By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times
IT is worthwhile to remember the formation of the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), a nonpartisan election watchdog organized in 1983 with the goal of ensuring free, orderly and honest elections in the country. And it was good news when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) accredited Namfrel as its citizens' arm in the 1986 snap elections to conduct parallel counts or "Operation Quick Count (OQC)." Anyway, we can remember then that while the canvassing was ongoing at the Comelec's electronic quick count at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), 35 computer programmers walked out and said before the media that the Marcos camp had been manipulating the election results. In addition, that controversial parallel quick counts yielded two diverse results: Ferdinand Marcos won in Comelec's count while Corazon "Cory" Aquino won in Namfrel's. And the rest was history.
What does parallel counts mean? It is merely the simultaneous canvassing of election results done by Comelec and Namfrel, independently of one another, by using the electoral records coming from the same voting and canvassing centers. That was quite effective until the elections became fully automated in 2010. In the same year, Namfrel was replaced by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) as the Comelec's accredited citizens' arm that lasted until the 2019 elections. Unfortunately, Namfrel never held its own count anymore, but it continued to be an election watchdog with a mission to observe the conduct of the implemented automated election system (AES) that was dubbed as "Bantay ng Bayan."
What happened to the traditional parallel counts? The AES Watch, another election watchdog, observed its non-adoption and spotted so many unanswered findings and violations of the AES Law, the Republic Act 8436, as amended by RA 9369. These were discussed in detail in previous articles in this column, "Let's Face IT!"
By the way, AES Watch was organized in 2009 with the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) as the administrator. Some of the AES Watch convenors include former vice president Teofisto Guingona, and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Ecumenical Bishops Forum, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, De La Salle University's College of Computer Studies, Ateneo de Manila University's Department of Information Communications System, University of the Philippines' Department of Computer Science, Philippine Computer Society, Computer Professionals Union, Solidarity Philippines, Philippine Emergency Response Team, National Union of Students in the Philippines, Namfrel/Transparent Elections.org, Computing Society of the Philippines, Movement for Good Governance, Kontra Daya and others. The advocacy of these well-meaning organizations is one and the same with Namfrel's when it was formed in 1983.
However, there are some election watchdogs that pretended they were but never questioned the Comelec's violations of the AES Law, such as the promulgation of the AES Law's Implementing Rules and Regulations. They never asked why! Why the board of election inspectors and board of canvassers never used the correct digital signing method as defined in the AES Law, e-Commerce Law, Rules on Electronic Evidence, etc. instead of the wrong machine digital signing (i.e., i-Button in the PCOS or vote counting machine) that you could not find its legal basis? They didn't ask: 1) Why the transparency server was installed at PPCRV's premises? 2) What is the legal basis of having transparency server? 3) How come the transparency server had technical anomalies every election? Their lips were totally sealed. Do you really consider them citizens' arms or election watchdogs who defend the real meaning of democracy? Well, pray that they change for the good of the Filipino people this coming 2022.
Going back to OQC, it is interesting to note that its original concept of parallel counts never happened anymore in the automated elections due to the technical intervention of the transparency server. The parallel counts actually disappeared! There was no way that the veracity of election results could be validated in a manner like the traditional OQC did in the past. This non-validation is quite similar to the unseen processing of vote counting machines, consolidation and canvassing servers, and transparency server. The only visible thing to a voter in the past two elections (2016 and 2019) was during the time when he held his voter's receipt to find out whether his votes were read by the machine.
What is the role of the transparency server installed at PPCRV? Who owns it? What did it process? In its operations for the last four national and local elections, it aggregated all transmissions from the precincts and canvassing centers and it processed partial, unofficial election results that were shared and distributed to the computer servers of Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), dominant majority and minority parties, and accredited citizens' arm. Presto, all the servers had the same election results leaving no single discrepancy. Unlike in the OQCs in 1986 and other election years before the automation, it showed discrepancies and were noticeable. In this regard, the recipient servers (KBP, etc.) were at the mercy of the transparency server, which practically controlled the election figures. Here's the most illogical information: that server is owned by the Comelec. Huh? Where is independence? It operated seemingly like the 1986 Comelec quick count server at the PICC. What happened to the independent quick count of the citizens' arm when it used Comelec's transparency server? Again, what is the legal basis for the use of the transparency server? In the past four national and local elections, Comelec merely copied its 1986 quick count technical structure, leaving no choice for the KBP, political parties and accredited citizens' arms to do its own independent quick counts.
This is a mind-boggling concern as there were direct and unauthorized interventions of the Smartmatic technical team with the transparency server. It's pretty obvious that there were no actual parallel counts or OQCs as the recipients were not getting election results directly from the ground, but rather from the transparency server. Worse, it is neither defined nor given emphasis in any of the provisions of the AES Law.
To do away with the contentiousness associated with the transparency server at the PPCRV, to avoid another predictable untoward incident in the 2022 elections and to have direct reception of election results from the ground by the stakeholders, it is best to eliminate the root cause of the problem - the transparency server. Let there be direct transmission of election results from the precincts and canvassing centers directly to the KBP, political parties and to the citizens' arm to implement the real value of the traditional OQC. The budget for establishing independent collection of election results from the ground should not be a concern. What is important is the conduct of reliable OQC that will reflect the true will of the Filipino people. Let's all put back the traditional and independent OQC model established by Namfrel. It has been tested to be transparent and was adopted by other countries.