A Broad Perspective on the Current Controversy about Election Return Transmissions In Particular and on Our Voting Automation Issues In General

(Text of a talk given at the Tumindig Para sa Katotohanan at Demokrasya symposium, University of the Philippines School of Statistics, September 30, 2023)

Hector Barrios
CenPEG / 10 Oct. 2023

Based on my working experience in the management of systems as Head of Operations in a fairly sizeable bank, I believe that it is best to approach our automated election issues from a broad perspective. Let us apply this approach to the current controversy about possible irregularities in the transmission of election returns in last year’s polls. 

The direct result of the controversy has been to place the integrity of the canvass in question and, consequently, also the legitimacy of the elected officials.

There is a proper and expeditious way to resolve any question about the integrity of the canvass and that is to reconcile the product of the canvassing process (the certificate of canvass) with its source (the election returns.) Reconciliation is the standard method to verify the results of data processing, including data transmission, and the fact that we have not resorted to this method is an irregularity because this is the method provided for in our election law. It should be used immediately upon any question about the integrity of the canvass so that the damage, if any, arising from the error is minimized.

I refer to Section 19 of R. A. 9369 which provides for the making of the election returns in multiple copies and distribution of the copies to various recipients. In the case of the presidential polls, subsection 19A provides for 30 copies. (At this point, there is a visual presentation of the Summary of Distribution of the 30 copies showing that they are to be allocated to:  government entities/agents (6), political parties (14), the press (6), and citizens’ arms (4).)

One copy, that of the Board of Canvassers, is the production copy. It is the one to be used in the canvassing operation to produce the certificate of canvass. The rest are control copies. Their use is to verify if the certificate of canvass is faithful or not to its source, the election returns. You see, only the production copy is sent out and subjected to the risk of error. The 29 other copies are intact with their holders. So, comparing them with the certificate of canvass will show if the latter is erroneous.
In case a variance is established between the canvass results and the control copies, that variance is the corpus delicti or ‘body of the crime.’ Once established, it is sufficient basis for legal and administrative action to undo the fruits of the error. What about the investigation into the transmission irregularity? That investigation does not establish the ‘body of the crime’; rather it has a different, broader function as it is a means to clean up the system by revealing:  [a] presence of irregularity in the conduct of the canvass, [b] how it was done and, [c] who did it. Appropriate actions can then be taken to deal with the culprits and reinforce the vulnerable parts of the system.

Why are there so many control copies? Well, let’s not forget that the election is a collective act of the nation. The nation as a whole must be the one to do the processes as well as the controls. By making it possible for significant sectors of the body politic, important and credible elements of society, to verify the canvass, Section 19 is in effect empowering the people to verify the canvass.

In conclusion, I recommend that one or more of the holders of the control copies take the initiative to process their respective copies so as to resolve the current doubts about the canvass – publicly and the more participants the better. Let’s not allow doubts about the legitimacy of our elected officials to linger unnecessarily. It’s stressful on the people and can lead to some political unrest.

Before I end, I would like to give a brief perspective on our election automation issues in general. When our voting system was automated, the machine took over the act of election. Let’s be clear: the election is a sovereign act and only the people should perform it.

From being the actor or player, we were turned into a spectator. However, we did not protest this change in our role. We were willing to be spectators.

The problem that we saw, rather, was a technical one, a “lack of transparency.” And so our technical experts are at the forefront of an effort to restore transparency.

But in reality we did not lose ‘transparency.” It was never an attribute of our election. What was taken from us was the power to perform the act of election. Thus, what we should be protesting are:


And I believe it is only proper to ask:

Where are our constitutionalists?
Where is our legal profession. the bar associations, faculties of law in our universities?
Where are the scholars of our political system?

We need these defenders of our democracy to help restore the sovereignty of our elections. At the very least, they can lend their prestige.


Facebook share button

Twitter share button

Latest posts
Back to top Back to top >>
Contact number: +63-9171141405 email: cenpeg@cenpeg.org; cenpeg.info@gmail.com Copyright ©2005
Center for People Empowewrment in Governance (CenPEG), Philippines. All rights reserved