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How committed is the Comelec?

The Reader will have to pardon yours truly for ignoring the circus that accompanied the filing of certificates of candidacy, except to voice the observation that all of a sudden, candidates whose spouses have a semblance of being “show biz” are seen dragging them out for the filing at the Commission on Elections, even though they were rarely seen together in the past. I witnessed a reelectionist senator basking in the reflected glory of his wife’s presence: The crowd was large and drooling, but it was for her, not for him. Anything to win. And the scene kept repeating itself. I hope the choice of the best candidate for a position does not get confused with the glamour of the candidate’s show biz relatives.

I was at the Comelec to interview Chair Andy Bautista about the poll body’s PiliPinas 2016 project. “Tamang Pagboto” and “Tamang Pagbilang” are snappy slogans with a lot of zing, and I wanted to find out how committed the Comelec was in achieving the project’s objectives. But you be the judge, Reader.

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With respect to “Tamang Pagboto,” Chair Andy was very proud of the three presidential debates (one each in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon) and one vice-presidential debate that the Comelec has scheduled during the campaign period, with academic institutions as venues, and with questions to the candidates “crowd-sourced.” Also, scheduling this early would eliminate the nonappearance of candidates due to “schedule conflict.” In itself, the fact that a candidate does not appear conveys a message to the voter.

Great. But what about the other 18,000 positions? What is the Comelec doing about Senate President Frank Drilon’s suggestion that there be debates at the municipal, city, and provincial levels among the candidates, so that the voter can listen to what they have to say in each other’s presence, rather than in a solo campaign stage? Well, that, too. Chair Andy will write, or has written, to all local Comelec officers to get together with civil society organizations, including academe and students, etc., to arrange for local forums/debates, with the maximum participation of all concerned.

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Great. How much is the Comelec prepared to spend for these forums, to help the ground-level organizers? The question apparently caught Chair Andy by surprise, and his initial reaction was to say that “Tamang Pagbilang,” rather than “Tamang Pagboto,” was the main job of the Comelec (which I took to mean that the latter was directory, not mandatory).   But he recovered, and said that we should ask his information and education person (James Jimenez) how much was available for this purpose.

Naturally, I pressed. Because these local forums/debates need funding.

How much funding? Top-of-the-head estimates: At P50,000 per municipality, times 1,500 muncipalities, that would mean P75 million. Then we have 144 cities (35 highly urbanized, five independent component, 104 component); say they are given P100,000 each for the forums, that would come up to P14.2 million. The same amount for 81 provinces would yield P8.1 million. For a grand total of P97.3 million that would go toward the success of the “Tamang Pagboto” project. Say there will be three debates/forums, and the grand total that would go toward ensuring that the voter is properly informed is less than P300 million. Compare that with the P7 billion that the Comelec is spending on the Smartmatic PCOS machines for 2016.

So I hope that the Comelec finds the money to do the “Tamang Pagboto” portion proud. This will just be the government’s share of the project. The private sector, where possible, will be sure to contribute.

Now for “Tamang Pagbilang.” I could not resist asking Chair Andy whether he had watched the YouTube presentation of lawyer Glenn Chong on how the PCOS machines could be used for election fraud, which I wrote about last week. He had.

In his presentation, Chong discussed the four election safeguards provided by law that were disregarded by the Comelec and Smartmatic: the source code review, the digital signatures of the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEIs), the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) and the ultraviolet (UV) lamp. What did Chair Andy have to say about it?

The source code review is now being implemented, he says, with De La Salle University hosting the process. Check.

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The digital signatures of the BEIs were a different matter. First, because, he said, over 25 percent of the BEIs who are registered in January of the election year do not usually appear on Election Day, and their replacements would not have digital signatures. And second, because, he said, the Supreme Court had ruled anyway that the PCOS machine’s signature was sufficient. So it is not the fault of the Comelec but of the high court.

The VVPAT gives the voter the opportunity to see how one voted before the PCOS records one’s vote, because one gets a piece of paper that prints one’s choices. One then drops that piece of paper into a receptacle before leaving the precinct. But, said Chair Andy, what if the voter doesn’t drop it (to prove one’s vote later to the vote buyers)? And what if a well-organized force of, say, 100,000 people deliberately use the VVPAT as a means to delay the process and subvert the elections? What will they use to make sure the voter knows that what one voted was what the machine recorded? Chair Andy said something about a printout in the machine itself. But then the delay issue reappears.

The fourth safeguard, the UV lamp, according to Chair Andy, was already installed in the 2013 elections.

In sum: Two safeguards installed, two not installed (for various reasons). Is the Reader satisfied that the 2016 elections will not be perverted?

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TAGS: Andy Bautista, Comelec, Commission on Elections, election debates, Elections 2016
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