Nation


SC urged to rule on the purchase of used voting machines before end of the month




Posted on May 21, 2012


WHILE THE Supreme Court (SC) is busy with the impeachment case of its head magistrate, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) raised the alarm as it would have to start a new 11-month long purchase cycle of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines this June if the SC would not decide within this month whether to allow them to buy the machines used in the 2010 elections.

Comelec Spokesperson James Arthur B. Jimenez confirmed in a text message to BusinessWorld on Saturday that they have until the end of May to wait if the SC will allow them to practice their right to purchase the PCOS machines. The SC recently issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Comelec’s purchase of the 82,000 PCOS machines worth P1.8 billion from Smartmatic-TIM Corp.

The TRO was issued as three petitions were filed to cancel the deed of sale and assert the occurrence of a public bidding to look for better machines. Petitioners claimed that the PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM caused technical problems.

However, Mr. Jimenez said it would take the Comelec almost a year to purchase new PCOS machines. "[Public] bidding will take approximately three months. Testing and acceptance would probably take around eight," he said.

He added that the training of public school teachers, who will handle the voting and counting of ballots in the grassroots level, will occur after the purchase cycle has been completed. "There are training sessions arranged for teachers who will be serving election duty. Two to three days, typically, covering basic operations," he said.

The Comelec also has to make other preparations necessary for the national elections next year.

"For automation, we need to prepare ballots, electronic transmission arrangements, warehouse arrangements, mock tests, field tests and voter education," he said in an e-mail Friday.

FUNDING APPROVED

Meanwhile, the House committee on appropriations approved the funding needed for the new general registration of voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last week. This happened after solons approved the joint resolution in the committee level seeking to conduct a new general registration in ARMM.

House Joint Resolution no. 29 annulled the current list of voters in the area. The counterpart of the bill in the Senate, which also suspended the ongoing registration in ARMM, has already been passed last week.

Around P550 million is needed for the general registration, said Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio A. Abaya (1st district) in a telephone interview Saturday. "Bulk of the expense will come from the procurement of voter registration machines. We need approximately 1,000 [units]. Other expenses will include mobilization of personnel [and] registration paraphernalia (including office supplies)," Mr. Jimenez said.

However, Mr. Abaya said the current budget allocation is insufficient. "We still need to raise around P180 million. The needed fund will be sourced from the overall savings of the Comelec [totaling] P3 billion or from the contingency fund, but I think [the latter] is unlikely."

A document from the House Committee Affairs Department showed that the funds needed to carry out the new voters’ registration will be sourced from the savings of Comelec which includes "savings realized from postponement of the 2011 ARMM elections."

But Mr. Jimenez clarified that such savings do not exist. "There were no savings due to the postponement of the ARMM 2011. No money was ever released for the exercise," he said.

Mr. Abaya said that Comelec can still claim the unused funds. "They’re still entitled to the unreleased funds, it’s technically [their] savings," he said.

To fast-track the process of acquiring equipment for the voter registration, the Senate has vowed to pass another resolution that will allow the Comelec to hold direct contracting instead of the usual bidding.

Despite the limited time before the second regular session adjourns on June 7, Mr. Abaya is positive that the plans on the ARMM general registration will be right on schedule. "We expect voting for the joint resolution this week in the plenary," he said.

The Comelec has tentatively set the voters registration in ARMM on July 9-18, two days before Ramadan. -- Monica Joy O. Cantilero