme Court (SC) is an option in case the Comelec won’t heed their calls, Garcia said: “We will exhaust all administrative remedies. If and when Comelec will persist, I believe that a number of our colleagues will go to the SC,” he said.
Garcia was unable to answer when asked if the President may invoke martial law in case there will be failure of elections.
“That you can’t give a possible scenario scares us even more,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino said.
Garcia said the a special law is needed to allow Comelec to push through with full automation. A special law is also a pre-condition before the Comelec can spend the P11.3 billion supplemental budget.
"Earlier, in the course of Comelec's presentation at the House during the deliberations on the P11.3 billion supplemental budget for the May 10 elections, it was agreed between the leadership of the House and your Honors that there is a real need for the passage of special law by Congress before we can fully automate the coming elections," Garcia said.
"However it seems that Comelec is no longer interested to comply with the agreement, and it's going full speed without the passage of a special law," he added.
It was Republic Act 9369, passed in January 2007, that authorized Comelec to fully automate the elections. But Garcia said Comelec's failure to abide by the conditions of the law has forfeited the poll body of its authority. Only a new law, a special law, can give the Comelec a new authority to fully automate the polls.
Comelec failed to follow the provision of the law, which ordered the poll body to pilot test poll automation in the immediate election following the law's passage in May 2007 in at least two urbanized cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Section 5 of the law reads: "To carry out the above-stated policy, the Commission on Elections, herein referred to as the Commission, is hereby authorized to use an automated election system or systems in the same election in different provinces, whether paper-based or a direct recording electronic election system as it may deem appropriate and practical for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises: Provided, that for the regular national and local election, which shall be held immediately after effectivity of this Act, the AES shall be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to be chosen by the Commission: Provided, further, That local government units whose officials have been the subject of administrative charges within sixteen (16) month prior to the May 14, 2007 election shall not be chosen: Provided, finally, That no area shall be chosen without the consent of the Sanggunian of the local government unit concerned. The term local government unit as used in this provision shall refer to a highly urbanized city or province. In succeeding regular national or local elections, the AES shall be implemented nationwide."
Pushing through with full automation without the special law is illegal, he said.
"It is illegal, even criminal, your Honors," Garcia said, quoting the draft letter.
Use of funds
Without the special law, Garcia said the Comelec cannot spend the P11.3 billion supplemental budget.
Congress passed the P11.3 billion Comelec supplemental budget with the "colatilla that no disbursement of the funds herein appropriated or any part thereof shall be authorized unless or until Congress shall pass a special law."
"Absent a new special law from Congress, reaffirming that authority, how can Comelec proceed now in the face of the legal discrepancies? In a manner of speaking, Comelec cannot just sweep them under the rug," Garcia said.