Comelec eyes YouTube stardom to lure voters

21 04 2009

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:39:00 04/21/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Internet, Computing & Information Technology, Eleksyon 2010, Youth

MANILA, Philippines—First it was rock star Arnel Pineda. Then came child singer Charice Pempengco.

Maybe the next Pinoy YouTube sensation will be the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

With only six months left for the registration of new voters but only 10 percent of the country’s estimated 1.9 million “first-time” voters having registered, the Comelec is planning to tap the Internet to woo more registrants.

Comelec Chair Jose Melo told the congressional oversight committee on the automated elections that the Comelec was planning to use the Internet, particularly YouTube, and other media to encourage more new voters to register for the 2010 elections.

“Yes. That would help,” Melo said at the meeting attended by senators and congressmen.

Melo said the Comelec would try to come up with a media campaign plan because so far only 191,000—out of the 1.9 million new voters who just turned 18—have registered since January. The registration period ends on Oct. 31.

There are also 1.15 million old “voters” who have yet to register. The country currently has around 44 million registered voters.

Fear of disenfranchisement

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan warned that the low turnout could lead to a “massive disenfranchisement” of “first-time” voters due to a lack of information campaign by the Comelec.

“Voter registration information drive is a must to avoid massive disenfranchisement. The Comelec itself admits that only 10 percent of qualified first-time voters have registered. That Comelec has six more months to maximize,” Pangilinan said.

Besides a media plan, the Comelec will also coordinate with youth organizations and advocate groups like Youth Vote Philippines, First-Time Voters’ Network, National Union of Students of the Philippines and Task Force 2010 to encourage more voters to register.

Melo said that while the Comelec would try to woo more voters, it would also be busy ensuring that automated elections proceed in 2010.

Stumbling block

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero had questioned Comelec officials during the meeting about the procurement law’s requirement that a bidder-firm for the election automation project should be controlled by a majority of Filipinos.

He said this could run counter to the Comelec requirement that bidders should have a track record of having finished in the last three years 60 percent of a project similar to the election automation program.

Escudero said this could be a stumbling block to the automation plan since there was no Filipino firm with such a track record.

Birth pangs

Melo replied that the Comelec could require that the foreign partners of these Filipino bidders be the ones to handle the technical matters of operating the automated election machines.

“My opinion there is that the joint venture (scheme of foreign and Filipino bidders) is only a formality so that there would be a Filipino partner. However, it is not really the Filipino who will have control,” Melo said.

“That can be specified in the contract (Comelec will sign for the project). These are really the birth pangs because the system is new. We are not yet used to this and many want to stay with the status quo,” he added.

He said the Comelec would decide whether to proceed with the automation of next year’s elections after the bids for the project were opened on April 27.

“We will try to do whatever we can to push through with the automated polls, (but) if there are no bidders with acceptable bids, then we go manual,” Melo said.

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