A nation yearning to vote

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

Much has been raised and said about the Smartmatic Automated Election System since it was decided that the Philippines will automate its electoral process. Whether intentionally or unintentionally the whole issue is debated between the legal legislation that our Commission on Election argues and prepared with and the logical technology details the automation process is positively justified with. It has become a battle of legal assertion and demands versus the technological systematical steps the automated process are described and engineered with.

Last week Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp. bagged another deal for the May 2016 elections – to supply the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with the equipment for the transmission of election results. The deal is said to have generated P50-million savings for the government. If you remember, Smartmatic also provided the same services in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

For a nation at the crossroads, traumatized with what has become of the “daang matuwid” of the present administration, a “failure of election” can truly dampen the people’s morale and self-confidence. The “right of suffrage,” a fundamental right in a democracy, must be safeguarded without compromise. To subvert or pervert it is a criminal act that must never go unpunished. For if an electorate loses faith in its government, anarchy can only set in.

Internal strife in government has brought about violent activities and destabilization efforts orchestrated by lawless elements in the society. Leadership has weakened. This is why we must make the coming elections work. We must demand for transparency as an important feature of the 2016 elections.

When the Supreme Court disqualified Smartmatic’s bid to refurbish the 81,000 old PCOS machines at P1.6 billion because of its failure to comply with the national procurement law, many believed that at last there was a chance for an alternative voting system. But after awhile, the Comelec reconsidered its position, and qualified Smartmatic to bid again for the refurbishment of the old machines. However, as we all know, Smartmatic refused to bid one more time. Instead they offered a bid for lease of 93,977 units of the Optical Mark Reader at the cost of P12.641 billion. So, instead of a less expensive election without Smartmatic in the picture, it looks like 2016 elections will be more expensive with Smartmatic playing a stronger role.

As an independent agency of the government, Comelec’s role is to ensure that the civil rights of the people is adhered to as stated in the Constitution and not as Comelec pleases.

There is no statement in the Constitution that gives power to Comelec to have mandate in legislating unlimited powers to decide whether an election is completed or even the power to decide, if partial votes of the electorate is substantial enough to finalize tally as it wishes. As mandated by Congress to organize the Automated Election System, it never gave presumptive power in election over and above the availability of the actual voting paper when the automated machine fails. The voting paper is like the Constitutional Suffrage Holy Grail. As organizer of the election, it is the duty of Comelec to organize efficiently and effectively every aspect of the automated process.

As the automated process interface with the actual voting paper, as organizer, Comelec has the responsibility in accounting for each voting paper to ensure each vote is accounted for. There is no need for presumptive organizing decision while the voting paper is present even if the machine fails. It is then the responsibility of Comelec to account for each vote whether to manually count the available voting paper to ensure that the voting public is not prejudiced in disallowing their vote as it is unconstitutional. Whether what level of literacy or society status the citizens are, it is a global human right that measures if individuals are prejudiced in their rights of existence as citizens and their entitlement as specified in the Constitution as their Right of Suffrage.

Actual presumptive decision can only apply if there is no voting paper present in the automation like the use of touch screen where the digital data is lost. In the past 2010 and 2013 Automated Elections, Comelec’s presumptive decision to accept partial electronic results with the presence and existence of the ballot papers which shows the actual voters official selection, is truly against the Constitutional rights of voters. It is not a responsible practice for the Commission to undertake.

The constitutional mandate for the Comelec is to protect the sanctity of every ballot cast and that every election is fair, peaceful and the rights of every voter and their corresponding vote is respected.

Therefore, Comelec’s decision to terminate tallying with only 75% electronic counting can be misconstrued as unconstitutional. They forgot that the ballot paper manually filled by voters is part of the automated election that must be accounted for 100%. This is if we follow the Constitutional directive of Suffrage.

The ballot paper is the main player here for accountability and not the Automated System. If there is a delay or a technical problem with the Automated Election System, the ballot paper is still the main element. The system is only the automated means and when an alternative fallback maybe needed there is still an available means like that of manual counting. Comelec must account for every vote. This is their Constitutional role.

Chairman Bautista in the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing conducted recently was seeking everyone’s assistance in providing a credible election outcome. Actually, the success or failure of the 2016 elections lies in the hands of the Comelec. They should seriously evaluate the steps that can make this election more transparent to the voting public. They must create a system in the precincts that observers and watchers can understand and monitor properly. In doing this the Comelec can satisfy the Constitutional directive of Article V of the 1987 Constitution – Suffrage.

We are a nation yearning to vote. We hope that the elections will be clean and fair. But hope does not guarantee that things will go well. In the Philippines, where things go wrong more often than not, can we really entrust our votes to those machines?

* * *

Today, we pay tribute to one of the heroes in the history of the Philippines – Andres Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution and Filipino Nation. The founder and later supremo of the Katipunan, a movement which sought the independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule.

Yes, many of our heroes died for freedom. Isn’t it our duty to protect that freedom to the best of our ability? God help us!

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