Evolving election administration

Published May 17, 2022, 5:35 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

With the May 9, 2022, national and local elections now part of history, it is important to reflect on the evolution of election administration in the Philippines. Prior to 2010, the country struggled to conduct free and fair elections. Every three years, each new election cycle was marked by contested results, electoral violence, a slow vote count, and widespread distrust.

After monitoring the 2004 elections, the International Foundation for Election Systems said: “The Philippine elections are marred by allegations of cheating and fraud. This fundamentally undermines not only the credibility of election administration but also the legitimacy of the elected institutions of the state.”

The automated election system (AES) has apparently improved election administration in the country since it was first implemented in May 2010.  Vote after vote, it has enabled Filipinos to trust the elections with faster results and an accurate, transparent count. Indeed, the 2010 elections marked a turning point and from that time on, the country has consistently improved all election metrics.

Over the weekend, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) began the investigation of some 1,800 vote-counting machines (VCMs) that encountered issues during the May 9 polls, or more than double the 801 reported cases in the 2016 elections. This came after President Rodrigo Duterte’s call on the Comelec to probe the defective VCMs and secure digital or SD cards in order to dispel doubts about the integrity of the poll results.

“The more substantial story is the fact that over 99% of the VCMs performed flawlessly and led to highly-successful general elections.” 

A more interesting story passed by that had gone seemingly unnoticed by social media: Faced with the choice between going home or waiting for the machine to start working, voters refused to surrender their ballots to the poll workers. What this means is that voters preferred to wait as long as it was necessary until they could feed the VCMs with their marked ballots themselves. The real story here speaks of an electorate that has come to appreciate the AES.

Memories of the distant past – when voters went home without knowing if their vote would be tallied – may have played a big role. Filipinos have obviously learned their lessons, with experience as their best teacher. It is a learning curve leading to the greater efficiency of the electoral process, marking a new milestone in Philippine history.

Aside from VCM malfunctions, the coalition cited incidents of vote-buying, voter disenfranchisement, widespread disinformation on social media, and red-tagging that marred the conduct of the polls.  We are urging the Comelec to investigate these and to hold accountable those behind these incidents so people will know the truth and these irregularities will not be repeated in future elections.

Currently, the coalition is reviewing election returns (ERs) that were reported in the Comelec’s quick count. So far the review indicated that the ERs matched with those gathered at the precinct level.

Congress is scheduled to resume sessions on May 23 and sit as the national board of canvassers for the presidential and vice-presidential elections. Based on the legislative calendar, the Senate and the House of Representatives have only 12 days to finish the vote tabulation and declare the winning candidates before it adjourns on June 3.

J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee and the Editor-in-Chief of FINEX Digest. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin. #FinexPhils  www.finex.org.ph