I was blog hopping a week ago, a very rare must-do activity for me these past months as workloads, family responsibilities and pressure on my studies are piling up like insurmountable individual mountains that obviously are taking their toll on me; and I had become an instant big fan of ibuprofen capsules and tablets.

And while blog hopping (dropping entrecard credits, commenting on fave blogs and keeping myself updated with what’s hot, abuzz and latest sex scandals around the blogosphere) I always open my Facebook account on another window to check from time to time who are online posting their activities and flaunting that they have bought their BFFs for the whole world to see.  As I checked those friends and people who are online on FB chat, I saw Mr. James Jimenez on green light.  Wow, time to do some social-climbing, said I.

I sent him a “Hi!” and congratulated the COMELEC or Commission on Elections regarding the Supreme Court decision affirming the legality of the Automated Elections. And he immediately responded with “Thanks!” and “How are you doing?”  Wow!  This guy is cool, certainly a social media fanatic.  And there we had a great conversation about lots of stuffs especially with matters regarding the May 2010 elections and all the election concerns about such a big pivotal event in our nation.

May 2010 elections is only some months from now and with such event so big and instrumental for the present-day Filipinos comes the election concerns of the voting public with the remnants of election cheating and fraud still quite fresh on the consciousness of all except maybe to those who did it.  Hello Garci?   One most important feature of next year’s national polls is the use of the agency of the automated system of election that is being hoped for to bring a more honest and credible election together with a more convenient and efficient system.

That is why I took the great opportunity to do an online interview with Mr. James Jimenez, COMELEC’s official Spokesperson, sharing with him some election matters and issues.  Hopefully this interview could somewhat bring more information and understanding to voters.

Thank you very much Sir James for giving me the opportunity to interview you!

Elmot: The Supreme Court most recently handed down its decision affirming by a wide margin of majority vote the legality of the Automated Elections for 2010 plus all the pertinent issues raised regarding the Smartmatic-TIM deal as winning bidders.  What do you people at the COMELEC exactly feel about this decision?

Mr. Jimenez:
We are thankful that the Court did not seek to substitute its own judgment for that of the COMELEC in this matter. As the Court pointed out, the COMELEC has the expertise and the mandate to deal with this sort of thing and, absent a clear showing of grave abuse of discretion, the COMELEC should be relied upon to do its job.

Elmot:
There are still camps especially groups coming from the civil society who are appealing the decision and are not yet totally convinced that the system could not be hacked or infiltrated either from outside or from inside (Smartmatic having those access to the system) that send some doubts and fears to our voters.  How do you allay these fears and assure the voters of the efficiency and security of the system?

Mr. Jimenez: The best way to assure everyone is to show how verifiable the results generated by the automated election system will be. Because the results generated by the AES can very easily be verified by a hand count, there is very little incentive to cheat; and because the system is so transparent and the results are immediately reported to the general public, there is very little opportunity for cheating.

Elmot: There have been news of a great influx of groups seeking for partylist accreditation with some politicians branding some of these groups as not really representing a marginalized sector.  How does the COMELEC screen and evaluate these applications?

Mr. Jimenez: The screening of party-list organizations involves determining whether they truly represent a marginalized sector, and whether they have actually done so during their existence. We evaluate these claims by actually going into the field and conducting our own investigations into the history and background of the organization.

Elmot: It was raised that the COMELEC is on a very tight schedule and might run out of time that could result to some problems especially with the preparations and training of personnel for the new system.  On what stage is the COMELEC exactly right now and will it meet its deadlines and target dates?

Mr. Jimenez: The COMELEC will meet its deadlines. Right now, we are completing the site survey – that’s where we check all the 80,136 polling precinct sites to determine their suitableness. At the same time, we are well into the source code review being undertaken in partnership with an international certification authority. Also in parallel to these two major activities, we are preparing the legal framework of the elections and procuring election supplies.

Elmot: In line with training, organizations of teachers are saying that they are afraid that they may not be well-trained with the use of the new system for the upcoming elections.  What is the COMELEC’s program as regards to the training of teachers and people who will be manning the elections at the precinct levels?

Mr. Jimenez: The machines are easy to operate. I can write down the instructions on a single post-it sheet. Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar is a common reaction. Fortunately, those who are afraid soon see that there is nothing to fear.

Elmot: One of the biggest issue when it comes to elections is cheating especially the sensitive issue of the Garci Scandal.  What efforts are the commission doing to ensure that the previous election scandal/would never again occur?

Mr. Jimenez: Automation is the best defense against dagdag-bawas of the sort that Garci was accused of.

Elmot: From the COMELEC’s end, what are the responsibilities of voters aside from practicing their right to vote to ensure a clean and honest election come May 2010?

Mr. Jimenez: Vigilance. Do not only be a good voter, help keep others honest also. Don’t sell your vote, and tell others not to sell theirs.

Elmot: On a lighter note.  You are one of a few public officials who is very active and engaging in the social networks especially Facebook.  How has the social media helped you as a public servant and the programs and efforts of the COMELEC?

Mr. Jimenez: Social media is a critical element of our campaign to reach out to voters. It enables us to connect with the general public in a forum that they are comfortable with. It breaks down old barriers of formality and protocol, allowing a more candid and fruitful exchange of ideas.

Elmot:  Any last words of assurance and encouragement to all readers and voters who are obviously very vigilant as to the developments to participate on the upcoming national polls?

Mr. Jimenez: Do not waver in your commitment to seeing a truly automated 2010 elections. It will not be an easy transition, but it will be worth it.

How about you guys?  Any election concerns and issues that you want to raise especially to the COMELEC?  Do you put your trust that with this automated election for May 2010, election cheating and fraud could be effectively prevented from happening?

Image from Bagong Botante

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