Comelec fails to meet poll automation target

Paterno Esmaquel II
Comelec fails to meet poll automation target
The poll body's timeline shows a significant delay in preparations compared with the last two automated elections

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday, July 21, admitted it cannot meet its self-imposed target to choose by July the Philippines’ mode of elections in May 2016.

In a news conference, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said it is “hard to pinpoint” a new target date. “But, really, I think we have to do it as soon as possible, after August 1,” he said.

In May, during his first news conference as Comelec chair, Bautista said the Comelec was aiming to choose the Philippines’ election system in July. By this month, in fact, the Comelec was planning to give the winning bidder the notice to proceed or go-signal to provide election services.

The Comelec, however, hit a major roadblock in June: a failure of bidding. None of 3 bidders submitted requirements on June 30 because the Comelec “significantly” reduced its budget for the refurbishment of nearly 82,000 vote-counting machines.

Because no one wanted to bid for the project, the Comelec decided weeks later to jack up the budget. The Comelec is set to open the second round of bidding for the refurbishment of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines by August 1. 

August 1 – when a winning bidder should’ve gotten a go-signal, based on the initial timeline – is now only the opening of bids for PCOS refurbishment.

This is a far cry from timelines in previous elections. 

For the 2013 polls, the Comelec decided to buy PCOS machines as early as March 2012, more than a year before elections. 

For the 2010 polls, the Philippines’ first automated elections, the Comelec “issued a notice to proceed some time in June or July” 2009, according to Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim. 

Bautista said: “We cannot afford any more delays. We’ve got to move forward.”

3 Supreme Court petitions

The Comelec chairman said the first two weeks of August “would really be crucial” when it comes to the Comelec’s timeline.

Further delays, he said, “will materially impact our elections in 2016” as to “how we can conduct it in a credible fashion.”

He explained in a mix of English and Filipino: “In an automated setting, it takes time to manufacture the machines. It also takes time to refurbish the machines. It takes time to have the source code certified. There’s a lot we need to do. So it will really materially impact the way we will be conducting our elections in 2016.”

Do manual elections remain a valid fallback if things go wrong in the middle of August? 

Bautista pointed out that a Philippine law mandates automated elections. “We are set in following the law,” he said. “We have to conduct automated elections.”

The Comelec, however, faces at least 3 other potential obstacles.

Election watchdogs have filed 3 separate petitions before the Supreme Court (SC) against the Comelec’s last-ditch effort to ensure automated elections. (READ: Poll automation faces 3rd Supreme Court petition

Basically, the Comelec is holding two public bids at the same time: one, to repair and supplement its existing vote-counting machines; two, to buy 100,000 new ones for the presidential elections in 2016. After having pursued these two bids, it is set to choose only one of these options in the next few weeks.

This comes after an SC ruling in April derailed the preparations for the 2016 elections. The ruling practically barred the Comelec from using 82,000 vote-counting machines because it nullified a P268.8-million ($5.94-million)* contract to repair these. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P45.24

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.