Until now, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) cannot accept the reality that it has not complied with all the provisions of the AES law or RA 9369. Comelec officials believe that they handled the 2016 national and local elections (NLEs) successfully and that their AES provider, Smartmatic, did well.
The Comelec is still blinded and that was manifested in the recent forum held at the De La Salle University last Friday. Why blinded? From former Chairmen Melo and Brillantes to Chairman Bautista, the true interpretation of the AES Law had not been laid down and they consequently failed to promulgate its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). In the said forum, Chairman Bautista’s presentation regarding their self-assessment of the 2016 NLEs turned out to be deceiving.
They presented that their objectives for 2016 NLEs were attained; that is, we had credible elections and we had enhanced voting experience. To reach those objectives, Comelec’s general strategy was ICE TEA – Inspire the Comelec workforce, Consult stakeholders (and critics), Engage, be Transparent, Efficient and Accountable in the way we do things. But how would Comelec consider the implementation of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) as one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) when in fact Comelec officials didn’t want it in the first place? There was no VVPAT in 2010 and 2013 and they planned not to have it in 2016! When Sen. Dick Gordon filed at the Supreme Court a petition for mandamus to compel the Comelec to issue VVPAT, Chairman Bautista and the Solicitor General defended against its implementation. Fortunately in March, the SC favored the petition.
Then suddenly, several weeks before the 2016 NLEs, VVPAT became part of Comelec’s KPIs. Wow! That’s amazing. It must be understood that when a certain institution would come up with a strategic plan, whether short-term, mid-term or long-term, KPIs are brainstormed. KPIs are fundamentally linked to strategic objectives and are used to assess whether, say, the Comelec is on or off target as it works towards those objectives. When the SC ordered Comelec to issue VVPAT for the 2016 NLEs, it was not brainstormed! It was mandated!
Anyhow, after Chairman Bautista’s presentation, the following were the critiques:
• Aside from the authorized dedicated direct line to receive election results from the precincts, the transparency server had unwanted wireless connectivity as per Ms. Maricor Akol of NAMFREL. Hence, it is vulnerable to data manipulation. Read related link at http://www.manilatimes.net/transparency-and-meet-me-room-servers/278862/
• The machine digital signatures in the past three NLEs for the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) were not compliant with the AES Law, e-Commerce Law and the Supreme Court’s Rules on Electronic Evidence. By the way, Comelec did not mention anything about the machine digital signatures for the Board of Canvassers (BOCs).
It was further pointed out that the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) of the Department of Science and Technology offered Comelec the use of its compliant digital signatures for the 2013 and 2016 NLEs. The Comelec refused to accept ICTO’s offer for the illogical reason that it would encounter problems if some BEIs or BOCs don’t show up during election day.
ICTO, which is now called the Department of Information and Communications Technology or DICT, is the head of Comelec’s Advisory Council (CAC). You may be wondering why the Comelec would refuse CAC’s offer when in fact it is its own technical advisory arm. Not only that, the Comelec also defied the CAC when it recommended after the 2010 NLEs not to use the PCOS machines in 2013. If the CAC’s recommendations were not seriously considered at all, it would appear that the Comelec lawyers are far better than the scientists of ICTO or DICT when it comes to technical matters. But come to think of it, Comelec didn’t bother to promulgate the IRR of RA 9369. Are the Comelec lawyers waiting for the scientists from DICT to craft the IRR? Why not?
The Comelec boasted that the source code review (SCR) preparation for 2016 NLEs was seven months compared to one month before 2010 and four days before 2013 NLEs. What Chairman Bautista missed was that the AES Law prescribes that the SCR activity should be finished three months before the NLEs. They started the SCR in October 2015 and he thought that it is still legal to have the SCR beyond February 9, 2016. In effect, the Comelec only gave the dedicated team of Dr. Pablo Manalastas et al. to do the review for four months and not actually seven months.
Further, Dr. Manalastas lamented that the SCR of the Vote Counting Machines and other modules of the AES was a big hurdle to his team, Philippine Linux Users Group, as the evaluation process had so many limitations. Moreover, he and his team didn’t even get a simple “Thank You” after the SCR exercise. That caught the Comelec flat-footed! After a realization at that very moment, the Comelec uttered, “Thank you, Dr. Manalastas!” Ooops!
Let’s face it! If Comelec wants a normal strategic plan for 2017 to 2022, key result areas and KPIs must be brainstormed and clearly understood.