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Opinion

Moving from H.O.P.E. to Vote S.A.F.E.

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

When we hold our country’s next presidential polls on May 9 this year, 65 million registered Filipino voters would be using again the same Smartmatic technology.

This will be the fifth election exercise using Smartmatic technology on our own kind of automated election system (AES). Unlike other country’s modern election system, the AES still employs manual voting. Voters shade the circle before the names of each of the candidates chosen from the alphabetical list in the ballot.

The automated part of our election system only comes into play when our ballots cast and are read by the vote counting machines (VCMs). The results of which are directly transmitted to the internet server of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

These VCMs were previously called as the precinct count optical scan, or PCOS for short, that were first used in our country. Due to the bad image it reaped in the May 2010 presidential elections and May 2013 mid-term elections, the Comelec and Smartmatic dumped the PCOS. Rebranded into VCMs, these were first used in the May 2016 presidential elections, when former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte emerged as winner.

Comelec official spokesman James Jimenez though believes Filipino voters will see much more improvements when we hold our next presidential race. From the lessons and experience the poll body had in the past four election exercises using the Smartmatic technology, Jimenez said, the flaws and challenges were already addressed and corrected.

According to Jimenez, these VCMs will be used for the last time in our country’s elections. Jimenez explained the VCMs are good only for three-election use as maximum life span. However, he pointed out, the Comelec will continue to work on further enhancements of the AES in the next mid-term elections in May 2025.

As the concurrent head of the Comelec Education and Information Department, Jimenez disclosed the poll body is working on a draft bill on the proposed pilot-testing of “internet voting” initially for the overseas absentee voting. For the past 17 years he has been working at the Comelec, Jimenez expressed the hopes of a technology by Filipinos will eventually be produced to improve the country’s election systems and processes.

Speaking in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay zoom webinar last Wednesday, Jimenez disclosed, the Comelec will strictly implement the health protocols prescribed by the Department of Health (DoH) in the conduct of our country’s electoral exercises during this period when we are still reeling from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Thus, Jimenez announced, all registered voters will still be required to wear their face shields before they are allowed entry to any of the 105,000 polling precincts set up all over the country on election day.

Voters will also undergo the temperature checking, Jimenez added. Voters who will manifest COVID-like symptoms, however, will still be allowed to vote, he reassured. But they will be diverted to the isolation polling place, away from the general public, where they will cast their ballots guided by Comelec-accredited medical people garbed in full protective personal equipment (PPE).

Unlike previous elections, Jimenez pointed out, all voters will not be allowed to directly go to their polling precinct. They will be processed first, he cited, at the “assistance desk” manned by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) as the Comelec-designated citizens’ watchdog arm. The teachers and the other members of Board of Election inspectors at each polling precinct will be enclosed in acrylic glass boxes among the anti-COVID measures to ensure the safety of everybody on election day.

Incidentally, the Comelec will hold a raffle today for the time slots to be allocated to all candidates who wish to use the poll body’s official online platform in Facebook and YouTube for the so-called electronic campaign rally, or e-rally. This is also part and parcel of anti-COVID measures the Comelec is implementing to protect everyone – from voters to candidates as well as the poll body’s personnel – against infection risks.

In fact, Jimenez proudly displayed the new Comelec logo on the right side of topscreen of his virtual office background during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum. The Comelec logo is emblazoned with black silhouettes of back-to-back figures of a woman’s head at the left and a man at the right. At a glance, their faces seemed to be covered with white facemasks.

A closer look though reveals it is actually a hand with a darkened forefinger nail. Obviously, this is indelible ink mark being poured to voter’s forefinger after casting the ballot. This is the last step being followed in our country’s election process as one of the safeguards against vote-buying and multiple voting.

Below the two head figures are the words “Vote S.A.F.E. and below it was a yellow-colored figure of star preceding our country’s name “Pilipinas.” The letters S.A.F.E. are actually an acronym that stands for Secure, Accurate, Free & Fair Elections. Officially launched for the conduct of this year’s May 9 national and local elections, the Comelec’s new slogan “Vote S.A.F.E.” replaced its long-running slogan H.O.P.E. which stood for Honest, Orderly, Peaceful Elections.

The poll body’s new slogan and logo made its debut display at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City where the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) was held in October last year, according to Jimenez. Many of the filers for presidential, vice presidential, senatorial and party list elections even posed in front of the new slogan/logo emblazoned in all Comelec streamers and billboards at the PICC.

The “Vote S.A.F.E.” slogan/logo of the Comelec obviously tries to capture the essence of our modernized election system.

But subliminally, the new slogan/logo message conveys at the same time the Comelec adaptation to anti-COVID health protocols. Moving from H.O.P.E. to “Vote S.A.F.E.,” there’s still sense of hope for credible outcome of this year’s elections.

AES

VCM

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