The Manila Times - Comelec’s eerie silence

10 July 2019

By Gus Lagman | The Manila Times

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not expected to be a noisy lot, but it is not expected to be too silent either. Especially when there is a need to explain to the public unusual election occurrences.

But before going into a deeper discussion of some unusual occurrences that I would like to talk about in this article, let us first go through a quick review of the Comelec’s two basic functions. They are, simply: 1) to administer national and local elections, plebiscites, referendums, recall, and other similar electoral exercises; and 2) to adjudicate election cases. The latter function, I have written in the past, can actually be transferred to a special court — perhaps an “election court,” somewhat similar to our special tax courts.

If the Constitution were to be so amended to allow this, then the commission would therefore be left with just one function — to administer elections — which, I personally believe, would be a more desirable set-up. The Comelec would then be freed from the often years-long court cases that tend to distract them from their more important function. The commissioners would also be less politicized. And their number could be reduced, from seven to five, or even three.

Consequently, it would also no longer be necessary for the commission to be composed mostly of lawyers. It is, in fact, going to be more effective for the commission to then be composed of people with management and/or information technology (IT) skills and experience. Such professional background would provide them with the necessary administrative and management experience to successfully implement good election systems.

There are countries that serve as examples of this kind of set-up — that is, management people running electoral exercises, rather than lawyers. A number of them are countries in the Asian region.

But while the Comelec is expected to do its job quietly, it is, on the other hand, expected to explain to the public, major changes in the system that it employs. Certainly, moving from the manual system, that we used from 1946 to 2007, to the present automated system, was such a major change. A detailed explanation of the new system to the public, would have been in good order. Discussions through the TV networks, plus the usual provincial “road shows,” would have been much welcome.

Unfortunately, even if there were some efforts to educate the voting public about them, they were sorely insufficient. And because there were negative comments coming from no less than the IT community, those public discussions became even more critical. The voters, after all, deserve to understand the system by which their votes are being counted and canvassed.

Sadly, an automated system that was believed to be defective, certainly non-transparent, was forced on the voting public from 2010 to 2019. And because of the technical nature of the system, no complaints were heard from the general public. Only the few technical people who have taken an interest in election systems expressed their misgivings, which, so frustratingly, were largely ignored by the Comelec.

But one very glaring occurrence that they should not have ignored, was the seven-hour glitch that was experienced in the middle of the vote-counting during the May 2019 elections.

Yet, no explanation came from the Comelec! And still none to this date.

Many things could have happened during those seven hours. The results could have been manipulated during those hours, with enough time to make sure all other figures would tally with the manipulated results.

There are even stories that the dirty work was done by a team of specialists coming from a small but powerful country in the Middle East.

These speculations abound primarily because no plausible explanation was offered by the Comelec. Oh, if they could only be more transparent! But look at their attitude regarding this matter: when their spokesperson was asked where the supposed “meet-me-room” was, his reply was … “Secret”! Was that an official answer? If so, whatever happened to “transparency” in our elections?

Oh, how I wish we had a Commission on Elections that we could completely trust. Just as we did the Ferrer, Felipe and Monsod commissions.