JANUARY 26, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has signed into law Republic Act 9369, which mandates the automation of the country’s elections starting with the May senatorial and local polls, despite strong appeals from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and election lawyers not to do so for lack of time.

Mrs. Arroyo signed on Jan. 23 the law to amend RA 8436, which mandated the use of an automated election system in the May 1998 elections.

The Comelec, however, is unsure whether computerized elections can be implemented in the May 14 midterm elections.

Comelec Education and Information Division (EID) director James Jimenez said that, while "we are happy with the signing of the law, we have to look into the specific terms and provisions of the law before we can say if automated elections are still possible."

Jimenez said the Comelec will await the recommendations of its advisory council on poll automation, adding that the Comelec will reconvene this council at the soonest possible time.

The Comelec earlier ruled out the feasibility of end-to-end computerized elections, even in selected areas, due to lack of time.

However, the Comelec also said the electronic transmission of election results is possible if the law providing for the implementation of poll automation is passed before February.

Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio, however, said the Comelec has the leeway to determine if the law can be implemented in the coming elections and maintained that Mrs. Arroyo intends to push for the modernization of the election system.

"Automated elections are part of the 10-point reform agenda of the President," he said. "It is in pursuit of political and electoral reforms that she signed the automated election system bill, which she had certified as urgent."

"The matter of its implementability for this year’s elections is for the Comelec to determine and act upon," he said.

Section 5 of the new law mandates the Comelec to use an automated election system for the "process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises."

The same section said the automated election system will be used in at least two highly urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that will be chosen by the Comelec, but not in local government units whose officials have been subject to administrative charges in the last 16 months prior to the May 14 elections.

It said no area will be chosen by the Comelec for the automated election system without the consent of the local government concerned.

The law said the automated election system should be implemented nationwide in the succeeding elections.

RA 9369 also mandates the creation of an advisory council for the automation of the elections that will recommend the most appropriate, secure and most cost-effective technology for the automated election system.

The advisory council will be composed of the Comelec chairman, one representative each from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Education (DepEd), academe, three members of ICT professional organizations and two members of non-governmental electoral reform organizations.

The Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) will include in its annual appropriations the funds necessary for the council.

The law also allows the Comelec to procure equipment needed for the automated election system from local or foreign sources free of taxes or import duties. — With Mayen Jaymalin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved