The Manila Times - The Advisory Council: What is its real value to Comelec?

28 June 2017

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times 

Part 1
AS stipulated in Section 8 of the Automated Election Law, or RA 9369, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has to create an Advisory Council which must be convened not later than 18 months prior to the next scheduled electoral exercise. Further, the council is to be composed of the following nine members, who must be registered Filipino voters, of known independence, competence and probity:

• The chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (now the Department of Information and Communication Technology, or DICT) who would act as chairman of the council;

• One member from the Department of Science and Technology;

• One member from the Department of Education;

• One member representing the academe;

• Three members representing ICT professional organizations; and,

• Two members representing nongovernmental electoral reform organizations.

In compliance with the law, the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) was reconstituted with new members on June 13, 2017. The DICT head, Secretary Rodolfo Salalima, was sworn in as CAC chairman by Comelec Chairman Bautista, with DIC Eliseo Rio as Salalima’s alternate.

Section 9 of RA 9369 lists the following as the CAC’s functions:

1. Recommend the most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be applied in the AES, in whole or in part, at that specific form in time.

2. Participate as nonvoting members of the bids and awards committee in the conduct of the bidding process for the AES. Members of the council representing the ICT professionals organizations are excluded from participating in any manner in the bids and awards committee.

3. Participate as nonvoting members of the steering committee tasked with the implementation of the AES. Members of the CAC representing the ICT professional organization are excluded from participating in any manner in the steering committee.

4. Provide advice and assistance in the review of the systems planning, inception, development, testing, operationalization, and evaluation stages.

5. Provide advice and/or assistance in the identification, assessment and resolution of systems problems or inadequacies as may surface or resurface in the course of the bidding, acquisition, testing, operationalization, re-use, storage or disposition of the AES equipment and/or resources as the case may be.

6. Provide advice and/or assistance in the risk management of the AES especially when a contingency or disaster situation arises.

7. Prepare and submit a written report, which shall be submitted within six months from the date of the election to the oversight committee, evaluating the use of the AES.

The above functions show that the CAC practically acts as the Comelec’s technical body of information and communications technology (ICT) experts. The phrase “with known independence, competence and probity” simply tells us that the CAC members are the selected top technocrats in the country with wide experience in implementing huge and complex ICT projects.

Be that as it may, the AES Watch has several observations regarding the CAC’s collaboration with Comelec in the last three national and local elections. Let’s discuss and analyze these observations one by one.

Let’s start with the CAC’s submission of reports to the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC). Since 2010, the CAC has never failed to submit its AES performance evaluation to the JCOC six months from the date of the election. It may be recalled that the CAC resolution in 2010 stated, “The CAC recommends that the Comelec NOT exercise the option to purchase the AES (of Smartmatic). The AES encountered too many problems that need to be resolved before this particular system can be used again…For the May 2013 elections, the Comelec does not need to use the same PCOS machines…” What was the action taken by Comelec? The latter just proceeded to exercise the option to purchase! Comelec must have thought that the problems then were not that serious. So, what’s the real value of CAC to Comelec in this regard?

In 2013, the CAC recommended that “1) The preparation for the selection of AES 2016 technology should be done as soon as possible; 2) Comelec study the terms of reference to give consideration to Philippine-developed technology; 3) There is a need for voter’s confirmation slip (or the “receipt”) as third redundant system to protect the integrity of the voters’ choice.” These were all by-passed by Comelec. It was only Sen. Richard Gordon who compelled Comelec to print the “receipt” by taking the issue to the Supreme Court and obtaining a ruling. Hence, does Comelec need the expertise of the CAC? It needed a vigilant senator to make Comelec move!

For the 2016 elections, the CAC has yet to present their AES evaluation to the JCOC but no hearing has been set as the Senate chair, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, has not been replaced.

Moreover, the CAC recommended the implementation of digital signatures for the BEIs and BOCs to comply with RA 9369 through its Resolution 2013-008. This was denied by Comelec which opted not to comply with AES law. Again, what’s the real value of these technical experts to Comelec?

(To be continued)