THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has joined mounting calls for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to restore four major security features that were removed from the vote counting machines (VCMs) during the 2010 and 2013 polls, which were marked by widespread allegations of electoral fraud.
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas on Thursday said the Comelec should diligently implement the security measures mandated by the Automated Election Law to ensure credible and honest elections in 2016.
“The credibility of the elections and the stability of our democracy is at risk if the security and sanctity of the every ballot is compromised,” Villegas added in a pastoral statement.
Earlier, the Reform Philippines Coalition (RPC), a broad alliance of Church people, lawyers and active and retired military, police and government officials, among others, also made a similar call, saying that without the security features the 2016 elections would be an exercise in futility and would even be worse than the alleged fraud and manipulation committed in the 2010 and 2013 elections.
The security features stipulated by Republic Act (RA) 939 or the Automated Election Law are the ballot verification or ultra violet detectors, the source code review, the voter verified paper audit trail and the digital signature.
RPC spokesman Glenn Chong explained that the digital signature feature is intended to authenticate all transmitted election results and prevent the transmission of fake election results via authorized network intrusion or hacking, while the voter verified paper audit tail would assure the voter that his votes had been correctly read and counted by the voting machines.
The source code review is intended to also ensure the integrity and credibility of the automated election system by subjecting its entire source code to independent review, testing and forensic examination.
According to Chong, the Comelec and election provider Smartmatic have repeatedly refused to address the calls despite clear and uncontroverted evidence they have presented and the filing of numerous complaints before the Supreme Court (SC), the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the AES, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman and the Philippine National Police by different civil society groups and personalities over the course of five years since 2010.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said the Comelec would reactivate three of the four security features of the VCMs.
“All those features are there but as to whether we will enable the features, chances are [we will reactivate]at least three out of four,” Bautista added.
Bautista admitted that the Comelec was at fault for the much criticized source code review in 2013, which happened a week before the polls, but said under the commission at present, the basic source code review was opened seven months before the 2016 polls.
The source code is basically an independent auditor to ensure that the system is running free from possible malicious lines or malware designed to manipulate results of the elections.
As to the digital signature, Bautista said they were looking to introduce human signatures, “not just one but three signatures of BEIs [Board of Election Inspectors]” even as he cited a Supreme Court ruling that a machine signature will do.
He explained that of the four security features, only the verified paper audit trail has an issue even as he pointed out that the High Court has upheld the poll body on the issue in the Capalla vs. Comelec case.
Bautista said they would also consult election stakeholders on the pros and cons of reactivating the safety features of the counting machines.
“The big pro is transparency which we all like. But there are issues on time and motion, there are issues on vote buying, there are issues on the machine’s consistency in reading the votes depending on the level of shading and potential issues on credibility,” he added.
Bautista said the Comelec would put the VCM machines to public scrutiny early next year.