President  Duterte speaks out on elections

e-cartoon-jun-4-2019Congress passed RA 9369 in 2007 calling for automated elections   and the Commission  on Elections (Comelec)  tried the new system in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2008. Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE)  machines  using a touch-screen system were used  in Maguindanao. Paper-based  Optical Scan Machines (OSC) were  used in the other ARMM provinces; these were found to be easier to audit.

Thus in the national elections of 2010, paper-based automated elections were held all over the country and  the new system was hailed for the swiftness with which the results were  announced. Winning local officials were known at the end of election day;  national winners were known within a few days.

But the new system was criticized for lack of transparency, for the results were simply spewed out within seconds by machines at the end of the voting day. There was no counting  process  that the people could witness as before.  It is this lack of  transparency  that has caused some countries, notably Germany and Netherlands, to retain  manual  elections.

There was another issue raised in Philippine elections.  A  foreign  company, Smartmatic, won the bidding to provide the computerized counting machines. In the digital world, Smartmatic retained a great deal  of control over its machines and this was seen by critics as  foreign control over Philippine elections.  Inevitably,   many losing candidates claimed  they were cheated and  Smartmatic’s machines were blamed.

Last Thursday,  President  Duterte stepped into the picture.   He was meeting with members of the Filipino community in Japan when he said:  “I would like to advise Comelec now…. Dispose of that  Smartmatic  and look for a new one that is free of fraud.” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo  said the President was responding  to concerns raised by many quarters over the technical glitches – including a seven-hour delay in reporting results – on election  night last May 13.

There are legal problems, as pointed out   by Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, but  it  is  possible to search for a  new provider in the next public bidding for succeeding elections.  The  Comelec has  maintained its tie-up with Smartmatic all these years  despite  repeated attacks, but this time, it is the President  speaking out on the issue.

 There have been many proposals and suggestions to improve our election system, including combining manual counting in the precincts with automated transmission of results and canvassing in city and centers. This will  bring  back the intense community interest seen  in previous precinct counts. More important,  it will provide openly counted  precinct  numbers that can be checked against the automated totals.

This will not add more than a few hours to the election process but it will add immeasurably to the  local  community spirit and to the overall confidence of voters and candidates in the final election results.  The Comelec  can make  it  happen  now that President Duterte has called  for a new provider of voting machines with the overall goal of clean elections  and  a minimum  of protests.