Last of 4 parts
DEMENTIA is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities caused by physical changes in the brain. According to medical doctors, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Some of the clinical symptoms involve difficulty remembering names and recent events, impaired judgment, disorientation, behavioral changes and confusion.
When it comes to compliance with the Automated Elections System (AES) Law, or RA 9369, it is a matter of public knowledge that most of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials have dementia. They forgot their obligation to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the execution and enforcement of the AES law since 1997. That’s 20 years ago! Until now, the Comelec has not given any update as to when they will inform the Congress and public concerning the IRR.
With regard to their existing information technology (IT) assets, the Comelec tends to forget its existing IT assets to the point of making them useless either after its first use or non-usage at all. Case in point was the acquisition of the P50 million worth of the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) from Smartmatic that were used in the ARMM elections in 2008.However, a different CCS was used in the 2010 elections during the time of Chairman Jose Melo and Comelec therefore spent for it without considering the ‘forgotten’ CCS used in 2008.
With the aim of using Filipino-made AES innovation, the AES Watch in 2011 launched the Filipino IT for Automated Elections (FIT4E). They remember that the then as yet unconfirmed Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes had told a FIT4E conference that the Comelec would fully support the FIT4E. Hence, former Commissioner Gus Lagman thought of internally developing a CCS for Comelec with the help of the Department of Science and Technology. His premise was that with an in-house-developed CCS, the CCS logic would not change regardless of the vote-counting technology. The CCS was finished in a matter of months in 2012, just in time for the 2013 mid-term elections. Surprisingly, the Comelec only spent P600,000 for that in-house developed CCS. However, Brillantes, who by then had been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, forgot all about the FIT4E and simply disapproved the implementation of the Comelec’s CCS in 2013.
In 2015, the AES Watch supported two Filipino-made election systems: the Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATAS) and the TrAnsPArenT Election System (TAPAT). Participated in by Comelec officials, these two innovations were presented in two separate mock elections in Bacoor and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, respectively. For both technologies, AES Watch determined that the cost of implementing PATAS and TAPAT would not exceed P5 billion as compared with the Smartmatic’s solution. Besides, there would be no logistical cost as the AES components (e.g., laptops, androids, etc.) would be delivered by the suppliers in the localities of the precincts. There would be no warehousing, repair and maintenance costs because the AES components would be donated after the elections to the Department of Education for the use of the teachers.
Unfortunately, the Comelec downplayed the potential of PATAS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odhW0yzZt1s) and TAPAT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8zbu8Wcbyc). Chairman Andres Bautista aired the commissioners’ concerns about PATAS in a joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) hearing on August 6, 2015.He said: “After deliberation, the Comelec felt that the hybrid system was not appropriate for use in the 2016 elections because…No. 1 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, the AES Watch analysis showed the Comelec’s findings to be baseless (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlpjfqljJBs).
At the same JCOC hearing, Bautista remarked: “Insofar as the TAPAT system is concerned…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.” Two years after, there’s still no action from the commission and this is already a manifestation of dementia.
With the past three national and local elections, nothing has happened in terms of compliance with RA9369. The decision made in selecting the technology used was not based on facts, figures and recommendations of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC). It’s worth remembering that the CAC suggested that the Smartmatic PCOS machines should not be used in the 2013 elections and beyond due to its inherent technical problems. But the Comelec just ignored that recommendation and instead worked on the basis of gut feel and guesstimates. Worst, the expenditures on AES implementation exponentially increased without regard for the undesirable operational cost implications.
To conclude this four-part series, one may ask, “Does it matter to Comelec how they spend our taxpayers’ money?”