Automated polls may be on the brink as Attorney Harry Roque continues to plant doubt in the country's first automated elections. Politics in the Philippines may never be the same once we have automated polls, but being riddled with doubt because of Roque's petition at the Supreme Court, we may be seeing mixed results as far as having elections free of allegations of poll fraud and interminable political courtroom contests.
I met Attorney Roque a couple of times when I was still a news writer at RPN9 and I can say that he is a swell chap. Portly, good natured, and soft spoken, Harry Roque seems to be the kind of person you can approach for help any time and help people is what he does. Which probably explains why he is on television a lot, lawyering for one case or another.
Being the Director of the Institute of International Legal Studies and Assistant Professor at the College of Law, University of the Philippines, Roque may also be regarded as a heavy weight in the legal profession -- perhaps, as far as teaching is concerned.
But I am saying this because I don't know exactly how many cases he has won, then again, does it matter? Fighting a good fight doesn't necessarily entail winning, although losing can be a real bitch.
In his latest jaunt, activist lawyer Harry Roque has decided to take on the case of the Concerned Citizen's Movement against Smartmatic-TIM. He has asked the Supreme Court to declare null and void the P7.2 billion contract it signed with Smartmatic TIM Corp. (STC) on July 10, 2009 for the automation of the May 10, 2010 presidential, congressional, local and party-list polls.
Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera on behalf of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) claims that she had soundly refuted the points raised by Roque in his petition.
In Manila Bulletin, Devanadera was reported as saying:
On the point raised in the petition that Comelec violated Republic Act 9369 or the Election Automation Law for failing to conduct any pilot testing of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines covered by the contract, the Solicitor General’s memoranda said neither RA 8434 nor RA 9369 uses the term “Pilot Test” or “Pilot Testing” but “Pilot Exercise.”The machine, technology and system have been previously tested during the bidding and during the preparation in the run-up to the election, the memorandum pointed out.“On election days, the Comelec will not test anymore but will simply use the previously tested machine, technology and system. Smartmatic TIM machines have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in prior elections abroad, specifically in United States, Canada, and Venezuela.’’
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile led the senate in backing the government's P7.2 Billion deal with Smartmatic for poll automation in 2010:
In a 13-page comment-in-intervention, the Senate, through Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, supported the arguments of the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic-TIM that the contract complied with the poll automation law.It said the law’s provision for pilot-testing should be interpreted in conjunction with another provision that the automated election system in 2010 and subsequent elections should have demonstrated capability and success in either local or foreign elections.“Demonstration of the success and capability of the precinct count optical scan machines (or any AES chosen) may be in an electoral exercise in a foreign jurisdiction. This is a clear indication that pilot testing… is not a mandatory requirement for the choice of system in the May 2010 elections,” the Senate said.“Nor is a pilot testing in the May 2007 elections a prerequisite for the full automation of the May 2010 elections, since the system’s capability may have been successfully demonstrated in other electoral exercises abroad,” it added.The Senate also said that Congress had shown its clear intention to fully automate the 2010 elections when it passed a supplemental budget of more than P11 billion to have automated national and local elections next year.“Pilot testing was not a precedent-condition to full automation,” it said, citing the Senate’s deliberations on the automation law authored by Sen. Richard Gordon.
Perhaps, now being outgunned and without a place to go, Roque has begun clutching at straws. Just this week, Roque told the Supreme Court that Mr. Edgar Zorilla, vice president for special operations of Smartmatic International Corp., sits as consultant to the National Computer Center (NCC).
The NCC is a member of the technical evaluation group that advises Comelec on automation matters. Its mother agency, the Commission on Information Technology and Communication (CICT), heads the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) on automation, which is tasked to recommend to the Comelec the most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be used in the automated election system.
Smartmatic International Sales Director Cesar Flores has responded to this allegation:
Smartmatic-Tim would like to stress that none of our officials and employees have any working relationship with the National Computer Center, or any other governmental institution in the Philippines. Mr.Harry Roque’s latest accusation is totally untrue and baseless. We feel it is another attempt by the good attorney to influence the public, and the magistrates of the Supreme Court in their upcoming ruling on the 2010 Automated Elections.Mr. Edgar Zorrilla is an adviser to the CEO of Smartmatic. He has no working relationship whatsoever with the NCC.
And why would Atty. Roque make such a WILD accusation?
Mr.Roque’s objective is clear: have the SC magistrates disqualify the latest Memorandum directed by the NCC to the Supreme Court. Mr. Roque feels this memorandum is non solicited, omitting the fact that the NCC has been legitimately summoned as amicus curiae; and the Supreme Court requested its written comments during the Oral Arguments presented last xxxx of August.Please be informed as well that Mr. Roque’s above accusation have already been refuted by the another credible institution, the Philippine Senate.We feel it it is irresponsible for Mr. Roque to spread disinformation.At the very least, he should present proof of his allegations. In the future, Smartmatic will have to resort to legal means in order to respond some of his more unethical acts.
One question that lingers in my mind is why Atty. Roque has taken on this case against Smartmatic?
I really don't know but for sure, seeding the legal community with doubts on the legitimacy of the 2010 automated elections may lay the predicate for electoral protests in 2010.
You see, every time an election comes, thousands of lawyers either get hired or volunteer to help in electoral campaigns. Sometimes the big bucks come in when electoral protests are filed and this can mean a steady flow of fees for a couple of months, perhaps even years.
If the automated elections works perfectly and people do not doubt its results, lawyers will probably have to shift specializations -- from filing electoral protests stemming from disputes arising from the count of votes to relatively less crucial issues, such as violations of campaign guidelines.
Will there be less business for ambulance chasers after automated elections in 2010? We'll see.