THE many hours millions of Filipino voters spent lining up at various Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices nationwide to have their biometrics taken turned out to be a big waste of time after Comelec chair Andres Bautista announced that the poll body would still use the old method of validating voters’ identities next year.
Bautista said a hard copy of the voters’ list would be used in the precincts during the 2016 polls. This means poll officials would literally have to open a big book of names to check whether a person is indeed registered as a voter and whether he or she is the same person in the voters’ list.
According to the Comelec, the voter verification system (VVS), which would have included an electronic scanner for validating fingerprints, is a want, not a need in the upcoming polls. Bautista claims the VVS machine may suffer from technical problems, which can delay the voting. With only one day allotted for voting, Bautista says the voting process should be completed quickly.
But a critic, lawyer Glenn Chong, disputes Bautista’s claims. Chong says Bautista realigned P727-million meant for the purchase of VVS units and the conduct of the Sangguniang Kabataan elections, to the lease of the PCOS machines for next year’s elections.
If we remember it right, biometrics registration was mandated by Republic Act 10367 or the Mandatory Biometrics Registration Act of 2013 in order to cleanse the voters’ list of flying voters and curb the potential for fraud.
Comelec’s biometrics project dubbed “No-Bio, No-Boto,” which was the subject of a multi-million peso public relations campaign, was welcomed by Filipino voters. It was seen by many as an important upgrade of our election process and another layer to protect our votes. Now here comes the Comelec suddenly junking our biometric data for the good old pen-and-paper verification.
If the poll body wasn’t going to use our biometric information anyway, why did it have to set an October 31 deadline? Why not continue the registration and updating of voter information until January 10, 2016, or 120 days before the regular elections?
At any rate, as Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon alleged in his lawsuit against the poll body, “the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Comelec cannot prematurely terminate the continuing registration of voters before the prohibitive period of election registration defined under the law – 120 days before the regular elections.”
Besides, the whole idea behind the biometrics registration is to use the digitized voter information in a biometric-enabled balloting to ensure a fraud-free election.
Without a biometric-enabled voting in the 2016 polls, the “No Bio-No Boto” campaign was not only a waste of taxpayer money, it was also an unforgivable waste of people’s time and expectations. It also means the Comelec cannot guarantee a clean, fair and accurate election in 2016.
We’re sure this is not the legacy that Comelec chair Andres Bautista would want to leave behind.
Bautista – an Ateneo Law School valedictorian, a Harvard Law School alumnus, and a former dean of the Far Eastern University law school – is known to be a straight shooter. During his stints as country head of multinational companies and a partner in a big international law firm, Bautista has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense guy. Which is why his decision to do away with a dependable voter verification process for the 2016 polls is quite baffling.
Around the world, biometric systems are being employed to ensure fair and credible elections. In Brazil, even their consulates are being provided with fingerprint scanners to be used for elections. In Cambodia, biometrics is being piloted in each province ahead of its national elections next year.
Even Kyrgyzstan, a newly-independent former Soviet republic less developed than the Philippines, already had its first biometrics-enabled elections last month. There, voters were given paper ballots only after undergoing an electronic fingerprint check. As election officials processed the voter’s biometric data using the machines, an image of the voter appeared on the monitor. If the biometric voting machine detects any irregularities, its screen would flash red to alert poll monitors.
The Philippines, however, has scrapped biometric voter authentication in favor of a manual verification process that has, for the longest time, enabled crooked politicians to rig the elections. This is especially true in the remote areas of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao – the favorite playground of “dagdag bawas” operators.
Without a biometric voter verification setup, Comelec cannot claim that our election system is truly automated – or transparent, fair, credible and accurate. The integrity of all electoral systems starts with ensuring that the voter is actually qualified to cast his or her ballot. Otherwise, automation means we’ve merely computerized the counting and transmission of votes. Whose votes? That’s the $64 question.
Perhaps this explains why not a few Filipinos are imputing a more sinister motive to Comelec’s move to ditch this important electoral safeguard. They ask: Is this part of a scheme to favor the ruling Liberal Party? If Comelec cannot ensure something as basic as voter integrity, can we really bet on the poll body to hold a clean, accurate and credible election?