Manila Bulletin – A post mortem on automated elections

By Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal | Manila Bulletin

(Part 1)

The Commission on Elections started the push to automate Philippine elections as early as 1992. In June, 1995, Congress approved Republic Act 8046 titled “AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO CONDUCT A NATIONWIDE DEMONSTRATION OF A COMPUTERIZED ELECTION SYSTEM AND PILOT-TEST IT IN THE MARCH 1996 ELECTIONS IN THE AUTONOMOUS REGION IN MUSLIM MINDANAO (ARMM) AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”. Armed with that law, the Comelec pilot-tested it during the ARMM elections in 1996.

After the pilot testing in the ARMM elections, in December, 1997, Congress passed RA 8436 titled, “AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO USE AN AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM IN THE MAY 11, 1998 NATIONAL OR LOCAL ELECTIONS AND IN SUBSEQUENT NATIONAL AND LOCAL ELECTORAL EXERCISES, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.” The law authorized Comelec to implement an automated elections in the May, 1998, elections and subsequent national and local elections. However, due to “lack of preparation, time, and funding,” Comelec was constrained to implement it only in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in that electoral exercise.

In 2001, there were several failed biddings which stalled the implementation of automated elections in the Philippines. There was another push to automate the national elections, with the intent to automate the May, 2004, presidential elections. However, on February 17, 2004, the Supreme Court promulgated a resolution which affirmed its previous ruling and denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed in the case ITFP vs. Comelec (G.R. NO. 159139) which voided the Comelec Resolution and contract awarded to the winning bidders. The Supreme Court stressed in its decision that “The Court also emphasizes that, contrary to movants’ insinuation, the decision did not per se prohibit the automation of the elections. Neither did it say that it was opposed to election automation as a general proposition. It merely voided the assailed Resolution and Contract for having been made and executed with inexplicable haste, in grave abuse of discretion and in clear violation not only of law (especially RA 9184, RA 8436, and RA 6955 as amended by RA 7718) and settled jurisprudence (the latest of which is Agan vs. Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc., GR No. 155001, May 5, 2003, and January 21, 2004, but also of the bidding rules and requirements of the Commission on Election itself. All of these grounds are already adequately explained in the decision and, thus, need not be repeated or elaborated on here.”

In 2007, Congress passed RA 9369 titled “AN ACT AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8436, ENTITLED “AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS TO USE AN AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM IN THE MAY 11, 1998 NATIONAL OR LOCAL ELECTIONS AND IN SUBSEQUENT NATIONAL AND LOCAL ELECTORAL EXERCISES, TO ENCOURAGE TRANSPARENCY, CREDIBILITY, FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY OF ELECTIONS, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE BATAS PAMPANSA BLG. 881, AS AMEMDED, REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7166 AND OTHER RELATED ELECTIONS LAWS, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.” The new law was intended to address the concerns of RA 8436 and encourage transparency, credibility, fairness, and accuracy of elections.

In 2008, Comelec automated the ARMM elections. With the province of Maguindanao using DRE (direct-recording electronic) machines and the other provinces using OMR (optical mark reader) machines. Field officials of Comelec from all over the Philippines were tasked to conduct the ARMM elections. I was a Comelec regional director at that time, and was detailed to Isabela City, Basilan. For the areas where OMR machines were used, instead of the voters feeding the filled-up ballots to the counting machines, they would drop it in a box. After the voting, the BEIs would then proceed to the counting centers where the ballots would be batch-fed into counting machines. The term used then was CCOS, meaning Central Count Optical Scan, as the count was done in counting centers instead of in the precinct. In the 2010 election, the term used was PCOS, as the count was done in the precinct itself where the voters fed their accomplished ballot into the counting machine.

I would like to emphasize that whether one uses CCOS, PCOS, or VCM, the system is still the same, it’s an a Optical Scan Machine system which is paper-based, making it much easier to audit, compared to the DRE which is touch-screen and more difficult to audit.

The first national automated elections was done on May 10, 2010. That forever changed national elections in the Philippines. While in previous elections winners of local posts had to wait for days before the winner was declared, in 2010, many local winning candidates were proclaimed winners before the end of election day. Where national candidates had to wait for weeks before the winners were known, in 2010, the country knew who had won after a day or two.

But while many only look at the “systems” aspect of an automated elections, since 2010 I have been saying that more important is procedure. Unless you address any and all procedural concerns, the system remains flawed. After all, automated elections is not the silver bullet that can eradicate the ills of an election.

Back to Blog