The Advisory Council: What is its real value to Comelec?

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NELSON CELIS

Part 2
INTENSE collaboration with the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) is what the Commission on Elections (Comelec) needed so that the latter could maximize the potential capability of the former when it comes to compliance with the Automated Election System (AES) law, or RA 9369. That makes the real value of the CAC quite relevant not only to the Comelec, but also to the stakeholders and voters.

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Just to recap Part 1 of this article, it appears that the CAC had no value for the Comelec as the major CAC recommendations were bypassed or not implemented. The very basic principle behind the creation of the CAC is to tap the technical expertise of its members in information and communications technology (ICT) in support of the Comelec’s implementation of AES.

Let me just backtrack to the last paragraph of Part 1. I stated that the CAC, through its Resolution 2013-008,recommended the implementation of digital signatures for the use of the board of election Inspectors (BEIs) and board of canvassers (BOCs) in transmitting the election results electronically. A fundamental question arises as to why the CAC recommended the implementation of digital signatures for the 2013 elections. Moreover, in a report in January 2014, the CAC recommended again digital signatures for the BEIs and BOCs for the 2016 and succeeding elections using the available national public key infrastructure and not to use the machine digital signatures. Why? For the detailed answers, you may refer to my column entitled “Comelec will not comply with e-Commerce Law in 2016 elections (Last of 2 parts)” at http://www.manilatimes.net/comelec-will-not-comply-with-e-commerce-law-in-2016-elections-2/247919/

May I just quote what the then undersecretary Louie Casambre of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said during the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) Senate hearing on the AES hearing on August 6, 2015, nine months before the 2016 elections. He said, “… Actually, even in 2013 we have been working with Comelec as far as the digital signatures are concerned. I think in 2013 we issued 200,000 digital signatures. And yes, sir, the national public key infrastructure is already operational. It’s being rolled out across government…”

By the way, ICTO was transformed into the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) by RA 10844. DICT is the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the Executive Branch to plan, develop, and promote the national ICT development agenda. Since CAC is headed by the DICT, there’s no doubt about its credibility…. and even during the time when it was still the Commission on ICT up to its time as the ICTO under DOST.

Let me twist the “why” question earlier. Since the CAC is actually the technical arm of Comelec, why didn’t the latter closely collaborate with the former in coming up with the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9369? It may be recalled that for 20 years, the Comelec failed to promulgate the IRR of the AES law. And there is no penal provision written in the law if the Comelec were to fail to do it. It is stipulated in Section 37 of RA 9369 that “The Commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation and enforcement of this Act.” Let’s face it, coming up with the IRR for most of the technical provisions of the AES law, like digital signatures and source code review, would need the technical minds of the CAC. Of course, if the Comelec had difficulty in phrasing the right words for the IRR, they could have just called a meeting to discuss it with CAC. Is that too hard to organize?

Had Bautista organized a series of consultative meetings with CAC to draft the IRR when he was appointed chairman in April 2015, Comelecwould have promulgated it in May 2015! That’s a year before the 2016 elections. Perhaps, chairman Bautista may think about calling a meeting with the CAC to finally settle the longstanding issue of the Comelec’s non-compliance of the AES law viz IRR promulgation. Anyhow, it is also stipulated in Section 9 of RA 9269 that nothing in the role of the CAC or any outside intervention or influence shall be construed as an abdication or diminution of the Comelec’s authority and responsibility for the effective development, management and implementation of the AES and the law. In the long run, IRR promulgation could be Bautista’s legacy even before the conduct of the 2019 elections. That would eventually break the 20-year impasse.

Meantime, the CAC is helping the Comelec in preparing for the Technology Fair slated for July 26 to 27, 2017. The event will showcase the AES technologies that could be used for the 2019 elections. Guess what? The persistent Smartmatic is the only supplier joining as the others didn’t want to participate. Kudos to the Filipino developers, not suppliers, of PATAS and TAPAT who were encouraged to join. Else, it would be a Smartmatic only show!

(To be continued)

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