Manila Standard - Our democratic duty

2 November 2020

By Orlando Oxales | Manila Standard

"Elections are our opportunity to correct mistakes and vote for leaders who have the integrity, qualifications and competence to run our country."

Filipinos take elections passionately especially when it is the Presidency and a change in administration is at stake. Though it is still a year before the filing for candidacy, expect politicians vying to win or retain elective posts to start engaging their target constituents in creative campaigns.

Already we are seeing what communication practitioners call “test balloons” to assay public perceptions. One which reveals a disturbing agenda is the call to postpone the 2022 elections using the uncertainties consequent to the ongoing health and economic crisis of the pandemic. This is a shamelessly convenient excuse. To see through the fog of communication spins, we should remember that the best insights are always from the experts who have the data and analytical competence to filter out the political noise and dynamics.

In a virtual town hall discussion held last week by Stratbase ADR Institute and Democracy Watch Philippines on “Democracy Goes On: Elections & Electoral Continuity Post-COVID-19,” Comelec Director James Jimenez rightly said, “In a time of pandemic it’s even more crucial that you the elections precisely because there is some fear that the incumbents have taken advantage of the pandemic to consolidate their hold on power and perhaps the most natural progression of that is to hold on to power by discouraging the holding of elections.”

“Obviously, the elections will push through so the battleground will move towards either voter suppression or disinformation. Information may be used for voter suppression and for undermining the credibility of elections,” Jimenez said.

Another nagging issue that will surely compete for our attention will be attacks on the automated election system. The COMELEC has been mandated by law to have this. Based on hard data from the last four elections, is one of the best things that happened for our country’s democracy and political stability.

In the same forum, Director of De La Salle Institute of Governance Dr. Ador Torneo presented the findings of his study co-authored with Topin Sto. Domingo Ruiz of the Department of Political Science, De La Salle University, on the credibility of the 2019 midterm elections.

The study says, "Contrary to media hype, the data and reports from PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) and the post-election evaluation of Comelec show that the election results were accurate. This was verified through random manual audit, independent parallel count and result transmission rate."

Highlighted was the accuracy of the last automated elections rated at 99.9% by the official Random Manual Audit, and Pulse Asia national survey findings on the low occurrence of cheating (7%), high voter turn-out (approximately 75%), high voter confidence (85%), and high compliance of poll watchers and other election officials to standards and procedures, all leading to the conclusion that the conduct of AES has incrementally improved over time and that voters have a high degree of trust and confidence on the AES. Also notable was the fast, secure transmission, and release of data which was at 92% and at record-breaking 10 hours.

Prof. Robert Krimmer of Taltech Tallinn University of Technology based in Estonia, a global model in e-governance and online voting provided a very interesting view on how a well-executed digital transformation of a whole country is like in a country where 100% of schools and government organizations are fully equipped and connected at high broadband speeds. About half of their voting population are already voting online; they continuously work on innovations to expand and be more efficient.

A memorable example is how they were able to address even a situation where a voter is being coerced to vote for a candidate at gunpoint by allowing multiple instances in case this situation happens, or just to vote for another with only the last vote being counted. An Estonian also has the option to vote in the polling station. In their experience, voting in polling stations costs twice as much compared to internet-based voting.

In a statement, Democracy Watch Philippines Lead Convenor, Paco Pangalangan, said: “If we are to build future-proof governance systems that are resilient and proactive against corruption and outside interference, we must start now, and the first step is to ensure that public investment in an extensive and reliable digital infrastructure works alongside private efforts to make the rapidly digitizing Philippines accessible to all Filipinos.”

Our electoral process has evolved with automation and its credibility and transparency has been undeniably accepted by the people as manifested by the high legitimacy and stability of two successive and yet opposing administrations. Democratic elections are our opportunity to correct mistakes and vote for leaders who have the integrity, qualifications and competence to run our country.

This is a democratic duty that every citizen must take seriously.