Many of my friends have asked me what I thought about the Comelec’s “no bio, no boto” pronouncement. My answer to the question is as follows:
The Comelec would probably say that it does not have a choice because there is a law that mandates all voters to submit their biometric data. (Of course it was also Comelec that lobbied for the passage of the law.) I should hasten to add, however, that not implementing the law is not new to the Comelec. In both the 2010 and 2013 elections, it did not comply with many provisions of the automation law (R.A. 9369), specifically, those concerning the safeguards that would have prevented, or at least minimized cheating. Some people therefore suspect that, especially in 2013, the results could not be believed.
Information Technology (IT) practitioners — they are people in the know — are skeptical about Comelec’s declaration that it will comply with all the provisions of the law in the 2016 elections. Already, many of them backed out from the source code review activity because of the many restrictions in its implementation.
If such is the case, then the Comelec might as well not comply either with the biometrics law (R.A. 10367), especially in the face of the possible disenfranchisement of almost three million voters. It is much too severe a penalty for the voters’ non-compliance.
On the first week of December, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), was issued by the Supreme Court, on the implementation of the biometrics law. This means that the fate of those three million voters now depends on the Supreme Court. If it does not lift the TRO, then they would all be allowed to vote in May, 2016.
Those who filed the TRO refer to a provision in the Constitution that says that “no substantive requirement” shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage. Here’s what the Constitution says:
Article V Suffrage, Section 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.
Let me now explain what this biometric data requirement is about. Why is the existing Computerized Voters List insufficient? Well, basically, this requirement is part of a system that is meant to weed out the voters list of flying voters. Without biometrics, a flying voter who registers in another precinct in another city/municipality using a different name would not be caught. Or, would be difficult to catch.
On the other hand, if the Comelec had the biometric data of ALL voters, and it compares each voter’s biometrics with all the voters’ biometrics in the cities/municipalities around it, then chances are he would be caught. And if Comelec could install voter verification machines at the precincts, then those who don’t pass the verification would not be allowed to vote. There was a budget for these machines for use in May, 2016, but such budget was used instead to lease additional PCOS machines. I wonder if COA has anything to say about this.
There’s an interesting story about Comelec’s acquisition of their data capturing machines.
In the 1990s, when Namfrel still had hundreds of thousands of active volunteers, it proposed to the Comelec that it would do a house-to-house check of all voters to ensure that each voter in the list really resides in the address that he submitted. This project would effectively catch flying voters. Unfortunately, while the offer was free of charge, the Comelec did not take it up.
A few years later, the Comelec awarded to a vendor a P6.5 billion contract for the supply of data capturing machines for the same purpose as described above. Three Namfrel volunteers (I was one of them) filed a case at the Supreme Court to stop the award using as a basis, the fact that Comelec could not award a contract for an amount higher than its budget. The Supreme Court stopped the award.
It was a bad project from the very start. Why should Comelec spend billions of pesos to weed out the registration list of flying voters without first doing a study to estimate how many they are. What if there were only a few hundreds, or even a few thousands of them? Would spending billions of pesos to remove them justifiable? They might not even be material in the determination of the winning candidates.
But as we know now, the Comelec has a penchant for spending billions of taxpayer money without first doing cost/benefit studies. Haay naku …