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The Manila Times - Who cares about supporting transparency to win?

News & Interviews
13 January 2021

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

Second of 3 parts

THE transparency matrix (TM) deliberated by a group of election watchdogs produced different transparency scenarios that could happen in the 2022 elections.

Before explaining the details about the TM, let’s define first what is the meaning of transparency. The Cambridge Dictionary defines transparency as “the characteristic of being easy to see through, the quality of being done in an open way without secrets, and a situation in which business and financial activities are done in an open way without secrets so that people can trust that they are fair and honest.”

From the Australian Institute of Company Directors: “Organizations are transparent when they enable others to see and understand how they operate in an honest way. To achieve transparency, an organization must provide information about its activities and governance to stakeholders that is accurate, complete and made available in a timely way.

Transparency enables accountability. This does not mean all information should be made publicly available. There are certain types of information that may not be provided publicly like private information (such as client records) and ‘commercial in confidence’ material (such as tender submissions).”

From Belgrade Open School: “Transparency, as one of the basic principles of good governance, implies the public insight in the work of public administration bodies. Citizens should be enabled to inspect the work of the public administration as well as the availability of instruments for monitoring the decision-making process. Also, citizens should be familiar with the regulations applied in the procedure for exercising their rights, in a clear and understandable way.”

In the study of Berliner (2014) on “The political origins of transparency,” he argues that institutionalizing one prominent transparency policy about freedom of information (FOI) laws, which have been passed by more than 80 countries, increase the costs for political actors to use public office and public information for private gain. He further argues that “in competitive political environments, FOI laws can create benefits for political actors as well as costs. Uncertainty over future control creates incentives for incumbents to pass FOI laws in order to ensure their own future access to government information and to credibly commit to future transparency. Event-history-model results show that FOI law passage is more likely when opposition parties pose more credible challenges to incumbents and when recent turnover in executive office has been frequent.” Anyhow, will our local FOI (i.e., Executive Order 2) be applicable in all automated election results and processes and results though Comelec is not part of the executive branch?

In the first part of this series, the argument about the obvious and not seemingly obvious issues discussed posed questions then: “Do we accept that when the PCOS machines or vote counting machines read our ballots, it would mean transparency when in fact you did not see how they were counted? … How can you ever consider the past four national and local elections transparent when all the supposedly safeguards were disabled?”

Recently, another obvious issue related to the government’s Covid-19 vaccination program came out. Apparently, many people reacted quickly, expressing anxiety as they could sense the vaccine’s effect vis-a-vis the negative experience with the Dengvaxia controversy.

Would we feel the same way if our votes are not really counted by the machines? Most voters didn’t mind at all. But did all of us, or majority of the 60 million voters express any apprehension when the safeguards stipulated in RA 9369 were disabled? No!

In a recent study by Appel & Stark (2020), evidence-based elections and comprehensive audit create a meaningful paper trail. They said that “the vulnerability of computers to hacking is well understood. Modern computer systems, including voting machines, have many layers of software, comprising millions of lines of computer code; there are thousands of bugs in that code. Some of those bugs are security vulnerabilities that permit attackers to modify or replace the software in the upper layers. So we can never be sure that the legitimate vote-counting software or the vote-marking user interface is actually the software running on election day.”

That is why, Germany went back to manual elections as their German Constitutional Court (GCC) ruled that the use of electronic voting machines was unconstitutional and that it was possible to hack the voting machines. The court noted that elections are required to be public in nature. This is very much the same conclusion that the Consultative Committee on Federalism (CCF), which was chaired by former chief justice Reynato Puno, came out with: “In all elections, the appreciation of ballots and counting of votes by whatever manner, shall be accessible and open to the public.” In case Charter change pushes through as there are ongoing talks to revive it lately, it is suggested that the electoral reforms recommended in the CCF be finally made part of the amendments.

The TM brainstormed by the group has 13 scenarios or options and it dwells on each transparency. The analysis whether the option is transparent or not is in line with the CCF’s thinking — if the appreciation of ballots and counting of votes by whatever manner is accessible and open to the public, the group considers that option as transparent; else, it is not transparent.

To be continued