Are you one of the registered voters who experienced what Chairman Bautista had gone through when the Quezon City barangay chairman informed him by a letter that he lacked biometrics! Would you believe that there are about 1.9 million voters’ records with corrupted biometrics data and that about 1,728 damaged records could not be retrieved anymore?
Were you outraged to be told by Comelec’s online Precinct Finder advised that your registration was “deactivated due to failure to vote in two consecutive regular elections” although you actually voted in the past two national and local elections (NLEs)?
All of these are just some of the cases hinged on the Comelec’s failure to institute its strategy for 2011 to 2016 (COMSTRAT 1116).
Section 1 of Republic Act (RA) No. 10367 of 2013, “An Act Providing For Mandatory Biometrics Voter Registration,” states that it is the policy of the State to establish a clean, complete, permanent and updated list of voters through the adoption of biometric technology. Hence, Section 3 specifies that registered voters (i.e. those who names and records are stored in the Voter Registration System or VRS) whose biometrics (e.g., digital photograph, fingerprint and signature) have not been captured shall submit themselves for validation. Comelec then has the power either to deactivate the registered voter from the corresponding precinct book of voters for failure to comply with the validation process or to reinstate a deactivated voter.
Further, RA 10367 stipulates that the database generated by biometric registration shall be secured by the Commission and shall not be used, under any circumstance, for any purpose other than for electoral exercises. Nonetheless, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 10367 regarding database security does not explain how to secure the database! The IRR simply copied verbatim what is stated in the law. Still, at least, there’s an IRR for RA 10367 that could be further improved! Unlike the automated election law or RA 9369, Comelec has not promulgated its IRR.
By the way, it is unfortunate that the election officers (EOs) who submitted corrupted biometric files (e.g., unclear pictures or fingerprints) would face administrative cases if they fail to secure backup copy as per Comelec directive. That’s harsh! Comelec should identify what could have caused the corruption of those millions of data.
Was it due to lack of training of the EOs? Was it because of the faulty Voter Registration Machine? Was there a close coordination between the IT Department and the EOs as to the proper submission of the biometrics data? What is the role of the IT Department in securing the biometrics databases in the field offices and the central office? How should the databases be secured? Who should check that the databases are intact and up-to-date? Is there a backup of the central database?
It is interesting to note that the Voter Registration and Identification System (VRIS) project was initiated in the late 90s. After the Photokina case in 2000, VRIS slowly evolved to what it is now called, the VRS. The VRS appears to be effective as it has detected double/multiple voter registrations. Then even before the October 31, 2015 deadline of the “No Bio, No Boto” campaign, the poll body was able to detect around 3 million records without biometrics that should be delisted. Bottom line, the database of registered voters, together with corresponding biometrics data, became more credible as compared to the voters list fifteen years ago.
The VRS is almost a perfect registration system until Comelec decided not to use the Voter Verification System (VVS) for May 9, 2016 elections (NLEs). Instead, Comelec will use manual verification of a voter before s/he is allowed to vote. Main reason — Comelec said that VVS is just a “Want” and not a “Need!” But in reality, the VVS budget of P727 million was realigned this year in favor of the PCOS machines of Smartmatic.
So what’s the use of the biometrics in 2016 when there’s no VVS? NONE! The poll body just pushed the registered voters to comply with RA 10367 without realizing any benefit at all. Comelec should, therefore, amend RA 10367 to include the usage of VVS.
Regarding the delisting of registered voters, Comelec has to be very careful in performing it as there had been inaccurate deactivations. That means, Comelec has to come up with a systematic approach in delisting to avoid such embarrassing process and unjustly disenfranchising affected voters in the end.
To top it all, managing a huge number of 54.6 million voters for the 2016 NLEs in the VRS database entails a well-organized information technology (IT) governance in place. This can be achieved by strengthening Comelec’s strategic pillars in COMSTRAT 1116 that are specifically related to election administration, voter education, legal policy and framework, field office empowerment, professional competency, technological capability, integrity and accountability, and linkages with external stakeholders.
Every single error should not be considered an isolated case but rather treated as a critical issue. All election-related systems (i.e., from registration, voting, counting, to canvassing) should be dealt with as if each voter’s record is as important as a bank depositor. Imagine one depositor complaining to a bank that his account has been debited without his knowledge! What would be the reaction of the bank?
Of course, the bank would settle the problem as quickly as possible to show to the depositor that s/he is very important to them. Will Comelec do the same for each voter?