The Manila Times : Simplify transmission of election results for transparent 2022 elections

News & Interviews
14 July 2021

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

MOST chess grandmasters simplify the board puzzle when the game tension is locked. To open up and see a clearer picture on best offense or defense, players simplify the puzzle by eliminating chess pieces. This strategy of simplification may be used as a model framework in analyzing the issues of the Comelec's transparency server at the premises of Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) in every national and local elections since 2010.

To see the puzzles then, let's review the major issues from 2010 to 2019: PPCRV admits wrong senatorial count (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGH1IMqboME), and this was corrected by Smartmatic in the transparency server; the mysterious work file server at PPCRV that intermediated the transparency server with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), dominant majority and minority parties and accredited citizen's arm; the 'ñ' conspiracy (https://www.manilatimes.net/2016/05/17/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/the-n-conspiracy/262624/); and the delay in the real-time transmission of election results for 7 hours due to technical difficulties in transmitting the results from the transparency server. Even Comelec Commissioner Guanzon said, "x x x They [Smartmatic] should be liable to the people of the Philippines. They were not supposed to change anything without our knowledge and permission x x x." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfMDOA2BTIM&t=38s).

If we analyze these incidents more closely, all of these converge to the transparency server at the PPCRV. It is seemingly a complex puzzle. But one thing is for sure, this transparency server can't be seen neither in any provisions of Republic Act (RA) 8436 of 1997 or the Automated Election System (AES) Law, as amended by RA 9369 in 2007, nor in the non-promulgated Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) that has been pending since 1997. One honorable justice relayed to AES Watch/Center for People Empowerment (CenPEG) in a meeting that a law can't be executed without its corresponding IRR. We did understand what he said as AES-related laws like the e-Commerce Law of 2000 (RA 8792), the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (RA 10173) and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175) have corresponding IRRs. Notably, the Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCC) Governance Act of 2011 (RA 10149) has a corresponding IRR. RA 10149 safeguards the State's ownership rights and ensures that the operations of GOCCs are transparent and responsive to the needs of the public (e.g., PhilHealth).

Therefore, what's the point of pushing the use of the transparency server at the PPCRV in the 2022 elections when in fact it is nowhere to be found in AES Law? It only created confusion and unanswered questions for the last four national and local elections. Under the AES Law are rather provisions that have not been complied with by Comelec since 2010 like the digital signing of the Board of Canvassers and the Board of Election Inspectors. Ironically, the transparency server was already implemented four times without any legal basis!

Surprisingly, that 7-hour glitch or blackout could have been addressed properly if Comelec had complied with RA 9369, Section 13 regarding Continuity Plan - "The [AES] shall be so designed to include a continuity plan in case of a systems breakdown or any such eventuality which shall result in the delay, obstruction or nonperformance of the electoral process. Activation of such continuity and contingency measures shall be undertaken in the presence of representatives of political parties and citizen's arm of the Commission who shall be notified by the election officer of such activation." That seven-hour glitch is a form of a systemic 'disaster' in its very essence as the blackout itself triggered an alarming critical condition. Had there been a continuity plan, the transmission from the transparency server could have been seamless. Questions arise: Has a stress test been conducted? Did the transparency server go through the acceptance test certification? Was the activation of such a continuity measure, if any, done in the presence of representatives of political parties and citizen's arm? Again, the issue here is still the transparency server.

Since there is no legal basis for the use of a transparency server and even its current function to share its collected election results, how can we undo the concept of transparency server at the PPCRV? Referring to the AES Law, Section 22 states that "Within one hour after the printing of the election returns (ERs), the chairman of the board of election inspectors… shall…electronically transmit the precinct results to the …board of canvassers, to the dominant majority and minority parties, to the accredited citizen's arm (CA), and to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)." Notice that there is no transparency server mentioned and therefore it is not conclusive that the transmission of ERs should be aggregated by this said server and transmit the same to DMMP, CA and KBP. That's very clear!

Section 25 states that "Within one hour after the canvassing, the Chairman of the district or provincial board of canvassers…shall electronically transmit the certificate of canvass (CoC) to the commission… and to the Congress…" There is no mention of the CoC being transmitted to the transparency server and being distributed to DMMP, CA and KBP.

Section 28 stipulates that "The chairman of the board shall transmit the digital files of the certificate of canvass and its supporting statement of votes to…the secured tabulation system of the commission and to the systems of the other designated recipients as herein provided." There's neither transparency server nor transmission to DMMP, CA and KBP indicated in this provision. Who are the designated recipients? If there's an IRR, this could have been explained in detail that the recipients are defined as the DMMP, CA and KBP.

What is very clear in the AES Law is the stipulations in Sections 22 and 25 that "The [ERs/CoCs] transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the proclamation of a winning candidate" and its relationship with Section 30 about the Authentication of Electronically Transmitted Election Results: "The manner of determining the authenticity and due execution of the certificates shall conform with the provisions of Republic Act No. 7166 (i.e., Synchronized National and Local Elections Act of 1991)…by appropriate authentication and certification procedures for electronic signatures as provided in Republic Act No. 8792 (i.e., e-Commerce Act of 2000) as well as the rules (i.e., Rules on Electronic Evidence) promulgated by the Supreme Court pursuant thereto."

It is therefore not stipulated in the AES Law that there should be a transparency server to be installed at the PPCRV premises; neither is there a stipulation that the transparency server shall transmit the aggregated election results to the DMMP, CA and KBP.

Hence, what can be done in the 2022 elections? To instill checks and balances, the digitally signed and electronically transmitted ERs and CoCs should be transmitted directly from the VCMs and consolidation and canvassing servers to the respective computers of DMMP, CA and KBP. No need for a transparency server that has only created confusion. Let there be separate and independent transmissions to DMMP, CA and KBP - and their respective computers should show equal tabulation of election results and no discrepancy.

Eliminating unnecessary processes simplify systems and procedures. According to Michael Hammer, the major challenge for managers is to obliterate forms of work that do not add value, rather than using technology for automating it. In 1990, he published the article "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate" in the Harvard Business Review. In this regard, the direct transmission is similar to the manual elections scheme wherein the election results are physically transported directly to Comelec and citizen's arm without any intervention. In the same manner, the direct transmission has the following advantages: 1) eliminate intermediaries like the publicly unknown work file server, regional hubs and data center/s; 2) prevent the unauthorized direct manipulations of transparency server by unscrupulous people; 3) avert transmission of rogue machines; 4) deter any possible electoral data processing outside the country; 5) avoid implausible answers to issues raised; 6) detect early and late transmissions; 7) facilitate audit of transmitted elections results; 8) simplifies overall network communications; 9) spot precincts that could not send ERs; and 10) identify municipalities, cities and provinces that could not send CoCs in the prescribed time. The simplified and direct transmission of election results to DMMP, CA and KBP would surely create more transparent and credible elections by eliminating useless electronic transport of election results to unnecessary network nodes that do not add value to a transparent election system.

To conclude, Martin Luther King said, "Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification."