[PHOTO AT LEFT - Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Melo offers a toast while holding the last ballot printed at the National Printing Office yesterday. The NPO has printed 50,850,939 ballots to be used in next month’s automated elections. VAL RODRIGUEZ]

MANILAAPRIL 24, 2010 (STAR) By Ma. Elisa Osorio - The country’s major business groups want the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a parallel manual count of the votes for president, vice president and mayors to ensure transparency in the country’s first automated polls.

The Makati Business Club (MBC), the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) said a parallel manual count would entail P500 million in expenses – and additional man-hours – but would make the results of the elections more credible.

Information technology expert Gus Lagman has made a similar appeal to the Comelec.

The business groups said six of the nine presidential candidates have endorsed the manual count proposal. Only Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and Lakas-Kampi-CMD candidate Gilbert Teodoro have not given their positions on the proposal. Bagumbayan standard-bearer Sen. Richard Gordon, meanwhile, is against it because he is one of the proponents of the poll automation law.

The group said manual counting is “more reflective of the will of the voters.”

The business groups arrived at the decision to support a manual count of the votes at a meeting attended by Finex president Gregorio Navarro, MBC executive director Alberto Lim, MAP chairman Ramon del Rosario, MAP members former Trade secretary Juan Santos, and former Development Bank of the Philippines chairman Vitaliano Nanagas, among others.

Lagman said they would present their proposal to the Comelec on Monday. He said the Comelec must decide on their proposal before April 29 as there is little time left before the May 10 elections.

He said a manual counting of votes can stave off a failure of elections as well as ensure that an “automated Garci” does not succeed.

“Garci” is widely believed to refer to former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who reportedly helped manipulate the results of the 2004 elections to ensure Mrs. Arroyo’s victory against the late popular actor Fernando Poe Jr. A wiretapped phone conversation between Mrs. Arroyo and a man she called “Garci” regarding an alleged poll fraud plot became the basis of unsuccessful impeachment cases against her.

Lagman, meanwhile, said there is a need for a backup manual count and not just a random count, citing possible glitches in the technology of Smartmatic-TIM, the consortium undertaking the automated election system.

The proposal of the businessmen is to make a manual count of the votes for the three positions and compare them with the automated results. If the discrepancy is less than one percent then the machine count will be used, but if the discrepancy is one percent or more then there is a need to manually count all the votes for all the positions.

The manual count for the president, vice president and mayor will only take an additional three hours, but if there is a discrepancy then the manual count may mean an additional two days. “But what is that compared to credible and honest elections,” Del Rosario said.

The business groups said they have already addressed the concerns of the Comelec regarding their proposal.

They added that there is nothing in the law that prohibits manual counting of the votes for the three positions.

The manual count of the votes for the three positions, they said, would eliminate the need for random manual audit.

The random manual audit will be done after the proclamation of winners. The random audit covers five precincts per district, or equivalent to roughly one million voters.

Earlier, the Philippine Bar Association and the Alyansa Agrikultura also pushed for parallel manual counting of votes to countercheck results of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

A group of overseas Filipinos with signatories from the United States and other countries was also set to petition the Comelec for a parallel manual account.

Jamby to go on hunger strike By Sheila Crisostomo - The way to a credible election is through an empty stomach .

The lone woman presidential candidate, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, yesterday threatened to go on a hunger strike if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will not allow the conduct of a parallel manual count in the May 10 elections.

Madrigal barged into the office of Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento where a press briefing on the latest developments in the preparation for the May 10 elections was being held.

Madrigal abruptly declared her support for the call of fishermen and farmers’ groups demanding a total parallel count to check the accuracy of election results generated by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

“The Comelec should listen to the public’s call, otherwise, we will go on hunger strike until election. At least God will listen to us,” Madrigal shouted to Sarmiento.

Madrigal went to the Comelec with a group led by Alyansa Agrikultral chairman and former Trade undersecretary Ernesto Ordoñez.

They are proposing a manual count parallel with the automated counting of election results by the PCOS machines.

According to Ordoñez, other presidential candidates, namely former President Joseph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva, Nicanor Perlas, and JC de los Reyes, are supporting their call for a parallel manual count.

Sarmiento and other Comelec officials, however, told Madrigal and her party that they are not keen on allowing a parallel count since it might delay the electoral process, in effect defeating the purpose of automating the elections.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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