SUPREME COURT STOPS COMELEC QUICK COUNT

MANILA,  May 7, 2004
 
(STAR)
By Aurea Calica  -  The Supreme Court (SC) temporarily stopped yesterday the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from implementing its own unofficial quick count pending the resolution of a petition filed against it by a lawyer of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP).

Informed of the high tribunalís decision, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos rushed to the SC and pleaded with Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. that he and his officials be given the chance to present how their quick count operates and persuade the justices to give their go-signal to the program.

In a one-page en banc resolution, the SC directed the Comelec to comment on the petition of election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, who counts KNP standard-bearer Fernando Poe Jr. as one of his clients, not later than 12 noon tomorrow.

The SC required the parties to observe the status quo prior to the Comelecís issuance of the resolution ordering the quick count.

Abalos aired his concerns before Davide regarding the status quo order. He said the Chief Justice agreed to hear the Comelecís comment and watch its presentation either today or tomorrow.

"We want them (the justices) to change the status quo order. In the meantime, what about our preparations? You mean we have to stop? What about the fielding of people? You know, itís now a difficult time, itís only three days before the elections," he told reporters.

Abalos said Comelec officials will have to find out immediately whether they can go ahead with the quick count or not.

"We will show them what is in this VSAT (very small aperture terminal) used in the satellite transmission of data. Now that weíre going global, we need this system to be able to count the votes from Italy, Australia, Japan and the United States immediately and not wait for the diplomatic pouches that will arrive a week late or more," he said.

"While waiting, weíre guessing, what happened to the elections there? You cannot stop people from thinking that the election results were altered. This could be addressed by the immediate transmission of the results, before the we receive the results (from the pouches), we already know through satellite transmission," Abalos added.

He also said candidates can always file a complaint and call for an investigation once they see inaccuracies in the counting.

Abalos noted that the unofficial quick count cannot be made the basis for proclaiming the winners since there is an official slow count.

"We will demonstrate how VSAT is used. We will rush our comment and definitely, we will be given the chance to make a presentation of the operation of VSAT. This is not only oral but also documentary and video presentation. I am very confident that they (justices) will be convinced," he said.

Abalos said the quick count is a good project since this will prevent any plan to manipulate the results of the slow count.

In 28-page petition filed before the SC, Brillantes said the poll body should be restrained from implementing the "very quick Comelec ET" or electronic transmission since it will only bring about more confusion as to which count is credible.

Brillantes said the electronic transmission of election results was unauthorized by law and devised by the Comelec for no plausible reason. He said this may have been done to "validate" the poll bodyís unexplained expenditures of millions of pesos just to have its own non-binding quick count, "distinct and separate from its very own official count" and that of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

"With a previous experience of confusion where only two counts are made, the newly enacted resolution (of Comelec) to engage in three different kinds of counts could only result, not only to confusion, but chaos... absolute chaos," he said.

Brillantes said the poll bodyís latest resolution was enacted almost before election day and was being passed off as a new scheme and a novel manner of counting the results of the elections.

In his petition, Brillantes said the SC should nullify the Comelecís April 28 resolution to implement its defunct modernization program, specifically on the implementation of a system of electronic transmission of advanced results of votes for all elective positions.

Unless the high court issues a temporary restraining order, the large amount of government funds involved in the proposed unofficial quick count will only put taxpayersí money to waste, he said.

"History reveals that the presence of quick counts through Comelec-accredited Namfrel is really of no help at all but has instead produced vote-trending, coupled by the baseless filing of electoral protest cases and much confusion, which oftentimes results in bloodshed and violence," Brillantes said.

He added that the Comelec resolution implementing an unofficial quick count does not have any legal or factual basis.

Brillantes noted there is no provision under Republic Act 8436, an act authorizing the Comelec to use an automated election system, starting with the 1998 national and local elections.

The Comelec has yet to establish an automated election system in the eight years that transpired since the law was passed in 1997.

Brillantes said only the official Comelec count is allowed and the fully automated system will have to replace the present slow count and not provide for an unofficial quick count via the electronic transmission of advanced results.

He also pointed out that the third phase of the Comelecís modernization program, which involves the electronic transmission of election results through domestic satellite, should no longer be allowed since the first two phases had not been implemented.

Brillantes cited that phase one, or the modernized voterís registration through the use of biometric validating machines, was not useful while phase two or vote-counting through the use of automated counting machines had been invalidated by the SC.

"With the dismal failure of the two phases of the Comelec modernization program, one can only wonder why Comelec would still be so keen and so interested and so bent on still implementing phase three," he said.

"There being no compelling reason or purpose sought to be attained other than the whims of the Comelec commissioners and the chosen few who would benefit from the accompanying contract for its implementation, the end result will obviously be just another waste of government funds taken from the pockets of taxpayers," Brillantes added.

He stressed that it was "most abnormal, if not totally irregular" to conduct an unofficial and official count at the same time.

"And when it is the Comelec itself that creates the unofficial trend, categorized as tamper-proof, the confusion will definitely double, to the benefit of no one, save the one favored by the Ďtrendingí of the Comelec," Brillantes said.

He also questioned the Comelecís announcement that their quick count is tamper-proof from the outside, saying that it "would seem be very reliable except when tampered from the inside."

"By the time the official slow count is finished, the unofficial very quick count shall have been long completed, and not only the trends already established, the final unofficial results shall have been known to all," Brillantes said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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