(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is prepared to immediately sign the P11.3-billion supplemental budget measure into law, which would pave the way for the full automation of next year’s general elections, Malacañang said yesterday.

“As far as the Palace is concerned, it’s all systems go for full automation of the 2010 polls as provided by law,” presidential adviser for political affairs Gabriel Claudio said.

Malacañang issued the statement amid eleventh-hour attempts by the President’s allies in the House of Representatives to hold “hybrid” elections, or a combination of manual and automated voting.

Since the Senate adopted the measure passed by the House, this would facilitate the process of getting the enrolled copies of the bill to the President for signing, Claudio said.

He stressed the passage of the budget measure by Congress should end all speculation that Malacañang is supporting moves to postpone the 2010 elections through Charter change.

Noting the last-minute proposal made by Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia for hybrid elections, Claudio said the President had made clear her stand is for full automation.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said full automation of the elections is among the priorities of the Arroyo administration.

He said the choice of system to be used, as well as the implementation of the automated election law, would now be in the hands of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Malacañang urged Comelec to address the concerns of lawmakers and concerned sectors by coming up with measures that will ensure that the automation system and technology to be used is not only tamper-proof but also compliant with the law.

Claudio said Comelec should find a way to provide for the generation of election returns and certificates of canvass at the local level, simultaneously with the results of the elections for the national posts without the need for further legislation.

“That way, the election results for national positions will be known in three to four days as committed by Comelec, at the same time providing local candidates the official basis for ascertaining local poll results in their respective areas,” he said.

A number of lawmakers and local government executives have raised concerns about the use of full automation in the provinces.

They expressed fear that a lot of voters in the regions are ignorant of the new system of elections.

Some lawmakers like Cebu’s Garcia are calling for the implementation of hybrid polls for 2010, proposing that full automation would be done for the national electoral positions while reverting to the old manual system for local elective positions.

No way

Senators, on the other hand, are likely to thumb down the proposal from congressmen for a hybrid system of elections.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said the proposal made by Garcia for hybrid elections could not be accommodated since the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automation of the 2010 elections has been passed.

They said the hybrid proposal would have to go through another process of legislation.

Zubiri said the congressional break started yesterday and they would only be back on April 13.

Zubiri said there could be committee hearings on the hybrid proposal but it would not likely convince the senators to hold a special session just to deliberate on the issue.

Even if the hybrid proposal is an accompanying measure for the P11.3-billion supplemental budget, Zubiri said that if the Senate would not act on it, “nothing will happen.”

“We have to consult the senators but as of the moment we are for full automation,” Zubiri said.

Even if the House members would amend the budget they had passed, Zubiri said it would take the circuitous route of holding committee hearings again and the process of passing a bill into law would have to be followed.

Angara said the proposal for hybrid polls could be likened to the case of Charter change initiatives by congressmen.

Hybrid elections, as proposed by some congressmen, would not move without the consent of the Senate, he said.

“That’s nothing anymore. We have passed the budget for full automation,” Angara said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, for his part, appealed to congressmen to give automation a chance.

“We are wasting Congress’ time and the people’s money if we will just go back to manual counting (after passing the budget for full automation),” Gordon said.

Sen. Loren Legarda said the assurance given by Comelec that it was ready for full automation was most welcome, considering the P11.3-billion budget approved by Congress.

‘Mission impossible’

Garcia claimed that unless Republic Act 9369, the law authorizing the automation of elections in 2010, is amended, the poll exercise is bound to fail.

Despite the approval of the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for automated polls, Garcia said the public bidding for purchase of computers and technology to be used in the 2010 elections could not be done without amending the law.

“At this point in time automated election is mission impossible,” he said.

Garcia pointed out RA 9369 provides for automated election but only for selected cities and provinces.

He stressed his proposal was for the amendment of RA 9369, otherwise a hybrid election should be held so as not to circumvent the intention of the law.

As earlier explained by Garcia, voters, as in the past, would write the individual names of their candidates at the precinct level on election day. After the close of voting, the ballots would be counted manually by the board of election inspectors (BEI).

The BEIs fill out the election returns (ERs), indicating the votes each candidate obtains. The ERs are then transmitted electronically or by computer to the municipal or city board of canvassers.

At the municipal and city level, there will be a manual system of canvassing of votes. After the canvassing is finished, the board of canvassers prepares the certificate of canvass and proclaims the winners. The certificate is then transmitted electronically to the provincial canvassing board.

The canvassing board at the provincial level makes a manual tally, proclaims the winning provincial and congressional candidates, and sends a statement of votes to the Comelec in the case of senatorial candidates and to Congress in the case of candidates for president and vice president.

Comelec and Congress make separate manual canvassing and proclaim the winning senatorial, presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Garcia pointed out the roadblock of automated elections is the existing provision in the law that counting of votes would be done manually in the presence of designated watchers.

In the case of senatorial and presidential candidates, it would be Congress that will act as the national canvasser for the votes.

The votes, Garcia said, would be based on the certificate of election returns submitted by the difference provinces.

“So how can you count votes generated by computers,” Garcia asked.

He stressed the disbursement of the election funds, including the supplemental budget, could only be done if the necessary amendment of the law has been approved.

Another stumbling block for automated polls, Garcia said, is the lack of a proven and tested computer system that will be used.

He said RA 9369 provides that only those computer systems tested in national elections should be used in the 2010 polls.

Currently there is no system that has been tested except those used in the regional elections for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last year.

“But the system used during the ARMM election cannot be used because it has not been tested in national elections (and) that is provided by the automated election law,” Garcia pointed out.

“Even if the automated system is piloted in the ARMM elections, the machines cannot be used because they fell short of the requirement that it must be tested in a national election. ARMM election is only a regional election,” Garcia said.

Token automation

Comelec chairman Jose Melo, on the other hand, said they would just ignore the renewed moves to revert back to manual voting in the 2010 elections.

“It’s up to them, they are the congressmen. If they say we go back to manual, that’s their call. But we will obey the law (RA 9369)… that says we must be fully automated. We’re going to do that,” Melo said.

Melo said there had been proposals for the manual, hybrid and open election system in 2010, but the Comelec had approved the recommendation of the advisory council to use precinct count optical scan (PCOS), the type of technology that would be used in the 2010 general polls.

Melo said that “human intervention” in the PCOS system would only be when voters shade with pencils their ballots and when they place them in ballot boxes.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said Garcia and his supporters only want a “token automation” of next year’s combined presidential, congressional and local elections.

“The bill of Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia that the House intends to approve calls for a machine-assisted manual election process. In other words, it is token automation,” he said.

Casiño, along with Roilo Golez of Parañaque and Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, grilled Garcia extensively on Wednesday and Thursday night on the mechanics of his proposed hybrid balloting.

The House leadership called the Garcia proposal for floor debates on Wednesday night, two days after congressmen approved the supplementary budget.

Garcia sponsored his measure for the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, whose chairman, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., refused to sponsor it because he is for full automation.

His proposal did not even reach second reading following the grilling of Casiño and other opposition congressmen.

Locsin also claimed he did not want to entertain the proposal since it would go against public opinion.

“(Some of) my colleagues want manual election because we know how to cheat manually,” he remarked.

Casiño claimed Garcia’s proposal virtually reverts the system of elections for 2010 into manual mode.

“It’s the old manual system all the way, from the precinct to the national level, except that the accountable election documents are transmitted electronically,” he said. –With Aurea Calica, Perseus Echeminada, Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla, Sheila Crisostomo, Rainier Allan Ronda

Drug lord paid P50-million bribe to slip out of RP? By Paolo Romero Updated March 07, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo ordered authorities yesterday to seek the help of the International Police (Interpol) to launch an “international manhunt” for a major Filipino drug trafficker as well as investigate the possible involvement of government officials in his escape from the country.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo, who earlier named herself as the country’s anti-narcotics czar, ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to find out how Anthony Ang was able to slip out of the country after being caught last year in Subic with over 700 kilos of shabu with a street value of P15 billion.

Mrs. Arroyo gave the three agencies one week to finish their investigation.

Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo got hold of an intelligence report that Ang managed to slip out of the country last year because of a P50-million bribe to some unidentified officials.

“The President also issued a stern warning that heads of government officials involved in the escape will roll,” he told a news briefing. “The President is taking a personal hand in this (anti-drug) campaign.”

Ang was caught by agents of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, NBI and Subic authorities in May last year with 744 kilos of high-grade shabu in his company’s vehicles, warehouse and packages stored underwater. It was the biggest haul in the country’s history.

Ang, however, disappeared a few days later and since then, authorities had received reports on his possible whereabouts in the country but none of them yielded results.

PASG chief Undersecretary Antonio Villar quoted intelligence reports as saying that Ang is now in China despite a hold-departure order against him.

Remonde and Villar, however, refused to name the agencies whose personnel might have been involved in Ang’s escape.

The Palace officials said the Department of Foreign Affairs is coordinating with the Chinese government to locate Ang, while concerned law enforcement agencies have sought assistance from the Interpol to track him down.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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