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May 11, 2010, 7:51pm


They were criticized, they were under extreme pressure, and they were almost ostracized.But in the end, the Commission on Elections (Comelec), its officials and staff had the last laugh.Doomsayers and critics were silent ' at least for now ' as their worst predictions that there would be massive cheating and failure of elections in the May 10 polls did not come to pass.'I'm smiling again. The automation is a success,' a visibly relieved and more relaxed Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said a few hours after the voting period closed and results started pouring in.'This only shows that we can pull this through. The conduct of the poll automation proves our critics wrong,' Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Monday night as he assessed the conduct of the polls. Larrazabal heads the poll body's steering committee for the Automated Election System (AES).While there were reports of frustrated voters not finding their names due to the clustering of the precincts, and irate people opting not to vote anymore because of the long queues in polling precincts, such complaints far outweigh the benefit of automation.For the first time since the country exercised its first democratic elections, winners ' and losers for that matter ' are known and proclaimed in record time this time around.Overcoming obstaclesThe road to automation was not an easy task. Delays, concerns on the preparations and logistics and questions of the system bugged the project. A week before the elections, tension rose following the glitches in the configuration of the memory cards for the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.To critics, the AES was a disaster waiting to happen.They were wrong.Pulling what some may describe a miracle, Comelec and the winning consortium, Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM), proved that clean, honest, and orderly elections can be pulled off.On election day, some 465 PCOS defective machines were reported by the poll body but Larrazabal said it was relatively small compared to the 75,882 number of machines that did not malfunction.'It's not a bad number,' said Larrazabal on the 0.6 percent malfunction rate of the PCOS machines.Just a few hours after the last precinct has closed at 7 p.m., tabulated election results in the national level ' something unheard of and impossible to happen ' were being transmitted to the consolidated canvassing system of the Comelec.At around 10 p.m., the Comelec has been reporting millions of counted votes in the presidential, vice presidential and senatorial races, marking a new page in the country's electoral history.For the time, Filipinos have a clear idea on who are leading in the race just before they call it a night.Winners and losersNacionalista Party (NP) bet Senator Manuel 'Manny' Villar has accepted defeat Tuesday morning, as more than half of the votes are transmitted to the poll body, easing tension and providing relief.Smartmatic-Asia President Cesar Flores attributed the huge voter turnout to the introduction of the voting machines.'It contributed to the higher turnout of voters. Many people were satisfied with the system. It showed the democratic sentiment of the Filipino people,' said Flores.Winning candidates in the senatorial race, which the Comelec will proclaim, are also being announced.Although results are being announced by the Comelec in the presidential and vice presidential race, only Congress, convening as the National Board of Canvassers, can officially proclaim the winners in the top two posts.The biggest winner in the first automated elections are the Filipino people who reposed their trust to a new system, after years of enduring the slow and torturous manual count.The inconvenience they had to endure in Monday's elections ' from searching their names to the long lines, not to mention the punishing humidity and heat, was all worth it to many voters.For instance, at the precinct for Barangay Almanza Dos in Las Pinas City, Rolando Velarde, a landscaper, said he was more than satisfied with the holding of the first automated elections as it marks a new beginning to ensure a clean and honest elections.'The automated elections has given us a new hope for a cleaner elections in the future as long as we remain vigilant in safeguarding the sanctity of this exercise,' he said.At least this time, the country is not the laughing stock of the rest of the world. Filipinos have something new to be proud of.