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2019 Hybrid Elections

by Francis N. Tolentino

With only less than a year and a half before the 2019 polls, all preparations are well underway – for the Commission on Elections, the political candidates, as well as the electorate. The people’s clamor for transparent, clean, and honest elections begin to grow louder like a chant that is endlessly looped, reverberating elections after elections. The campaign to defend the genuine will of the electorate has been launched, as it is expected to once again be challenged by fraud and manipulation.

The quest for a perfectly honest and transparent election remains elusive. Maybe there really is nothing perfect and flawless after all, especially in electoral exercises similar to ours. However, while our elections remain flawed and intrigued, there is no reason to lose hope that someday, Filipinos can trust and be happy about their election results. The key is perhaps for more and more Filipinos to appreciate the value and power of their ballots, that is, for them to recognize how life-changing their choice of leaders can be.

The way we conduct our elections has always been viewed as blemished and highly vulnerable to skillful exploitation. These perceptions formed part of the impetus that propelled election automation which promised accuracy, reliability, and accelerated delivery of election results. Promises for this particular case, however, were made to be broken. While lesser human intervention indeed lessened human error, the automated system did not take into account how human manipulation may also be reduced. Apart from technical glitches and other issues raised against the automated system used during the 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections, the question of how genuine and truthful election results can be guaranteed remains unanswered. Some discussions on these issues have been highly technical and have remained debatable to this date. However, to the common Filipino mind, the only important thing is that the true will of the people is reflected in the election results and that their right to suffrage is respected and upheld.

A few years back, a proposal for a hybrid polling system was placed forward by the Filipino Information Technology for Elections (FIT4E) led by former Commissioner Augusto Lagman. The Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATAS) was a mixture of the old and the new school, so to speak. With PATAS, the proposal was for voting and counting to be done manually in the polling precincts just like in the old days, and for canvassing, consolidation, and transmission of election results to be automated. Unfortunately, the proposal never got the Comelec’s nod, but PATAS would have been able to keep transparency safeguarded. Yes, manual voting and counting slows down the process, but are we to sacrifice the integrity of our election results just to generate the same in a speedier manner yet without guarantee that the data produced are indeed reflective of the people’s choice?

Introducing innovations into processes such as elections is not a bad thing, so long as these enhancements do not take away the elements that are integral to the processes being enhanced. Transparency is an essential component of the election process and is the lifeblood that sustains the credibility and honesty of election results . If we are to really move forward in the direction that leads our people to regain trust and confidence in our electoral process, I believe the first step is to ensure transparency – to show our electorate that their ballots are valued and that the same are not manipulated to favor the interests of a few.