The Manila Times : Clean voters’ database: A challenge to a transparent 2022 elections

News & Interviews
28 April 2021

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

Fourth of a series

COLLABORATION, “collab” for short, is a commonly used word these days. A dictionary defines the word as a situation in which two or more people work together to create, achieve or promote something. In the music industry, it is the coming together of popular musicians to perform as one in a concert.

Collaboration is the same as cooperation. The latter has even evolved to a term called “coopetition,” wherein competing organizations cooperate to reach a higher value creation in service or product. BancNet, for example, is hinged on the basic principle of access to shared ATM resources of competing banks.

In a serious context, intense collaboration among Asean countries happened on April 14, 2020 stating: “We, the heads of state/government of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) held the Special Asean Summit via video conference on 14 April 2020… We expressed our serious concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 and its negative effects on the well-being of the people and global socioeconomic development… We pledge to remain united and vigilant against Covid-19 and commit to work closely with the WHO, Asean’s external partners and the international community to suppress the spread of the pandemic, protect people’s lives and livelihoods, maintain socio-economic stability while sustaining Asean Community building momentum for sustainable development, inclusive growth and leaving no one behind.”

President Duterte said in his address at this event: “To effectively overcome the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, Asean must collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond… An effective, strategic response requires that we come together and cooperate even more.”

As to the cleansing of the voters’ list, not undermining the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) internal cleansing processes, we need a much closer look at the collaboration of different government agencies with Comelec to update the voters’ list from the ground. Regrettably, some agencies do not want to fully collaborate. A case in point: I was just stunned to hear in one of the Center for People’s Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) roundtable (RTD) discussions that a government agency does not want to share its data on deaths list unless paid (i.e., considering compliance with Republic Act (RA) 10173 or the “Data Privacy Act”)! Hope this is not true.

In a separate exchange of ideas with CenPEG colleagues, it was brought out that RA 6975, or the “Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) of 1990,” mandates the National Barangay Operations Office to establish and update the master list of barangays, barangay officials and barangay socioeconomic profiles regularly. It was noted that twice a year, the DILG conducts barangay assemblies to promote accountability, transparency and interaction between and among barangay officials and residents. This was strengthened when President Duterte signed Proclamation 599 series of 2018, further amending Proclamation 342 (series of 2003), declaring Saturdays and Sundays of March and October of every year as barangay (assembly) days.

In support of the proclamation, the barangay have been informing their respective residents about updates on national laws and issuances such as the Ease of Doing Business (RA 11032), creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (EO 70, s. 2018), Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Councils, posting of barangay financial statements (Department of the Interior and Local Government or DILG MC 2014-81), etc. What is very interesting about what the barangay have been doing is that these have been encouraging barangay residents to register in order to maintain and update the registry of barangay inhabitants regularly. Bingo! This must be the answer to our prayers for other government agencies to collaborate with Comelec in cleansing the voters’ list. This prompted CenPEG to schedule a consultation with DILG’s undersecretary for barangay affairs, Martin Diño, to figure out if the DILG could possibly collaborate with the Comelec on the voters’ list cleansing per barangay. Without a second thought, Diño accepted the invitation to an RTD.

Another possible agency that came to mind was the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Some of the functions of PSA are: Collaborate with departments of the national government…in the collection, compilation, maintenance and publication of statistical information; coordinate with government departments and LGUs on the promotion and adoption of statistical standards involving techniques, methodologies, concepts, definitions and classifications, and on the avoidance of duplication in the collection of statistical information; prepare and conduct periodic censuses on population; carry out, enforce and administer civil registration functions, etc.

Honoring heroes and marking events
And on Aug. 6, 2018, President Duterte signed into law RA 11055, the “Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) Act,” which mandates the PSA to be the implementing agency of the PhilSys to establish a single national identification system for all citizens and resident aliens of the country. Last week, the PSA said that over 17 million Filipinos have registered for the PhilSys during the first quarter of 2021. Question: Can PSA collaborate with the Comelec in using PhilSys data in cleansing the Comelec’s voters’ list? Theoretically, it is possible…but the timing is a big question mark.

Nevertheless, before the RTD schedule with Diño, it was known that the DILG successfully performed its key role in the control of the pandemic and in the crucial implementation of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) through the updated registry of barangay residents. Of course, there were some issues along the way. Anyway, it was a success through the collaboration of the barangay with the residents and the proactive leadership of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who said last year: “We must act fast to help our poor countrymen. I am directing all LGUs to produce a master list of the social amelioration programs’ target beneficiaries at the earliest possible time for us to be able to immediately address the needs of our countrymen.” So far, the barangay list of residents used in SAP is the most promising means of DILG-Comelec collaboration…and the timing is just right.

Understanding collaboration with Asean countries “to effectively overcome the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic” and collaboration of barangays under Proclamation 599 are just some of the bases why collaboration of the DILG and Comelec to cleanse the voters’ list could be achieved before the 2022 national and local elections. Collaboration is the magic word.

What could be the highlights of the RTD with Diño?

(To be continued)