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

News & Interviews
16 June 2021

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

Last of a series

SEVERAL questions were raised in Part 1 of this series (https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/04/07/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/clean-voters-database-a-challenge-to-a-transparent-2022-elections-3/860864/). But one thing is for sure, the answers to these were already answered in the past series, specifically on the Commission on Elections-Department of the Interior and Local Government (Comelec-DILG) collaboration. It is even quite clear that this partnership is already mandated under existing laws through the local civil registrars' proactive involvement and close coordination with local election officers as stipulated in the Local Government Code of 1991. In a Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) roundtable discussion with DILG's undersecretary for barangay (village) affairs, Martin Diño, he said that such collaboration is feasible! He said then that he was open to discussions with Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas to undertake the cleansing of the voters' list.

So, what's next? I see here two processes of cleansing the voters' list – the external process and the internal process from the point of view of the Comelec. How do these two differ from one another?

powered by AdSparc
Let's start with the external process. From today till the May 2022 elections, the collaboration will have ample time to clean up the voters' list in the Comelec's central database through the DILG's Barangay Profile System-Barangay Information System (BPS-BIS). It is best that Comelec initiate the initial meeting with DILG as our subject matter entails DILG's inputs to Comelec's database. It is of course expected that DILG's inputs are verified and certified by the Election Registration Board (ERB) whose members are the Comelec's election officer, the DepEd's public school official and the DILG's local civil registrar.

In this external process, the cleansing is very obvious as this would be happening on the ground or outside the Comelec's central office. And since the ground refers to Batanes to Sulu, that means there are 42,046 barangay nationwide having at least 126,138 ERB members (i.e., 42,046 multiplied by 3 ERB members) from 17 regions, 81 provinces, 146 cities and 1,488 municipalities (psa.gov.ph, March 2021). The legwork in cleansing the voters' list by these sheer number of ERBs could take a seemingly complex magnitude of activities but simple in the real sense by adopting the general theory of business administration (Fayol, 1916) vis five elements of organizational management: planning, organizing, leading, coordinating and controlling. Well, these are not actually new to these agencies. After the groundwork, the clean voters' lists of barangay are compared with the central database of Comelec to update the central database and weed out unwanted voters. This may seem a single step, but this actually requires a lot of nitty-gritty processes. With the advent of fast and reliable technologies adopted by Comelec-DILG partnership, this superficially complex external process of cleansing voters' list is attainable even a few months before the 2022 elections.

On the other hand, the internal process involves the use of the Automated Fingerprint Information System (AFIS) in removing double or multiple registrations of a voter. In Part 1, we learned that a proof-of-concept AFIS pilot conducted in 2003 in one region of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao "resulted in the discovery of a 7.5 percent bloat in the voters' list. And if extrapolated to a national scale, this translates to enough fraudulent votes to possibly elect a president in a tightly contested election." Hence, the AFIS is quite a potent tool for the Comelec in internally cleansing the voters' database. The good thing about this process, there's no need for the 126,138 ERB members to participate in the cleansing process as the automated tool AFIS would do the trick! Comelec would only need its trained IT people to execute this.

After a decade, a law was passed to strengthen the use of AFIS. Remember the "No Bio, Boto" policy of Comelec? This policy was based on Republic Act 10367 of 2012, or "An Act Providing for Mandatory Biometrics Voter Registration." Under this law, biometrics, like the fingerprint in AFIS, "refers to the quantitative analysis that provides a positive identification of an individual such as voice, photograph, fingerprint, signature, iris and/or such other identifiable features." The law states that, "Registered voters whose biometrics have not been captured shall submit themselves for validation" and that "The Commission shall conduct validation beginning July 1, 2013, consistent with the continuing registration under Republic Act 8189." However, this law was challenged by a party-list in a petition in the Supreme Court, in which they claimed that the right of 2.5 million voters would be disenfranchised by this policy. Eventually, the case was dismissed, and former Comelec chairman Andy Bautista said then: "Sabi ko nga we're very pleased with this development. Alam naman natin pakay ng batas, ang layunin ng batas ay para linisin 'yung voters list. I personally believe it was not a substantive requirement. It was an additional safeguard for our registration process." Moving forward, the Comelec may be appreciated much by the public on the current status of AFIS.

To top it all, the external and internal processes in cleansing the voters' list would precisely be one of the means of attaining transparency in the upcoming 2022 elections. There's no doubt that the Comelec-DILG tandem could do this in less time as well as the Comelec's effective usage of AFIS.