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Fast count stuns nation

Faster than you can say Garci

By Kristine L. Alave, Cathy C. Yamsuan, Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:50:00 05/12/2010

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Computing & Information Technology

MANILA, Philippines?Shell-shocked.

Winners and losers did not know what hit them as a barrage of election tallies?first a trickle, then a torrent?confronted them with the reality that the poisoned political environment had nothing to do with Monday?s automated elections, officials said Tuesday.

?It was faster than you can say Garci,? said Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Jose Melo, alluding to disgraced former commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who was accused of colluding with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to rig the 2004 presidential election, a charge she denies.

The first results came from satellite transmissions?the VSATs and BGANs?from mountainous regions in northern Luzon where there were no regular cell phone sites and the voting populations were small.

At 3 p.m. on Monday, as attention was riveted on TV coverage of the chaos and confusion in the heavily populated voting centers, the Comelec decided to convene as the National Board of Canvassers.

The first results were coming in from Mountain Province at that time.

From then on, the transmission turned swift and steady, said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Church-led Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec?s citizen?s arm.

?It was better than expected,? she said.

At around 7 p.m., officials of Smartmatic-TIM, the Comelec?s automation partner, announced that 10,000 precincts had already transmitted results and had printed 30 election returns. By midnight, 57 percent of the precincts had reported results.

Cesar Flores, the company spokesperson, said that 92 to 95 percent of the results should be in by Tuesday midnight.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that defeated candidates were ?a little shell-shocked? when they realized that they had lost the race in just a few hours.

?The candidates, all of them, were taken by surprise,? Jimenez said.

?In the past, they still had time to manipulate the outcome,? said Ramon Casiple of the Comelec advisory council.

?That is not the case now,? Casiple said, comparing the electronic vote with the previous manual exercise.

Doomsday scenarios

Before Monday?s elections, talk was rife that the President was on overdrive scheming to remain in power beyond her term ending next month, that glitches would reach such a scale that there would be a failure of elections, that an operation plan was in the works for a takeover by a military junta.

The political speculation made preparations for the balloting difficult, Flores conceded.

?Some people said we were going to cheat for somebody,? Flores said. But no politician even attempted to approach the company to rig the vote, he said.

?There was a lot of noise and a lot of wrong accusation. The job speaks for itself. All our projections came true. We never lied to the people. We never overpromised anything,? he added.

Flores said that in spite of the last minute glitches?the recall and replacement of the memory cards for the 76,300 counting machines at the eleventh hour last week?the event turned into a ?great project.?

?I would say our work in this election would give us credibility,? said Melo at noon Tuesday with around 75 percent, or about 30 million, of ballots cast counted.

Lessons learned

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that the quick delivery of results was ?a big step forward towards the restoration of the credibility.?

?By this election, we are learning. There are glitches we have to remedy in future elections. In other words, we know now where we were short,? said Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer.

Sarmiento said the complaints about long queues, problems with counting machines and alleged disenfranchisement would all be considered ?raw data to improve and enhance our electoral process so that we can provide a robust democracy for the Philippines.?

Turning to recent history, Melo recalled many instances when local Comelec officials were racing to proclaim candidates, even without a sufficient partial count to make this conclusion.

?But here, under this system actually, there can be no proclamation unless there is a 100 percent count,? Melo said.

?The process in 2007 was quite tortuous and cumbersome,? Sarmiento said. ?All ballot boxes have to be opened, to be examined carefully piece by piece. It was a very long process and objections were made by lawyers left and right.?

Birth pains

Under automated elections, Sarmiento said the Comelec would now proclaim winners based on electronically transmitted data in a process faster than the old manual system.

Ferrer said he still expected protests. ?This is a free country.?

The automation technology worked, said PPCRV?s Clifford Sorita. ?Some glitches had to be adjusted, but these are birth pains,? he said. ?We are learning.?

At the morning session of the canvassing for senatorial and party-list candidates, Melo abruptly called off the proceedings amid grandstanding by some lawyers.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal had suddenly approached the microphone and demanded the examination of the sealed envelopes opened with electronic user?s names and passwords.

?These proceedings are taking longer than the automation,? he said, banging the gavel and suspending the canvassing until the afternoon.



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