MANILA, February 12, 2004
 (STAR) Fernando Poe Jr. has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the disqualification case against him while the Fornier brothers are seeking an injunction stopping Poe from campaigning pending the resolution of the case. Poe’s supporters, including his friends in show business, are threatening to take to the streets in case he is disqualified. Meanwhile, the usual troublemakers want the elections cancelled and are plotting to set up a junta so the nation can be spared from either six years under yet another actor or six more years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In this highly charged political atmosphere, the voices calling for sobriety – and some of them are in Poe’s camp – can barely be heard. As text messages spread about Poe’s possible disqualification, these voices called on the actor’s fans to respect whatever decision is reached by the Supreme Court. They were drowned out by the voices of those who believe that if ever Poe is disqualified, it will be the handiwork of Malacañang. And these voices will become more strident as the campaign heats up. This is one disqualification case that must be resolved quickly by the Supreme Court. The Commission on Elections, where the case was first filed, dismissed the petition for disqualification. But the way it was done looked simply like the Comelec refusing to touch one hot potato.

Now that potato has been tossed to the Supreme Court, and it turns hotter with each passing day. The high tribunal can’t afford to sit on this case. If the surveys are accurate and Poe wins the presidency, it is no exaggeration to say that his disqualification after victory could spark a violent revolution. On the other hand, if he is disqualified before the elections, it is still possible to discuss the reasons dispassionately. It will be landmark jurisprudence and the nation could be wiser for it. Opposition forces can still rally behind another candidate to ensure the defeat of President Arroyo. And if the Supreme Court rules that Poe is qualified for the presidency, declaring it early can reduce much of the tension that has been building up since the disqualification case was filed. For the sake of the nation, this case must be resolved quickly and decisively.

BULLETIN EDITORIAL: With malice toward none  February 12, 2004 MANILA BULLETIN

FRIENDS from the US wrote to ask whether anyone was paying attention to the elections. They weren’t speaking of the candidates and what they were saying about one another but of the larger, though familiar, issue of how the elections will be conducted in view of the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Automated Counting Machines contract with the Commission on Elections.

They were informed that Comelec is appealing for reconsideration and that the contract with MegaPacific eSolutions has the support of several IT experts, even those who were members and directors of the body, the Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines (ITFP), that brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The Philippine Computer Society is asking at least for a partial implementation of automation in Metro Manila and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. This will not only make Comelec gain experience but also "salvage’’ what the government has already spent on 2500 IBM desktops, 2500 printers and 600 stand-by generators.

Of course, just saving money is not sufficient justification for going ahead with computerized elections. This won’t be the first time that the government – the Filipino people – will have lost money on a project.

But the danger is what the people and democracy will lose should there be a recourse to the usual manual counting. Neither defending Comelec nor offending the Supreme Court, IT experts are saying that the history of manual election mathematics does not, to put it kindly, inspire much confidence. They point out that the stringent requirements of the bid that went to MegaPacific e-Solutions attest to the integrity of the process. Moreover, the terms of reference of the bid were the cooperative work of Comelec, IT groups, civil society, NAMFREL, and some members of the petitioner ITFP.

Rumors are already circulating that recourse to the old system may be part of a conspiracy to distort the will of the electorate. To be sure, these rumors are unfounded, since electoral cheating is only revealed after the fact. That’s what our friends mean by the lack of attention to election problems.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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