RATING their level of preparedness for the first-ever automated elections an "8", elections chairman Jose Melo confessed of being worried on the upcoming use of the 82,200 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

In a news conference Monday, Melo said that apart from the delivery of the remaining machines, there are still some problems that bother him as we near the election day.

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"In so far as holding automated elections is concerned, our confidence level is high...but there are these problems. It bothers us also," Melo said.

"I will give it an eight (from a scale of 1 to 10) but I'm very confident that there will be automated elections. Now, there maybe some problems which we cannot really predict all the time. There maybe some cases where there maybe some hitches here and there," he added.

Melo also admitted that among his dilemma include the issue on substitute candidates, printing the names of the official candidates in the ballots, and the ballot boxes to be used.

He said the law amending the provisions of substitute candidates remain pending in Congress, adding that the commission is now exploring alternative solutions for it to be able to adapt to the automated system.

Under the existing election laws, the name of the substitute candidate must be written by the voters, but Melo said this cannot be applied anymore since the automated elections do not allow it this time.

The poll chief also said they have mulled over putting extra ovals in the ballots. He, however, admitted that this might even create more confusion on the part of the voters.

According to Melo, if Congress will not resolve this problem, the poll body may opt to issue a resolution adopting the existing laws, which state that a vote for the substituted candidate will be counted in favor of the substitute.

But Melo said he regard all of these as "birth pains" in holding the first automated elections in the country.

Meantime, Melo appealed to the candidates to respect their decision on who should be allowed to run or not.

Melo said several parties have already threatened the commission that they will bring their cases to the Supreme Court if they are not allowed to run.

Melo said they target to release the final list of candidates this week, either Thursday or Friday.

On the ballot boxes, Melo said he is worried on the possibility of ballot boxes being damaged on election day.

Based on the project, it will be Smartmatic Corporation that is tasked to produce the ballot boxes to be used beneath the PCOS machines.

He said they wanted the ballot boxes to be delivered at the same time with the PCOS machines.

The winning supplier last week committed to complete the delivery of the remaining 75,000 PCOS machines one week before the February deadline of the commission.

So far, there are 7,200 machines that were delivered last week.

Meanwhile, a teacher's group lambasted the Comelec for its "slow-paced" voters' information campaign, saying a hit song popularized by a sexy dancers group was even better at informing the public about the facets of the poll automation technology than the poll body.

Benjo Basas, national president of the 30,000-strong Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) said that while Comelec officials have repeatedly stated their readiness for the automated election in May, the whole system is not prepared, and that the GMA-7 sponsored Sexbomb dancers hit "May Bilog na Hugis Itlog" is better as it has already familiarized the voters with the new technology.

Basas said that aside from the voting public, there is now an urgent need for training and orientation of all the teachers on the use of the PCOS, citing that recent surveys showed more than 60 percent of Filipinos have very little or no knowledge about the computerized poll system.

"By February, we will be busy in school tasks - review for achievement tests, accomplishment of forms, year-end activities. We may not have time for trainings because the school obligations are our priority," he said.

He said the Comelec will be training some 300,000 personnel, saying there must be a clear and comprehensive program and sufficient time for this.

"The first task is to identify who among the more than 500,000 teachers nationwide are qualified to sit as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI)," he said.

The group said that aside from the technical problems due to sluggish moves of the poll body, legal predicament might also face teachers.

According to Comelec, around 300,000 teachers or even less shall be needed to sit as BEI.

"That is almost half of more than 500,000 teachers who are mandated to work for the previous manual elections and casting their votes on the precincts where they are assigned. The problem is, those votes were not recorded in the precinct where they were registered and therefore, based on records, that voter (teacher) did not cast their votes," he said.

Two consecutive instances of such will result to the deactivation of the voter's registration and the voter will not be allowed to vote, Basas said.

He said their initial estimates showed that some 200,000 teachers may be disenfranchised this coming election.

"We therefore call on the Comelec to allow the teachers for special registration. This issue was also raised in 2004 and 2007 elections," he added.

Earlier, another teachers group also urged the Comelec not to delay anymore the training in the use of the PCOS machines to prevent chaos and other problems arising during election day.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the training of teachers on the use of the automated machines would only start on February next year though he assured the teachers they have nothing to fear about the new technology.

"They should and they have nothing to be scared off. They will be trained," he said.

On the other hand, Comelec chairman Jose Melo said the automation process will not expose the teachers to long hours of work nor to harassment by losing candidates. (MSN/AH/Sunnex)