Manila Bulletin : 2022 elections: A new milestone in Philippine history

By Art Samaniego | Manila Bulletin

As the IT head and technology editor of the Manila Bulletin, I have closely monitored the country’s national and local elections. My interest in cybersecurity has led me to focus on the security and integrity of the polls. The Department of Information and Communications Technology Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (DICT-CICC) headed by Usec. Cesar Mancao neutralized the biggest active threat of cyber-attacks days before the elections and assured the public that the agency would do everything in its power to help secure the elections. With the success of the CICC, we have a few things now to check on the security side. Many focused their attention on the automated election system for the elections.

What I noticed was that during the early hours of voting on May 9, many media organizations, unfortunately, focused on the less than 0.2 percent of the vote-counting machines that reported issues, but the more important story is the fact that over 99 percent of the VCMs performed without any problem and led to a highly-successful national and local elections. The 168 problematic machines are just 0.15% of the 107,345 VCMs used in the 2022 elections.

Social media also picked up the seemingly critical story of a few failing VCMs. However, the more interesting story that passed unnoticed was that most machines had performed well without any issues.

Faced with going home or waiting for the machine to start working, voters refused to surrender their ballots to poll workers. This means that voters preferred to stay as long as necessary until they could feed the VCM with their marked ballots. Many did not see the vital story of voters who trusted the vote-counting machine (VCM) and the automated election system (AES). I was asked on Facebook if I would surrender my accomplished ballot should my precinct’s VCM encounter a problem. I said yes because I trust the AES and the public school teachers serving as poll workers.

Memories of the distant past, when voters went home without knowing if their vote would be tallied, may have played a role.

We learned our lessons. And experience is our best teacher. In sum, it is a learning curve leading to the greater efficiency of the electoral process.

With the May 9 election successfully concluded and now part of history, it is essential to reflect on the evolution of election administration in the Philippines.

Despite the media coverage amplified by diligent citizens reporting on social media on any minor issues, the AES’s deployment continues to improve with each election.

Vote after vote, the learning curve leads to greater efficiency and transparency. In the 2022 general elections, more than 99 percent of the VCMs performed flawlessly.

Results were published online immediately after the poll precincts closed. On election night, transmission reached more than 85 percent of election returns, a remarkable feat that puts the Philippines in a league of its own.

The evolution of election administration in the country is unquestionable, no matter what key performance indicator is measured.

The successful completion of the fifth automated national election confirms that automation has drastically transformed Philippine elections to greater heights.

History would tell us that Philippine elections were tarnished with fraud and irregularities before automation. For years, the country struggled to conduct free and fair elections. Each new election cycle was marked by electoral violence, contested results, a slow vote count, and widespread distrust.

After monitoring an election in 2004, the International Foundation for Election Systems wrote: “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 AES has improved election administration in the Philippines since it was first implemented in 2010. Faster election results and an accurate, transparent count have enabled us Filipinos to trust the elections.

This improvement is why, according to a Pulse Asia survey conducted after the previous national election, 9 in 10 voters want their future elections to be automated.

The 2010 elections marked a turning point. From that election on, the country has consistently improved all election metrics.

Amid reports of malfunctioning VCMs, the Comelec assured the public it is in complete control of the situation. It described the problems encountered with the VCMs as minor. “We’d like to assure the public that these are anticipated,” said Commissioner George Garcia. “The VCMs that malfunctioned, such as those unable to read or had problems with the scanner of the machines, were already solved by our operations center, including our repair hubs,” Garcia said.

Garcia further explained that it’s part of the Comelec protocol. “What if our requirement to vote is that the machine needs to be there? If the VCM arrives late in the afternoon, voters would only get to vote by that time,” he said in a press briefing in response to numerous social media reports of VCMs breaking down.

I also explained to my social media friends and followers that poll workers’ mass feeding of ballots to VCMs should not be looked at as a means of cheating, as it is part of the Comelec contingency measures in case of a problem.

Despite some issues and security concerns, the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said the conduct of this year’s general election was smooth and peaceful so far. The election watchdog made the statement at noon Monday, based on the observation of its volunteers deployed to various voting centers around the country.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) also stated that it did not find any irregularity in the elections. The statement was released amid questions on social media from people who doubt the integrity of data from the vote-counting machine received by the transparency media server.

Manila Bulletin columnist and resident data scientist Wilson Chua also said that based on the data from the transparency media server, everything checked out. He did not see any forms of irregularity in the elections.

The 2022 election, with results available on election night and peaceful acceptance of results by the overwhelming majority of candidates, marks a new, positive milestone in the country’s history.