IN automating the election system, the step in the entire process that shortens the throughput time the least, is the automation of precinct-counting. Yet, most of the Comelec’s attention has always been focused on that step. And that is the basic problem that confronts us as we aspire for an efficient, transparent, and credible election system.
As a result of this misguided attitude, the Comelec had major problems with electronic transmission and with canvassing, in both the 2010 and 2013 elections. These were not apparent to the public mainly because both the Comelec and Smartmatic kept these to themselves.
When we were still using the manual system, precinct-counting would only take 5-12 hours, out of a total throughput time that could be as long as 40 days. The rest of the time would be spent on transporting the ballot boxes from the precincts to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers (a few hours to a few days) and the canvassing or consolidation of the results (a few days to a few weeks!). The canvassing of votes, as required by law, goes through three stages – city/municipality, provincial, and national levels.
It must be mentioned that apart from taking up the most time, canvassing is also where the very infamous “dagdag-bawas” occurs. Politicians (especially those in Congress) and election lawyers, who say that bringing back manual counting at the precinct level would bring back dagdag-bawas, do not know what they are talking about! Or, they are trying to deceive the public. Let me say it again: this cheating scheme occurs in canvassing, where the numbers are already in the thousands and tens of thousands and where there are very few watchers left.
It must be mentioned, as well, that the automation of precinct-counting (using PCOS) that used to only take 5-12 hours, cost the taxpayers approximately P10 billion every election; whereas, automating canvassing (using ordinary laptops and servers) that used to take as much as 40 days, only cost the taxpayers approximately P300 million every election.
How our “wise” Comelec Commissioners, whose heads were Chairman Melo in 2010, Chairman Brillantes in 2013, and now Chairman Bautista in 2016, can make such “wise” decisions, defies common logic.
I keep explaining to the public this anomaly in the automation of our electoral processes – over and over again – because the public deserves to know whether our government officials, specifically, the Comelec Commissioners, should be admired or condemned. I leave it to the readers to decide on that.
Right after the 2010 elections, a survey was conducted to find out how our voters felt about the conduct of our first-ever automated elections. 70 percent of those surveyed were happy about it. Some, however, suspect that such was the reaction because they were happy with the result … that is, their candidate won. Much later, it was reported that 9 percent of the PCOS machines failed to transmit the precinct counts to the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers. Many ignored it because President Aquino’s lead was around five million – a lot more than the 9 percent that were not transmitted.
The mid-term elections in 2013 was another story. 23 percent of the PCOS machines failed to transmit the results of precinct-counting – that’s roughly eight million votes. Worse, more stories of “automated” cheating were exposed. What happened in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, General Tinio, Nueva Ecija, and Dinalupihan, Bataan are some of the very telling examples.
Some Smartmatic defenders say that these are isolated incidents. Perhaps … but that’s not the point. In a totally non-transparent system, which was the case in both 2010 and 2013, if suspected result-tampering can happen in one precinct, or one municipality, then it can happen in many precincts, or many municipalities. Remember, the system is computerized! And internal tampering is so easy to do.
A highly-experienced private pollster did a Metro-Manila Randomized Survey on December 2-10, 2015, just about month ago, with 687 respondents (+/- 3.74 percent at 95 percent confidence level). The question was: “Kayo ho ba ay naniniwala na ang susunod nahalalan na gagamitan ng PCOS machine ay siguradong malinis at walang maaaring dayaan na magaganap?”(Do you believe that the coming elections using PCOS machines will surely be clean and that no cheating can occur?)
The results were: Oo (Yes) – 25 percent; Hindi (No) – 24 percent; Hindi sigurado (Not sure) – 49 percent; Walang sagot (No response) – 2 percent. Only 25 percent now believe that the results will be credible. And 24 percent believe that it will not be.
This should be a major concern for the Comelec. One reason for the dismal survey results could be that the public knows that the Comelec did not implement the safety features required by law. And because of that omission, it obviously could not explain to the voting public that the system has tight controls and that it would be impossible to tamper with the results.
In comparison, Namfrel (National Citizens Movement for Free Elections), in the 10 elections where it conducted a parallel count (from the Batasan elections in 1984 to the last manual elections in 2007) would always explain to media and the political parties the entire system on how it was going to do its “quick count,” despite its unofficial standing. In fact, both media and the political parties were situated right beside where Namfrel’s processing was being conducted. That’s how transparent it was.
Shouldn’t the Comelec strive to do this now, too?