Ateneo PolSci Bloggers


In Philippine Issues, Politics on July 23, 2009 at 12:02 am

A History of Failure
Poll automation has been in the agenda of most presidents in recent memory. After the chaos of the 1992 elections, administrations hence have since pushed for the automation and modernization of the electoral process. Initial advances, however, since 1995 have been overshadowed by the numerous controversies that have hounded the process since. Automation has succeeded in the ARMM, once in 1997, when results were delivered within three days of elections, however, automation did not occur in 1998, despite the existence of law which mandated it, and was henceforth shelved after the DOST found the machines used in the ARMM elections inadequate. Between the years 2000 and 2004, three bidding attempts have failed, hence both the 2001 and 2004 elections were conducted manually. The last bid in particular, that of Mega Pacific Consortium attracted the most controversy after the Supreme court invalidated the awarding of the contract, citing “clear violation of law and jurisprudence” and “reckless disregard of [Comelec’s] own bidding rules and procedure”. Even the recent automation of the 2008 ARMM elections, which was handled by Smartmatic-Sahi failed to deliver on all fronts – although the voting process was automated, transmission of results from far-flung areas ultimately delayed the proclamation of winning candidates and hence underscored the possibly latent dysfunction of automation in the Philippines. The ASSEMBLY believes that such failures have underscored the fact that the plan to automate the next elections must be scrutinized at the basic level of technical intricacies and in the broader sense – with respect to the consolidation of an overall reform in political systems.

Current Contender
The upcoming 2010 polls have become the focus of renewed attempts at full automation. After budget deliberations in January, fast-tracking to July, the bidding process has left one sole contender –  a consortium between Smartmatic, the technological arm behind the 2008 ARMM elections and TIM (Total Information Management) which will provide logistics and manpower. By late June, however, automation was once again put at risk when TIM announced that it had withdrawn from the consortium and had, therefore, rendered the bid dead since COMELEC requirements stipulated that any company that does take control of the bidding process should be at least 60% Filipino-owned. Smartmatic, a Dutch company, relied on TIM, a Filipino company, for the success of the bid, but in a dramatic turn of events, TIM cited the unfair legal burdens it carried in the context of actual workload when it came to the automation project. Although Smartmatic owned only 40% of the consortium it was responsible for almost 90% of the project, leaving TIM with the unfair burden of accounting for any legal issues that may arise even though it may only be responsible for logistics and manpower. Eventually, however, the consortium reconciled differences and inked the automation contract with the COMELEC, thereby saving the automation process for 2010.

Despite the fact that poll automation is likely to push through in 2010, several questions remain unanswered – questions that are vital in ensuring the success of the elections and in the long run the ultimate goal of the consolidation of democracy. Such questions concerning technicalities have already been raised to the Supreme Court by some concerned members of civil society. Assertions that the 2010 polls need to be automated have effectively blinded many from the glaring irregularities that permeate within the awarding of the bid to the consortium. Such irregularities can be summarized into three basic questions. Can the 2008 ARMM elections be considered the pilot test, if the technology Smartmatic plans to use in 2010 is different from that used in 2008? Why was the bid awarded to the consortium when it was not a corporation registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission during the bidding process? If Smartmatic publicly admits, through its website, that its usual range error is between 2 to 10%, why did COMELEC push through with the contract when it clearly stated that the margin of error should only stand at 1.5%? Such legal issues, pending for oral argumentation in the Supreme Court are entirely valid and hence should not be totally ignored.

Why Automate?
The ASSEMBLY recognizes that automation is a necessary step in the consolidation of democracy; however we question the perception that it therefore becomes a panacea to all electoral problems. Why automate, when clientelist structures continue to permeate at the local level – supported by the everlasting influence of the prevailing elite? Automating elections will not necessarily solve the problems of electoral discrepancies as so fervently proclaimed by many. Even at that level, therefore, automated elections cannot become the end-all, be-all solution to the problems of the nation. Although we recognize that no such claims have been made by any government institution, we assert that the way automation has been consistently portrayed misleads the people into thinking that it is a panacea. Automation merely provides a means to delay the occurrence of electoral anomalies, however given enough time, it could be expected that electoral anomalies do reappear in some way, shape or form; either in empirically quantifiable elements such as votes, or as the more dangerous socio-political symptoms that are inherent in a flawed democratic system. The danger therefore is not so much in the failure of automation to mitigate cheating or to effectively contribute to democratic consolidation – automation creates a false sense of complacency and thus creates spaces for enhancing the malignant detachment of Filipinos from everyday politics. Upon automation, the Filipino is presented the opportunity to reduce political participation to merely shading circles and awaiting results – disengagement becomes a more concrete reality since complacency and a false sense of trust in supposedly incorruptible results have inevitably rendered the citizenry open to exploitation by actors within the dominant institution and enhanced the liberal-democratic framework that promotes such political disengagement. The ASSEMBLY rejects the idea that participation is now merely confined to this single electoral process that provides nothing more than complacency in a tool of the liberal-democratic institution in collusion with the elite who predominate to further deepen the divide between the imperfect individual and his ultimate realization in communal life.

Useless without structural changes
The ASSEMBLY stands by the assertion that automation therefore becomes useless if structural changes are not put in place. Such structural changes are necessary if we are to seek democratic consolidation – automation merely provides a quicker way to count ballots, no actual reform exists or is derived from the automation of elections. The multiparty setup continues to fail to field truly genuine choices; hence no effective contestation occurs between any major party. Reform candidates, although effective sources of contestation are usually indistinct within the greater patchwork of ruthless clientelist structures, and hence cannot be considered systemic threats to the prevailing framework. In the local level, where many of these reform candidates originate, many still lack the privilege of being able to actively advocate any particular paradigm or platform since choices have been reduced to warring political clans who usually hold no other objective above the consolidation of their own power for their own economic or social benefits, in line with the existence of patron-client relationships. Choices are hence dictated by the dominant framework, and swallowed by individuals who in the end are not really given a genuine choice at all. Political violence also continues to permeate in all levels, as election-related incidents continue to mar the democratic process – force becomes a tool to suppress any contestation or any deviation from the dominant framework. What can be considered as the greatest obstacle to democratic consolidation, however, is the continued lack of active collective political participation. The ASSEMBLY rejects the silence of the vast majority – their inability to participate and be involved in the specter of politics, however we recognize that such silence is the result of the dominance of the liberal-democratic framework which constricts and restricts any or all means to express political participation. Therefore, the ASSEMBLY continues to advocate political participation and rejects any imposition placed on the avenues provided to express dissent and dissatisfaction over the prevailing system.

THE ASSEMBLY continues to advocate for real institutional and structural reforms as steps to further the process of attaining a truly democratic nation. We reject the idea that the automation of elections ultimately solves the problems regarding the electoral process. Automation does not equate to progress and progress should not be equated to automation. We, stand by our fundamental beliefs that only when the liberal-democratic framework that has rendered the individual docile and equally unresponsive is reformed can reform and change begin. That there still remains that challenge of reconciling man and his community – by bridging the chasm that the dominant framework has created. Automation will not solve the problems of this nation, it is a smokescreen meant to blind us and misdirect us from the painful realities of the Philippine society – meant to fool us into a false sense of security and complacency, to distract us from more pressing problems that permeate within the institution. WALANG HIMALA.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam


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