Our columnist Gus Lagman’s column the other day shocked us and many readers of The Times.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes is on record—in the transcripts of the JCOC hearings—incorrectly saying that under the Election Automation Law (RA 9369) manual counting of votes in precincts is not allowed.
This surprising declaration by the Comelec chief happened in the second hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the Automated Election System (AES) on August 28, or two weeks ago. The first hearing was on August 14.
The JCOC exists by virtue of Section 33 of RA 9369 which states: “An Oversight Committee is hereby created composed of seven members each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, …to monitor and evaluate the implementation of this Act. … The oversight committee shall conduct a mandatory review of this Act every twelve (12) months from the date of the last regular national or local elections.”
The task of the JCOC is to “conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the performance of the different AES technologies implemented [Times note: meaning to say used in Philippine elections] and shall make appropriate recommendations to Congress, in session assembled…”
The JCOC is specifically mandated to assess the Automated Election System being or have been used and to recommend that “[a]particular AES technology should no longer be utilized for being obsolete, inapplicable, inaccurate or with a defect which cannot be remedied…” The JCOC is also tasked with recommending enhancements or improvements, or recommending that “a particular AES technology is already appropriate and should be utilized fully for subsequent elections…” and to test or adopt other and newer AES technologies.
Mr. Lagman, a former Comission on Elections Commissioner, was present in both the Aug. 14 and Aug. 28 JCOC hearings. In both occasions he had the opportunity to pose a fundamental question about the poll body’s announced preference to continue using the much-criticized Smartmatic AES using the anti-transparency and untrustworthy PCOS machines.
Why spend P18 billion on PCOS, which only cuts down the election process by half a day, but removes the transparency in the counting process and impairs the protest process?
“It is, after all, the automation of the canvassing that shortens the process from six weeks down to a few days,” Mr. Lagman explained his question.
Before the first JCOC hearing ended, the presiding chairman, mindful that Mr. Lagman’s question addresses a crucial issue, directed the Comelec to prepare an official response.
At the second hearing, there was still no official Comelec respnse to Mr. Lagman’s important question. “I managed to ask the question again as the discussions were about to close,” Mr. Lagman recounts. And Comelec Chairman Brillantes, Mr. Lagman continues, “immediately said that he had a quick answer to my question. He said that R.A. 9369 will not allow manual precinct counting.”
Mr. Brillantes wrongly interprets the Automated Election Law.
Mr. Lagman and other experts have been proposing that since all the PCOS machine does is shorten the counting of votes in the precinct by half-a-day, voting should revert back to the old but improved manual method of voting. The counting of votes should also be made manually—witnessed by representatives of the contending political parties and candidates, as well as by election watchdogs and the press–and published for all to see on large tallyboards—whiteboards or blackboards. There will be paper ballots as before. The count will be verified by the Board of Elections Inspectors (BEIs). The results on the tallyboards can even be photographed by simple cellphone cameras.
Then the precinct ERs—or election returns—that have been signed by the teachers who form the BEIs would then be transmitted from the computers in the precinct to the municipal board of canvassers, and simultaneously to the national canvassing center, as well as to the authorized political parties and the election watchdog.
The electronically transmitted precinct ERs can then be quickly canvassed and the totals quickly sent electronically to the national canvassing center. This is the process that takes up to two weeks and even more when because some dagdag-bawas is being done. The fraud does not happen at the precinct level but in the canvassing.
We are shocked by Comelec Chairman Brillantes assertion. RA 9369, the Election Automation Law, only authorizes the Comelec “to use an automated election system … for the process of voting, counting of votes and canvassing/consolidation and transmittal of results of electoral exercises.” The law does not require, order or mandate the Comelec to use an AES.
There is nothing illegal or violative of RA 9369 if manual voting and then manual counting in the precincts are done in 2016.
Something is seriously wrong. Mr. Brillantes’ reply to Mr. Lagman’s question is wrong
Based on this wrong interpretation of the law, the anti-transparency PCOS machines, whose internal counting process cannot be witnessed and whose result cannot be verified by the Board of Election Inspectors, will again be used.
Then, our election results can never be trusted again.