Let’s face IT! The PCOS machines ruled our voting, vote counting, and vote reporting processes!

First, the non-provision of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (Manila Times, June 25, 2014, https://www.manilatimes.net/pcos-missing-vvpat/106519/) is like telling the voter, “You need not know how the PCOS interpreted your ballot and how it counted your votes.”

Second, cases of ballot rejection by the PCOS (Manila Times, July 16, 2014, https://www.manilatimes.net/pcos-rejected-ballots/111760/) resulted in the disenfranchisement of some voters even after the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) had cleared them to vote.

Third, the PCOS machines were programmed to take over the critical function of authenticating the election return, a function that properly belongs to the human BEI, with the implementation of machine digital signature.

Smartmatic-supplied PCOS machines have ruled our elections! We must not allow this to continue!

The Election Automation Law, Republic Act No. 9369 (RA9369) states: “[T]he election returns transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as basis for the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of a candidate.”

But, in the guidelines issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in both the 2010 and 2013 elections, the BEIs were instructed not to digitally sign the election returns generated by the PCOS. Since the BEIs did not sign the election returns, then—this can be the only meaning—none of the elective officials and legislators were legitimately proclaimed!

The phrase “digitally signed” implies the performance of the act of signing. Any man on the street knows that the act of signing is performed by a person, not by a machine, and that it is a free and voluntary act.

Even as the Supreme Court, in the case of Capalla v. Comelec (GR 201112), ruled that the PCOS machine is capable of producing digitally signed transmissions, that capability generates machine digital signatures. Machine digital signatures have no place in any automated election system. Machines, after all, are not endowed with free will to perform a free and voluntary act. It must be emphasized, too, that no law in the Philippine legal firmament accords legal recognition to machine digital signatures.

What has been accorded legal recognition is electronic signature. The Electronic Commerce Act or Republic Act No. 8792 (RA8792) regards an electronic signature as the functional equivalent of a person’s handwritten signature. The framers of RA9369 intentionally incorporated RA8792 with RA9369 to serve as guide for authenticating electronically transmitted and digitally signed election returns.

The performance of the act of digital signing, of course, produces a digital signature. So, what is a digital signature? Any IT professional familiar with digital signature will attest that it is a type of electronic signature. A person’s digital signature may be generated using a procedure provided by a service provider who operates an infrastructure designed for the purpose. But before any person is enabled to digitally sign electronic documents, he must first register with the service provider and the service provider has to verify his identity. It is much like opening an account with a bank. Any potential depositor is required to present identification documents which the bank verifies. The bank will initiate the opening of the account only after conclusively establishing that the person who is applying for an account is who he claims to be.

A digital signature can protect the integrity of an electronic document. As important, the owner of the digital signature can be verified independently.

Implementing digital signing with the automated election system will be a challenging task considering its magnitude and the realities that the Comelec is confronted with. Among these realities are:

1. Election day operations involve hundreds of thousands of election workers.

2. Who and how many will actually show up on election day remains unknown until election day itself.

3. Traditionally, the Comelec deputizes teachers. As things are shaping up, the Comelec should set its sights beyond the Department of Education for potential election day workers.

4. Digital signing for national and local elections requires a robust nationwide telecommunications infrastructure. Absence of such infrastructure in some areas is a factor that must be the subject of a study.

5. A system of vetting the identities of the potential election workers must be incorporated in the implementation.

The Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) recently launched a digital signing infrastructure. At this stage of preparations, the Comelec should seek the assistance of the ICTO to devise a plan on how digital signing can best be incorporated with the automated election system, regardless of the technology that the Comelec will choose for the 2016 elections.

Let’s face IT. Digital signing must be properly implemented with the automated election system that will be used in the 2016 elections. We’ll be better off going back to manual elections than letting machines rule our elections!