If the national and local elections in 2019 would still be automated, there’s still hope for a real transparent, accurate and secure elections using Filipino-developed automated counting and canvassing system. The Automated Election System (AES) Watch has been supporting two (2) Filipino-made election systems right after the 2010 elections. These are the Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pp10IeYMeIw,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odhW0yzZt1s) and TrAnsPArenT Election System (TAPAT:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8zbu8Wcbyc), which are far, far superior than the Venezuelan-made Vote Counting Machine (VCM) or Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.
As early as 2009, AES Watch had forewarned Comelec officials about the risks of Smartmatic’s solution using PCOS machines. They didn’t listen and we had the first election catastrophe in 2010. Because of this first ill-fated AES experience, AES Watch launched the Filipino Information Technology for Elections (FIT4E) in a conference five years ago, June 2011, at the University of the Philippines. Former Chairman Sixto Brillantes, who was the guest of honor then, fully supported the FIT4E.
The FIT4E aims to crystallize, organize and systematize efforts of a broad network of civil society organizations, citizens’ election watch groups, IT scientists and practitioners, research institutions, professional organizations, government agencies, private entities and concerned individuals who have the mutual goal of protecting the most basic right of citizens, that is, the right to vote through the use of the latest advances in information technology (IT) as developed by local IT experts. In simple terms, to come up with a voter-friendly, efficient, secured and auditable automated voting system that will reflect the true voice of the Filipino electorate.
Did Brillantes really support FIT4E? Nope! He put down the very first FIT4E project; that is, the Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS) developed mainly by the IT people of Comelec with the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).The CCS project was spearheaded by former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman. Aside from being compliant with Republic Act 9369 (i.e., AES law), the said project was finished in a matter of a few months at minimal cost. The Comelec En Banc (CEB) initially approved it and nobody resisted the in-house CCS development. Upon completion, Lagman presented CCS to the CEB for final approval of its use in 2013 midterm elections. Unfortunately, he was voted out in favor of not using it. Why???
The subsequent FIT4E projects, the PATaS and TAPAT, were finally given chances in the mock elections last year through the leadership of the incumbent Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista. The PATaS, which was led by Lagman et al., was successfully demonstrated in Bacoor National High School on June 27, 2015. However, Bautista aired their concerns about PATaS in a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing on Aug. 6, 2016.
He said, “After deliberation, the Comelec felt that the hybrid system was not appropriate for use in the 2016 elections because…Number one was cost…the system will cost around 25 to 36 billion pesos…various operational and logistical challenge related to manual elections, especially the continuing use of the “tara” and the manual counting…the laptop screen was different from what was appearing in the projection screen…certain members of Congress have expressed apprehension in respect of the legality of the PATaS system…” Yet, AES Watch analysis was that Comelec’s findings were baseless, especially their cost computation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlpjfqljJBs).
On the same JCOC hearing, Bautista remarked, “Insofar as the TAPAT System is concerned, we were invited to witness the demonstration at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila in July, myself and Commissioner Guanzon attended this demonstration. I think we have publicly stated that we think that this system has promise and that we will look into it. Except that again given time constraints for the 2016 elections, I don’t think that we can meaningfully consider TAPAT. But as I said, put it on record, for subsequent elections, we will look into TAPAT.” Sen. Koko Pimentel, JCOC Chairman for the Senate asked, “For the record, Chairman (Bautista), you are not raising the legal doubt as to TAPAT, ‘no?” Bautista replied, “No, we have not.” Nonetheless, TAPAT was not given a chance to be used in the 2016 elections, even for some pilot sites.
Further, Sen. Pimentel added, “In the name of the JCOC, we will make the request for DOST and Comelec to pursue—to study the TAPAT system’s applicability for future Philippine elections…” On the other hand, Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, JCOC Chairman for the Lower House mused, “I talked to Mr. Casiño and Usec Casambre. DOST is most willing to provide some level of funding research and development to further develop the system, TAPAT system, but the Comelec has to, of course, write the good secretary or the DOST to provide the funding that they might need to pursue and develop further the system.”
Let’s face IT, JCOC and DOST support the Filipino-developed TAPAT system, while Comelec sees it to be a promising technology in the next elections. For AES Watch, a possible combination of PATAS and TAPAT may be more beneficial, depending on a particular area. In the next JCOC hearing under President Duterte, the Department of Information & Communications Technology (DICT), which was created under RA 10844 and formerly called the Information & Communications Technology Office of the DOST, should already be given the authority to take over in making a decision on what technology to use in the next midterm elections in 2019. That means, let’s leave the technical matters to DICT and make Comelec focus on compliance with RA 9369, come up with the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9369, and draft guidelines and procedures in streamlining counting and canvassing processes.