EVEN with the automation of the May 10 polls, the gadgets that were supposed to be used in the electronic transmission of election results in the 2004 polls cannot be used this year, and will remain a waste.

Commission on Elections 7 (Comelec) officials said the very small aperture terminals (VSAT) cannot be used on May 10 since the Supreme Court ruling that declared its use illegal still stands.

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The National Government spent P400 million in 2004 for the purchase of the VSATs that were distributed to poll offices across the country. Seven of them are lying idle at the Cebu City Comelec office.

Aside from the VSATs, which are gadgets similar to a satellite dish, 11 computers that were considered high-end in 2004 and cable wires were also delivered to the poll offices.

In Cebu City, the satellite dishes and wires have been gathering dust in the storage area, along with the ballot boxes that will also not be used in the May 10 election.

But in other towns and cities, Regional Election Director Ray Rene Buac said that election officers have found a use for it, such as decorative roofing.

With the onset of the El Niño, it may also be used to store water or as basins for washing clothes, another poll official joked.

“Dili kay mausik siya, nausik na gyud. We may be having poll automation this year and much as we want to use the equipment, there is a legal problem because its use is prohibited by the Supreme Court. That’s why it was not used in 2004 and 2007, and wala na sad tingali chance magamit this year,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

Besides, he said, the gadgets are already obsolete and may not be compatible with the Precinct Count Optical Scanners (PCOS) that will be used in the May 10 automated polls.

On May 10, results will be transmitted from the PCOS in the poll precincts to the canvassing centers using telecommunications signals or through the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) for areas that have no signals.

Buac said that in far-flung areas that might not have cellphone signals, there is a proposal to use VSATs for the transmission of the election results.

He added, though, that he is not sure if the ones bought in 2004 can be used, considering the SC decision and the present condition of the equipment.

“There is a proposal to use VSATs in the municipal canvassing in some provinces but I’m not sure if they will use the unused ones. Officials in Manila are still discussing it, but there is still no resolution from the en banc. The procedure is to ask for authority from the Supreme Court first,” he said.

Even if the VSATs are not properties of the Comelec, he said the election officers were mandated to be responsible for their safekeeping.

Lawyer Edwin Cadungog, city election officer for the south district, said the gadgets are now obsolete and are likely to remain unused.

“There is no other purpose for it. It’s better off used as an artificial coral reef or decoration. Sayang gyud ang kwarta,” he lamented.

Comelec bought the transmission machines in April 2004 to be used for its “very quick” count.

But four days before the 2004 election, the Supreme Court prevented Comelec from conducting its electronic quick count project and using the VSATs.

The SC issued a status quo order that time following a petition from lawyer Sixto Brillantes, who questioned the poll body’s use of electronic machines even after the court had ruled against the computerized counting and canvassing of votes then.

They argued that a quick count will only create “trending” and confusion in the polls. (LCR)