By Ellen Tordesillas
In six months, we will have the midterm national elections.
The May 13, 2013 elections will be the first national, automated, and synchronized (including the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao) elections under the Aquino administration.
VERA Files, a group composed of veteran journalists that produces in-depth articles on current issues and conducts training for journalists, last week held a training-seminar for 18 journalists from different parts of the country.
The training seminar was supported by the Embassy of Canada through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. Benoit Girouard, second secretary in the Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Section of the Canadian Embassy, stressed the importance of a free, honest, responsible and independent media in a democracy.
Since all the participants were working journalists (with two still studying but are writing for online media), the seminar focused on issues relevant to the 2013 elections. The speakers were all excellent. Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca shared with the participants her own personal experience in elections as she gave an overview of the 2013 elections. Bro. Romulo Guillermo, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting spoke on "Monitoring the 2013 Elections through the eyes of civil society.
Linda Luz Guerrero, vice president of Social Weather Stations, gave suggestions to the participants what to concerned about in dealing with elections surveys in her talk," Understanding and Reporting Election Surveys." Political Analyst Prospero de Vera III, a professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines gave tips on "Seeing through the Packaging and Spins" of candidates.
Vince Lazatin, executive director of Transparency and Accountability Network, spoke on campaign finance. Who are funding the candidates? That's very important because that would affect how the candidates, when they are elected, make a stand on vital issues and vote on important legislations.
Rowena Guanzon, professor at the UP College of Law, in her talk about "Holding Local Government to Account" said it is important to know that law and that is Republic Act 7160 (Local Government Code).
It is also important for the reporter to know the City Charter.
Other laws that reporters who cover elections must read are: Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 Omnibus Election Code;R.A 7166 An Act Providing For Synchronized National and Local Elections and For Electoral Reforms; R.A 9006 An Act to Enhance the Holding of Free, Orderly, Honest, Peaceful and Credible Elections Through Fair Election Practices (Fair Elections Act);
R.A. 7941 An Act Providing for the Election of Party-List Representatives Through the Party-List System; and R.A 9189 An Act Providing for a System of Overseas Absentee Voting by Qualified Citizens of the Philippines Abroad.
Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN correspondent and this year's Marshall McLuhan fellow shared with participants insights on "Watching Congress". Earl Parreño, trustee of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform spoke on "Deconstructing Clan Politics";
Joy Aceron, program director of Political Democracy and Reforms spoke on election-related violence and former Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, who is now president of Logic Management.
Lagman shared the remarks he delivered at the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee hearing last Wednesday.
He said with only six months away from the May 2013 elections, there is still no assurance that the Comelec's planned automation will work and some of the reasons he cited are:
- There are still critical issues about the system used in 2010 that have not been resolved and demonstrated publicly, especially the security measures that are mandated by law and/or required by the project's terms of reference.
- There are technical enhancements that should have been incorporated into the software to prepare for the 2013 elections that, again, have not been demonstrated publicly.
- The startling news that on may 23, 2012, Dominion Voting Systems, the real owner of the election technology used by Smartmatic in 2010, terminates the Licensing Agreement with Smartmatic.
For this reason, the latter sued Dominion before the Delaware Chancery Court on Sept. 11, 2012. The case is pending and there is no definitive date as to when it can be resolved with finality.
Lagman asked: "How can 'fixes' and technical enhancements on the system continue, late as they are already are, if Smartmatic is not authorized by Dominion to do so? And how can Comelec use the 'fixed' and enhanced sustem is there is no Licensing Agreement covering it?
Lagman made two recommendations: One, Comelec should cancel the purchase contract for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and two, quickly study all the viable alternatives for the automation of the 2013 elections…. while there is still time.