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PIA Press Release

NSA Gonzales, bishops push for transparent poll automation

Davao City (25 February) -- National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales has pushed for an "open election system" for the 2010 polls, joining at least 38 members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines who have asked the Commission on Elections to reconsider its decision to adopt a method of poll automation that is not only more costly but more vulnerable to fraud as well.

Saying the credibility of the forthcoming presidential polls is a national security concern, Gonzales said the OES will "ensure a transparent and fraud-free automated election system in 2010."

"I urge the Commission on Elections to reconsider its decision to adopt the much more expensive but not transparent Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system," Gonzales said.

The CBCP's social arm, the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), also appealed to poll chairman Jose Melo not to use the OMR technology that "may elicit more questions than (the Comelec is) capable of answering."

In their two-page letter to Melo, the bishops also underscored the "grave duty of the Commission to utilize appropriate methods and technology to safeguard the sanctity of the ballot."

"We realize that the Commission sincerely wants to reform its tarnished image and it hopes to do so through the introduction of the optical mark reader and direct recording electronic systems. We regret, however, that these two technologies seem to be very costly in terms of procurement and storage and do not exactly guarantee a fraud-free elections results," the bishops said.

"We fear, among others, the fact that OMR and DRE both operate through instantaneous and internal tally of votes, which the electorate cannot manually recheck or validate," the CBCP members added.

Among the signatories are Archbishops Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro; Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato; Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando (Pampanga); Ramon Arguelles of Lipa (Batangas); Romulo Valles of Zamboanga; and Bishop Broderick Pabillio of Manila.

Gonzales echoed the concerns raised by the bishops, saying the OMR has disadvantages that "can endanger the credibility of the 2010 election and can consequently spark a political crisis."

Poll automation experts have already raised their concerns about the vulnerability of the OMR to wholesale fraud, which can be done just by a few computer technicians, with or without the connivance of the Comelec or of vendors of the machines," the national security adviser said.

The Church leaders also pointed out that in contrast to the OMR, the OES "espouses transparency from voting to the tallying of votes and makes all election data readily available to all groups for their own monitoring purposes."

"We believe that the OES reflects our aspirations for a fraud-free 2010 elections…The fact that the voting and precinct counting are transparent to the voting public makes wholesale cheating extremely difficult to execute," the bishops said, adding that it is also the least costly among automated election technologies available to the country.

OES combines manual voting and precinct counting with automated canvassing from the voting center to the national level. (NSA/PIA XI) [top]

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