Call to Comelec for transparency, integrity, accountability

EVERYBODY plays a role in the integrity of the National and Local Elections (NLE) on May 9, 2022. “Vote S.A.F.E (Secure, Accurate, Free and Fair Elections) Pilipinas,” is the battle cry of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). From the start, Comelec reminded the public to vote SAFE and for candidates to read or sign the Integrity Pledge during the filing of the certificate of candidacy. The Integrity pledge was a reminder for them to be vigilant in spreading misinformation, to be transparent in their campaign finance, to be mindful of health protocols, and to keep the elections secure, accurate, free and fair. Even social media platforms are forging meaningful partnerships to help people access the right information so they could make an informed vote in the upcoming elections. As a social media practitioner, I signed the Election 2022 pledge for journalists and media organizations as early as July 2021. Some 200 journalists and 25 news organizations around the country signed a commitment to fact-based election coverage and pledged to monitor the conduct of the election campaign, political parties and candidates, and the institutions mandated to ensure the integrity of the election process.

Indeed, Comelec and various stakeholders are working hard to ensure that NLE will be conducted, free and fair. But Comelec should address the calls for transparency to the voting public on the integrity and security of the automated election systems (AES) being delivered on their behalf by Smartmatic for the May 2022 national elections. Halalang Marangal 2022 (HM2022), a coalition of 20 faith-based organizations in the Philippines, stressed the call for election transparency, integrity and accountability. “We understand that the Comelec may already have their hands full with the 2022 elections less than two months away. However, key issues have come to light these past few weeks on the Smartmatic election automated system, and the poll body needs to address them proactively,” Kent Sitaca, Halalang Marangal 2022 spokesperson, said. An alleged data theft occurred within Smartmatic based on a Senate committee hearing last week. Other issues may have yet to be discovered by Comelec.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, convenor of HM2022, asked Comelec for response and action on:

1. Comelec’s printing 67 percent of the election ballots without the presence of any accredited citizen groups or third-party technology expert observers;

2. Configuration of the Secure Data (SD) cards that will be used by the vote counting machines (VCMs) also without the presence of third-party observers;

3. Expansion of the use of the Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (PNPKI) beyond the National Capital Region, Cebu and Davao;

4. Third party audit on the aggregated telecommunications infrastructure that will be used by the VCMs to transmit the results of the elections;

5. Third party audit on the data centers housing the Comelec central, backup and transparency servers;

6. Similar to the code review, a third-party end-to-end run-through audit and review of the Smartmatic automated election system.

Sitaca stressed that the “Comelec will continue to be hounded by these issues if left unaddressed.” “Halalang Marangal, together with its partners, will extend its assistance to the poll body if they need it.” Even Danny Arao, convener of Kontra Daya election watchdog, in a CNN report called on the Senate to be “more transparent” and give all the details disclosed during the executive session. “The extent of the breach in Smartmatic servers/machines should be clear, in terms that ordinary, non-techie people can understand,” he added. Comelec commissioner George Garcia told reporters on Wednesday that the en banc is “taking action” on the allegations of security breach. They cannot reveal the details so as not to prejudice the ongoing National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigation. We can’t just take their word for it. Continued vigilance is necessary.

National Citizens‘ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) believes that active vigilance, critical engagement with and assistance to the Comelec as it prepares for the polls, and citizens’ observation of the process are assurances that would help dispel fears of cheating during the vote count and manipulation of results in the coming elections. All of us have the same goal: for transparent, orderly and honest elections this May 2022 through a secure automated election system.


First published at Sunday Business & IT, March 27, 2022