By Atty. Gregorio Y. Larrazabal
Last week we discussed a short overview on the history of automated elections in the Philippines. I ended by saying that people focus too much on the system and software that they miss out on one important (albeit technical) aspect – process and procedure by the Election Management Body – Comelec in the Philippines.
Processes and procedures refer to the actual implementation of the election law. It does not matter if the electoral exercise is for the barangay elections, which is manual, or national elections, which is mandated to be automated.
Whether or not a new Automated Elections System (or machines) will be used in the 2022 presidential election, several activities have to be undertaken by the Comelec. Among many things:
The project initialization and setting up of the Project Management Office.
Preparation of Specifications/Terms of Reference of items for bidding.
Composition of the Bids and Awards Committee/s.
Bidding of goods and services; election supplies and forms.
Source Code review by an International Certification Entity.
Local Source Code review.
Testing of the software and hardware.
Preparation of the General Instructions for the Electoral Board and the various Boards of Canvassers.
Preparation of the manual for the various machines used in the elections, including the Contingency Manual.
Creating the NTSC and customization of the support system.
Determination and pinpointing of Data Centers and transmission facilities, and installation of the same.
Pre-LAT (Logic Accuracy Test) of machines, system, ballot configuration.
Deployment of AES equipment which includes the transmission equipment, counting machines, official ballots and accountable forms, delivery of non-accountable forms and supplies.
Training of members of the Electoral Boards, Boards of Canvassers, Technical-Support, Random Manual Audit members, etc.
Sounds tedious, right? But the list of activities above is only a portion of the multifarious activities that need to be done, some time-dependent, and may adversely affect the conduct of the elections. For example, while the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy is stipulated in the law, Comelec has to fast-track the resolution of Petitions for Cancellation of Certificate of Candidacy of candidates, which includes declaration of individuals as nuisance candidates.
It is only when all petitions are resolved can the Comelec come out with the official list of candidates which in turn is the basis for the configuration of the official ballot for use in the printing of the same. Clearly, a delay in any of these activities will have a domino effect on the other important ones.
The finalization of the list of voters as confirmed by the respective Election Registration Boards is likewise crucial as it is the basis for the project of precincts. The project of precincts is used to determine the number of clustered precincts to function in the elections. Without the voters list finalized, the allocation of supplies which include the official ballots, pens, manning table of personnel to serve as Electoral Board, etc., cannot proceed.
The just concluded elections has saddled the Comelec with issues to be resolved. With the next elections less than three years away and with the statement of President Duterte recommending to Comelec not to involve Smartmatic in future elections. There is a sense of urgency to address the issues that plagued the 2019 elections. The why’s have to be thoroughly discussed. It’s not a simple issue of winners and losers. It boils down to upholding the integrity of the automation and ensuring that we can trust what is to come in 2022.