Claudette Guevara, Deputy Executive Director for Programs of the Stratbase ADR Institute and Secretary General of Democracy Watch Philippines
Our nation had taken great strides towards the improvement of our elections by shifting to automation. Arguably, traditional modes of electoral cheating and electoral violence have been prevented and minimized since its implementation. This time, Philippine democracy has been given importance through the delivery of faster election results. We have reached the stage wherein we have finally adjusted from the horrors of manual counting, tallying, and canvassing that will only resurface the evils that our society relates too well — electoral cheating and violence, where transitions of leaders will cause instability and questionable legitimacy.
We are aware that the voter participation in the Philippines have been improved with more than forty-four million Filipinos trooping to their polling precincts during the 2016 elections. This is a testament to the vigor of our democracy.
In less than a few hours after the close of the polls, results of the 2016 elections were accepted by the people and a new administration was elected. We also witnessed the Comelec’s improvement in the past years, and its efforts to oversee and protect the integrity and credibility of the whole electoral process. They were able to proclaim 99% of the elective positions ten days after the elections. Interestingly, the automation of our elections has also brought a new era to Philippine politics — the act of conceding by losing candidates immediately after the elections. Gone were the days of multitudes of election protests when every other loser claimed to be cheated attesting to the trust and belief in the integrity of the elections. The system was widely accepted and perceived to be credible not only locally, but also in the international arena. Foreign observers and members of the foreign dignitaries and governments all around the world were also impressed with the fast transmission of election results, which resulted to lesser political instability, and higher confidence in the process.
However, despite these gains, critics and some groups still sought to cast doubt on the integrity of the improved electoral exercise by questioning the whole process itself. They air their various concerns and trust issues, with allegations that question the credibility and integrity of the previous elections. One cannot understand their motivations.
While they do not question the election results in most of the positions voted upon during the 2016 elections, some critics refuse to accept the results on one single elective position and are casting doubt on the whole electoral process. Critics have yet to produce valid and verifiable facts to their allegations despite producing or presenting documents and their so-called pieces of expositions that are so far just selected snapshots and samples and are more conjectures and innuendos.
We should all remember that even before Automated Election System Law was passed, it has undergone vigorous hurdles and challenges precisely to stop the history of massive cheating of manual elections and that the only way to change it is through an amendment. There is always a bidding process where multiple interested vendors can participate. It is a matter of knowing which is more qualified, has the capacity, track record, and within budget. We call on all who have alternatives and join the bidding process. It is for the nation’s interest that the best automated election solution is deployed.
Ultimately, the automated election system has served its purpose, tabulating results correctly and efficiently without human intervention. The automated election system has been widely accepted and perceived to be credible. There has been a tremendous decline in election-related violence since automated elections were implemented in the Philippines.
Let us now focus on the upcoming 2019 National Elections.
We call on the Comelec for its early preparations to give it time to institute protocols to ensure the integrity of the electoral process in 2019. With this, stakeholders will be given an ample opportunity to conduct a review of the source code and allow parties to use software tools to test the system.
By doing so, Comelec should get a head start in making an inventory and assessing the technical and logistical requirements needed for an orderly, efficient, and credible elections.
All these issues should translate toward a renewed citizenry who are exercising their right to vote for their leaders freely.
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