Senators, Comelec clash on automated ARMM polls

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 31 2011 06:20 PM | Updated as of Sep 01 2011 03:54 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Senators and election officials clashed on whether to automate the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should the Supreme Court (SC) declare as unconstitutional a law postponing the elections there originally scheduled for August 8 this year.

At the start of a hearing on the proposed 2012 budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesay, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes said the agency is prepared to conduct manual special elections for the ARMM with a budget of around P460 million.

"For an automated election, it would be difficult for us," Brillantes said, explaining that automation would cost P1.5 billion and require more time to prepare.

Senate finance committee chairman Franklin Drilon pointed out, however, that Republic Act 9369 -- the poll automation law-- mandates that all regional, national, and local elections after 2007 be automated.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento clarified that the poll body has not yet come up with an official position on which system to use, but that lack of time may force them to go manual.

Drilon asked Sarmiento the Comelec's basis for saying it can decide which system to use.

"You can overrule Congress?" Drilon said.

"I don't think the Comelec will overrule Congress," Brillantes answered. "The fact is, when we go over RA 9369, it is clear that in the policy itself, it allows under extraordinary circumstances ... to go manual."

Sarmiento added that under the law, the Comelec has powers to conduct manual elections when it deems necessary.

Senators insisted, however, that only Congress may set the way elections are held, saying nothing in the law gives discretion to the Comelec whatever the circumstances are.

"That's your position," Drilon told Comelec officials. "Unfortunately, Congress is the policy-making body, not the Comelec."

In the end, Brillantes said he personally prefers automated special elections for the ARMM but that it would need 6 months of preparation. Other commissioners present in the hearing also preferred automation.

Brillantes said the Comelec can ask Smartmatic, the supplier of the machines used in the 2010 elections, to extend the option to purchase the precinct count optical scan machines at P1.6 billion.

President Aquino signed on June 30 a law postponing the ARMM elections and synchronizing it with the 2013 mid-term polls. It has been challenged before the SC.