MANILA, NOVEMBER 21, 2003  (STAR) By Benjamin S. Abalos Chairman, Commission on Elections - Thank you for giving me the opportunity to articulate the Commission on Electionsí position on matters pertaining to the May 2004 elections, specifically those which have been used by many groups to question our agencyís competence and integrity.

Allow me to address point by point the issues currently being hurled at the Comelec.

1. On the inconvenience of the registration and validation process

Allegation: The process of applying for registration/validation is very inconvenient to the public, who have to queue up for hours.

Fact: I would attribute these inconvenient experiences as a natural consequence of the publicís penchant for doing things at the last minute. The registration and validation periods started in August this year for most areas in the nation. The Comelecís Education and Information Department has advertised announcements in major newspapers across the country. In fact, we have provided a schedule of 8 a.m to 8 p.m., Monday to Sunday, to accommodate those who may be too busy with their work or studies. Still, people chose to flock to the offices of the Election Officer toward the end of the registration period sometime in August, one would have had a hassle-free experience.

Aside from this primary reason, it really does takes a little longer than usual to process a single application because the data capture machines will not store the biometrics of anyone unless it has captured in full the digital photograph, electronic signature and fingerprint of the applicant. The Voters Validation System (VVS) is quite different from the fingerprint-lifting process usually practiced on criminal suspects, which can barely be relied upon for purposes of matching.

2. On the identification of spurious registrants

Allegation: (Pertaining to the photos of children obviously below 18 who were made to apply for registration) The Comelec, should just have turned away applicants for registration in the ARMM region who appeared to be too young to be at least 18 years old.

Fact: We gave specific instructions to our field personnel not to question those who are applying for registration, since such a stance may alienate the people or fuel adverse reactions against the Comelec. This is a reality on the field that office-based people cannot seem to appreciate.

Aside from this, ten (10) self-confessed double registrants came forward in Caloocan City and offered to cancel their spurious applications for registration, even before the machines can detect them. Taking this voluntary act as a positive development in its drive to cleanse the voters] list, the COMELEC is inclined to grant their requests.

3. On the legal justification of Phases I and III

Allegation: Only Phase II (Automated Counting) has legal basis. Phases I and III have none.

Fact: The general and specific objectives of and the tasks involved in Phases I and III clearly satisfy Section 52 of the Omnibus Election Code, which confers to the Commission the "exclusive charge of the enforcement and administration of all laws relative to the conduct of elections for the purpose of ensuring free, orderly, and honest elections, and shall:

(i) prescribe use or adoption of the latest technological and electronic devices. . ."

4. On the turnout of registrants

Allegation: Only some 500,000 first-time voters have registered.

Fact: As of the close of registration for first-time voters on 09 November 2003, the total number of registrants had surged to 4.95 million.

5. On "irregularities" in the bidding process

Allegation: Comelecís favored supplier won the bid for the production of automated counting machines.

Fact: There is no such thing as a "favored supplier" in the Comelec. There is no local manufacturer of counting machines in the Philippines. As it is, the project was awarded to a consortium and not to any single corporation. The winning bidder, Mega Pacific Consortium, is led by Mega Pacific eSolutions, Inc. and has members SK C & C, ePLDT, and WeSolv. The Comelecís Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) has evaluated and was satisfied with the financial capability of the consortium as a whole, paying particular attention to the qualifications of SK C & C, the Korean partner which will manufacture the machines.

6. On the capability of the counting machines

Allegation: The counting machines are "conking out".

Fact: Of the initial shipment of thirty (30) counting machines for purposes of demonstration, nine did fail the test conducted by the Department of Science of Technology (DOST). Failure of the machines was attributed to a drastic change in environmental temperature. All nine have subsequently passed repeat tests.

Let it also be stressed that deliveries for the main order (those which will actually be panned out to the voting centers), which numbered 456 as of 24 October 2003, 455 obtained an accuracy rating of 100 percent while 1 obtained a rating of 99.998 percent.

I assure everyone that the Comelec shall not accept, much less pay for, any defective machines.

7. On the downscaling from full to selective implementation of the automation.

Allegation: Realizing its inability to implement nationwide automation, the COMELEC down-scaled its automation program to select areas in the country.

Fact: From the very beginning, Comelec has operated on the mindset that a full or nationwide automation will be implemented. Even our conditions and specifications for the bidding and procurement of equipment, as reflected in the Terms of Reference, were premised on a fully-automated election system.

Last month, however, Congress, through the bicameral conference committee, filed a joint resolution calling for selective implementation of the automation. The lawmakers highlighted that since under the original plan, the counting machines would be stationed at the city or municipal hall and the physical transport of uncounted ballots from voting centers to the counting centers was a great risk. Should they finally decide that a selective implementation of the automated process should be done, then the law would have to be amended.

The Comelec, independent body that it is, is still subject to the rule of law. As it is, we are awaiting our lawmakersí decision on whether or not they will move to amend the law. We hope that the wait would end soon, because we need to know whether the full or the selective system would prevail. These different systems require very different sets of preparation.

8. On the susceptibility of Phase III to massive cheating

Allegation: Phase 3 (Consolidation and Transmission) is prone to massive cheating.

Fact: I would like to ask our detractors how exactly the consolidation and transmission phase would be susceptible to cheating. I cannot fathom how the transmitted data can be manipulated since this will be encrypted. Perhaps our detractors can enlighten us on the matter so that we can address it. Otherwise, I am inclined to dismiss this claim as downright false.

9. On the application of Namfrel for a parallel count

Allegation: Comelec has denied Namfrel the accreditation to perform a parallel Vote Count.

Fact: True that initially, Comelec had insisted that it be the only body to make public the results of its canvass, since two or more sets of information may only give rise to confusion among the public. However, we have resumed hearing Namfrelís petition for accreditation, especially after it has proposed ways to present the results of its parallel count without inviting confusion.

My ó and the Comelecís ó issue right now with Namfrel is its ability to prove its sincerity to help us, since apparently some of its members have been very vocal about their doomsday scenarios. My position is that unless the Namfrel censures these members, what they are saying reflects the sentiments of Namfrel as an organization.

At this point, the ball is in the hands of Namfrel. We have articulated our conditions for it to be once again be evaluated for possible accreditation. We want partners, not detractors. We want constructive criticism and not predictions of failure.

With this, I believe I have gotten my main point across: what the Comelec is asking is for the public to give it a chance. We have been working hard, and have been thorough, careful and deliberate. We are confident that given our earnest intentions, hard work, and the support of the public, an honest and acceptable election is finally at hand.

Thank you once again and more power!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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