With the appointment of Presidential Commission on Good Government Chairman Andres Bautista to head the Commission on Elections, part of the April 9 column, “The most important national issue,” is republished for the Comelec chair.
But first, an aside about the appointments of Bautista and new commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Sheriff Abas. The papers are dated April 28, six days before Congress reconvened on May 4, making them ad interim appointments with immediate effect, though appointees still require confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. But nominations made while the legislature is in session would need CA confirmation before nominees can serve.
All well and good, except that it is the Aquino administration’s position that appointments are not affirmed until appointees are sworn in, since designations are voided if those designated do not assume positions by taking oaths of office.
With that thinking, President Benigno Aquino 3rd scrapped his predecessor’s alleged “midnight appointments” issued before the 2010 election ban, but whose appointees took their oaths of office after the prohibition started.
Now, Bautista, Guanzon and Abas were sworn in on May 4 — the day Congress reopened. Thus, by Aquino’s legal argument, the new Comelec appointments were affirmed only on the day lawmakers reconvened. Hence, nominees need CA confirmation before they take office.
But let not that fine legal point bother 1990 Ateneo law valedictorian, 1993 bar topnotcher, Harvard Master of Laws graduate, longtime Far Eastern University law dean and former Kuok Philippines CEO Bautista and his fellow appointees. As the stalled pork barrel probe shows, the Aquino administration selectively applies the law.
So let’s get cracking on the truly monumental issue facing Comelec and the Filipino people: whether to use Precinct Count Optical System again despite anomalies and the absence of basic safeguards in two past elections. From the April 9 column:
The problem is transparency
The Commission on Elections and its citizens arm, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, insist PCOS [Precinct Count Optical System vote counting and canvassing] works. They are now conducting talks for PPCRV groups in diocesan centers to address issues raised by critics. At the recent Cubao diocese session, attended by this writer, no less than PPCRV Chairperson Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, and Ateneo de Manila University computer science professor and Comelec adviser John Paul Vergara argued for PCOS.
Information technology experts like Philippine Computer Society president Edmundo Casiño and University of the Philippines president Alfredo Pascual, along with seasoned columnists, including Jarius Bondoc, Bobit Avila and Professor Rene Azurin, have detailed PCOS problems.
These failings include: dispensing with digital signatures required by law and needed to verify transmitted election results, failure to adequately review source codes, use of rewritable memory chips instead of write-only cards required by law, and random manual audits that did not follow procedures. In 2013, precincts subject to RMA were announced three days ahead, alerting any fraudsters to avoid those sites.
So who’s right — Comelec and PPCRV or PCOS opponents? In fact, few Filipinos have the technical knowledge to understand and assess the highly technical arguments for or against the system, or even to see for themselves how it actually works. And that’s exactly the problem with PCOS: ordinary citizens cannot see for themselves whether and how their votes are counted and canvassed. We just have to take it all on faith.
This is truly “hocus-PCOS” — results come out like magic with the public never knowing how exactly it happens. And as noted, hardly anyone can verify whether the system actually works, or validate the arguments supporting or opposing it.
Such a lack of basic transparency led Germany’s Federal Supreme Court to ban the country’s own automated election system in 2009, four years after its first use. Despite that nation’s advanced technological capabilities and educational levels, its justices decided that the computerized process did not satisfy the requirement that elections be public and transparent to ordinary citizens.
Believing vs. seeing
The most important national issue then is this: Do we again cling to the belief that the machines are counting votes and transmitting results properly, with no way of verifying that for ourselves and despite countless safeguards set aside? Or do we insist on our constitutional right to vote and have our vote counted and canvassed in a manner we can check for ourselves?
If we pick the latter option of full vote canvassing transparency, there is thankfully a system that can do just that, and at far less cost than PCOS.
Computer expert and former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman and other suffrage advocates have long urged keeping precinct counts manual and open to public scrutiny, but using electronic means to transmit results and make them accessible to the public. That involves both sending data via the Internet and posting scanned copies of verified election returns online. Then everyone can check if the votes tallied at canvassing centers match the election returns seen online.
This simple system — manual count and online transmission and posting, all subject to public monitoring and checking — would address the source of nearly all election fraud — “dagdag-bawas” in the transmission and canvassing of results — while keeping the entire process from ballot tabulation to final canvassing open to all eyes, expert or not. All for [the updated cost of P4 billion]or so, not the tens of billions spent on PCOS.” (The excerpt ends.)
The article said the system used in 2016 would decide the future of Philippine democracy. It may also affect the appointments of Bautista, Guanzon and Abas. If they block PCOS, they may encounter rough sailing in the CA, maybe even questions about having taken their oaths of office when Congress resumed sessions.
Still, let’s hope Bautista, Guanzon and Abas stand with the people in ensuring public transparency and control of elections for ordinary citizens. So help them God.