MANILA - Commission on Elections (Comelec) legal chief Ferdinand Rafanan said Thursday that the country sticking with the manual poll system is still remote as he assured that automating the 2010 elections is still the poll body's top priority.
"It's a remote possibility (manual elections). What is looming still is automated elections. That is the mandate of the law," Rafanan told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG), countering Comelec information chief James Jimenez's statement that "manual elections is looming" after the breakup of the Smartmatic International and the Total Information Management Corp. (TIM).
Rafanan said the breakup between the two IT companies could have been a "blessing in disguise" and may be part of an extended "cleansing process" in the bidding for the P7.2-billion automation project.
He reiterated that the Comelec is seriously looking into entering a partnership with Smartmatic in order to implement the automation project.
"Ito ay trabaho na naming matagal, itutuloy namin (This has been our job for a long time, we will push through.) We are mandated by the law to automate the elections," he said.
The Comelec advisory council, which includes the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, has asked the poll body to push through with the automation in partnership with Smartmatic.
Rafanan has said that there seems to be no legal obstacle for Comelec to enter into a partnership with the Smartmatic.
The legal chief said that if TIM will continue to refuse to fulfill its end of the automation contract by 5 p.m. on Friday, the Comelec will immediately file charges.
"What we can assure is the Comelec is ready. We have contingency plans, and we are still eyeing automated elections come May 10, 2010. We are also preparing charges against officials of TIM," he said.
'Electronic Hello, Garci'
Meanwhile, Ramon "Ike" Señeres, former director-general of the government's National Computer Center, claimed there would be an "electronic Hello, Garci" in a Smartmatic-run automated elections in 2010.
"If the implementation [of the automated election] pushes through under Smartmatic, you can expect an electronic 'Hello, Garci.' Tawagan mo lang ang Smartmatic, gagawin nila iyon. Nagawa na nila eh (Just call Smartmatic and they will do it. They have done it)," Señeres, a local IT expert, told Umagang Kay Ganda.
Señeres alleged that Smartmatic practiced "electronic dagdag bawas (vote padding and shaving)" during the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2008 in Bumbaran, fourth class municipality in the province of Lanao del Sur.
"Ang ginawa ng Smartmatic, habang nag-eeleksyon, pinasok nila ang server ng Comelec. Pinalitan nila ang data at pinalitan nila ang resulta (During the [ARMM] elections, Smartmatic breached Comelec's server. They changed the data and doctored the results)," he claimed.
Señeres made the revelation as he defended TIM president Jose Mari Antuñez.
The IT expert said the allegation of extortion against Antuñez is very much unlikely because the businessman has a very clean track record in entering into government contracts.
"This person has been a government contractor for a very long time. He doesn't have a bad record and he's been fair in several government biddings," Señeres said. "You cannot buy this person. He's a made man."
He added: "I think Jose Mari made the P500 million request just to get out of it. There is a deeper reason than money. I think it's because of his love for his country."
He said there are rumors circulating in the industry that Antuñez wanted out after a "powerful person" made a "special request," which the businessman could not grant.
Señeres declined to name the "powerful person" that made the request, but hinted that it might have something to do with the entry of the Aboitiz group in the automation deal.
He said Aboitiz's entry into the automation deal is mysterious, since it is involved in the forwarding business. He said Aboitiz has been hired by Smartmatic to install the "hubs" of drop off points prior to the voting machines' deployment on election day.
He said Aboitiz would be doing 70 percent of TIM's supposed part of the job in the contract. He said Aboitiz was suspiciously included into the project.