Credible elections, accountability and performance

"We gave them that power, and we must always remind them that we are constantly watching."


A week after millions of Filipinos trooped to the polls, traditional and social media continue to be flooded with reports of the many glitches and problems that beleaguered the conduct of the midterm elections. That the coverage mostly highlighted the problem areas was to be expected; it’s the nature of journalism to dwell on conflicts and the public has the right to be updated on any untoward incident that might have affected their votes.

To put things into perspective, the technical hitches involving the vote counting machines and SD cards were also experienced during the 2016 elections although it is also true that there was a markedly higher occurrence this time around. Worrying anecdotal incidents spread over social media, some picked up by mainstream media, often without follow-ups on whether the problems were addressed or not, or if they affected the counting the votes or not.

Though still statistically small perhaps, the issues were enough to spark speculations and all sorts of conspiracy theories on the polls. This is so even if the proportion of the machines that malfunctioned still fell within the expected rate, and that most of the problems were related to accessories and other components, such as SD cards and markers.

A related development then is that the recently concluded polls saw the first time in which the Commission on Elections was nearly 100 percent self-reliant in running the entire range of processes comprising the Automated Election System. Their election technology partner Smartmatic was relegated to a minimal role, mostly in technical support.

The infrastructure for electronic transmission, for instance, was provided by PLDT, Globe, and other telcos, while a company called TRIPLEX supplied the markers and paper. The SD cards, the quality of which became the scapegoat and subject of much ire from Comelec officials, came from a joint venture between S1 and Silicon Valley Computers. In other words, in every step of the way, the issues that came up as a result of allegedly defective or ill-suited markers and SD cards are a responsibility of these third-party providers.

Even so, it’s important to point out that for all the noise—a comforting sign for we obviously take our elections seriously—there are safeguards in place that can conclusively get to the bottom of things. In our case we can rely on the results of the random manual audit and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting’s verification of the actual election returns as the ultimate arbiter of the success or failure of the polls.

Even the contentious delay involving the transparency server appears to be blown out of proportion, if Comelec officials were to be believed. And as soon as the commission en banc issued a formal authorization, an evaluation of what was causing the issue quickly followed and a solution was found. Recently, the PPCRV was also granted access to audit logs and had started looking into what exactly happened that led to the seven-hour delay.

According to the group, they are looking at whether there was transmission of data that took place during the delay, why the servers stopped showing the data in the tally boards, and whether the data is complete.

Also reassuring was the assessment by the Philippine National Police that the polls were generally peaceful. There were fewer incidents of violence against members of the Board of Election Inspectors, thanks to the speedy transmission and consolidation of results. In fact, three hours after the precincts closed, more than 70 percent of the results had been transmitted, still a far cry from the pace with which manual elections and canvassing were conducted.

What was noticeably up and therefore worrying was the widespread incidents of vote buying (which Duterte, in another controversial statement, described as “integral” to Philippine elections). Dozens of vote-buying cases were reported nationwide, with nearly 200 arrested by the police since the start of the campaign period. Notable cases include Quezon City mayoral candidate Bingbong Crisologo, who was arrested the night before the elections for obstruction of justice when he came to the rescue of his campaign workers who were arrested for alleged vote buying. This needs to be stopped.

For now, even as we grapple with the results, it is clear that the senatorial race has given the Duterte administration a fresh popular mandate to pursue its agenda. As the midterm polls is commonly seen as a referendum for the sitting president, the message that the recent one had sent is clear. The chief executive continues to enjoy a high level of trust from a broad majority of Filipinos, something that survey after survey also confirms.

But as the administration consolidates its control over much of the government machinery, the vote of confidence is also a demand for accountability. The big win by candidates identified with or endorsed by the President puts pressure on the increasingly powerful leadership to deliver and produce tangible results that will be felt by the people. As gut issues on food security and wages dominated the campaign, the biggest challenge is to translate populist rhetoric into meaningful, concrete actions and reforms that will bring relief to large swathes of the Filipino population.

Our participation in the democracy does not stop at marking the circles next to the people who we think can help us and this country. The next step, whether our preferred candidates won or not, is to continue to demand that our government officials act on our interest. We gave them that power, and we must always remind them that we are constantly watching if they wield it for our benefit.

Topics: Orlando Oxales , midterm elections , Commission on Elections , Automated Election System , vote counting machines , SD cards
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