MALACANANG, January 16, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanuava and Jose Aravilla - Malacañang and Congress have agreed to give the Commission on Elections (Comelec) an additional P300 million to defray the cost of a manual counting of ballots in the May 10 elections.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said President Arroyo has expressed willingness to provide additional P300 million to help Comelec in the manual counting.

He said Congress leaders have agreed with Mrs. Arroyo to allocate additional P300 million to ensure that the Comelec will be able carry out its mandate, albeit manually.

"What we’re saying is there is approval in principle to grant whatever is needed to push through with the elections. My understanding is whatever is needed to ensure that the elections will push through as scheduled would be granted," Bunye said.

"The bottom line is we have to hold the elections as scheduled even if this means we have to revert to manual system (of counting)," he said.

Bunye reiterated the stand made by Mrs. Arroyo to ignore calls demanding the resignation of Comelec commissioners over the bungled automation project.

This developed as Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos conceded that a nationwide poll automation will not become a reality even if the Supreme Court reverses its ruling nullifying the P1.2-billion automated counting machine (ACM) contract.

Abalos pointed out that while the Comelec is preparing a motion for reconsideration to be filed next week, there will be no more time to fully automate the country’s fraud-plagued electoral system.

"We will just have selective (automation) because we have no more time for national implementation," Abalos said.

"It (full automation) needs a lot of training as well (as) we have to get as many technicians as we can. We were also planning to train people how to vote but we scrapped those (plans) now," he said.

After the Supreme Court handed down its ruling nullifying the Comelec contract with Mega Pacific Consortium last Tuesday, Abalos said they have no choice but to revert to manual counting.

Mrs. Arroyo, for her part, admitted the Comelec has to revert to manual counting of votes after the Supreme Court declared the automation contract illegal.

Although Comelec has the duty to reconsider the Jan. 13 ruling, Mrs. Arroyo said the poll body should also prepare itself for this eventuality and carry out its mandate of ensuring the May 10 elections will be held.

"The Comelec is entitled to appeal its case in the high tribunal, but it is vital to our national interest that the elections proceed as scheduled, even if we have to revert to manual counting," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The commission must ensure that the polls are held in May even as it seeks legal remedies," she said.

In a bid to ascertain the implications of the Supreme Court ruling on the electoral system, Mrs. Arroyo met with Senate President Franklin Drilon, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. and Abalos at Malacañang Tuesday night, hours after the ruling was announced.

Without going into details, Mrs. Arroyo said there was the possibility of implementing the joint congressional resolution calling for selective automation where only 20 percent of the country would have automated elections. -With Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Sammy Santos

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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