2019 elections: ‘Laway’ of Venezuelans or ‘talino’ of Filipinos

OCTOBER 24, 2018
Posted by CenPEG, Oct. 25 2018

Last of 17 parts 

IN this series, much has been explained about the performance of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in its conduct and preparations of the automated election system (AES) from 2008 to the present. From Episodes I to VIII, election watchdogs, like AES Watch, never failed to follow through the Comelec’s AES implementation, and even had an exchange of arguments in public, especially at the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) hearings, on why the Comelec did not comply with the AES Law and related acts/rules (e.g., e-Commerce Act of 2000, Data Privacy Act of 2012, Rules on Electronic Evidence, Government Procurement Reform Act, etc.). With all the observations, findings, ongoing and pending petitions in the courts, evidence, non-promulgation of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the AES Law, incompetence of the project management office, etc., AES Watch can only surmise that we need real serious electoral reform covering not just the AES but more so the people behind its implementation.

The organizational commitment of Comelec vis its constitutional mandate should be further reviewed, as has been done in the deliberations this year on the party-list system, political dynasties, and related topics in the discussions on federalism by President Duterte’s constitutional committee (Con-com). There appears to have been a concession that electoral reforms may only be possible through drastic changes in how we conduct elections, vote candidates of political parties, and even in appointing the men and women behind the Comelec’s en banc. As to when these reforms will happen, AES Watch prays that it be done soonest, possibly before the 2022 national and local elections.

However, reforms in the Comelec can start immediately without waiting for the next presidential elections in 2022. One simple thing that the Comelec could surely do, without categorically being so technical, is to consider the IRR promulgation as a project per se. They claimed that the AES implementation in 2010, 2013, and 2016 were all projects completed successfully! And that they did their best. Taking their perspective, Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas should already appoint a project manager, their very best lawyer in their legal department, to start planning to comply with Section 37 of the AES Law, or Republic Act 8436, as amended by RA 9369: “The Commission shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation and enforcement of this Act.” That would not need any technical knowhow in information and communications technology but merely some logical and legal discourse. He or she may also collaborate with other legal minds in the judiciary to fast-track the promulgation. If there would be forums, or even focused group discussions, to facilitate the drafting of the IRR, AES Watch is willing to join as also manifested in the past JCOC hearings. By studying the ongoing and pending petitions in the Supreme Court, Ombudsman and other courts, Comelec may find a lot of insights as reference materials in devising the IRR.

Not visible to the public eyes, and quite considered to be part and parcel of electoral reforms, are the necessary improvements of the organizational structure of Comelec. These include, but are not limited to the strengthening of the internal automation of their business processes, information security, data privacy, internal audit, and the conduct of strategic planning exercises. All of these should be treated as individual projects. Have they done substantial accomplishments on these critical areas? Like what had happened with the dreadful fate of AES, these were things left undone.

It is ironic to note that the Comelec dealt heavily with the automation of our election system but has forgotten to automate its internal operations. Billions and billions of pesos were poured into their projects covering biometrics in voter registration system, counting and canvassing of votes with the use of unreliable PCOS machines and laptops, transmission of unverified election results (i.e., no digital signatures), regional hubs, and even the use of external cloud services of Amazon. Do you still remember the “no bio, no boto” policy syndrome? Anchored on the Mandatory Biometrics Registration Law of 2013, or RA 10367, which aims to remove fraudulent registrants from the voter rolls, that policy was an equally disastrous project as the AES. Comelec even pushed Congress to pass that RA 10367 but it turned out to be a useless white elephant project!

Unfortunately, even after the 2016 elections, Comelec has been struggling to implement the Electronic New Government Accounting System, or eNGAS, of the Commission on Audit (CoA). The then Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista was saying that Comelec was on the verge of implementing eNGAS, but it faded away when he fled to the US. AES Watch still remembers that the eNGAS project started way back, more than a decade ago. Such a simple project could not take off like the IRR of RA 8436, as amended by RA 9369, that has been pending since 1997! The eNGAS, as implemented by most government offices, is a great tool for CoA to spot budget misappropriations. Somehow, misuses of the budget by Comelec were detected, though in a hard way.

Comelec also announced that it will adopt the ISO/IEC 27001, or the Information Security Management System (ISMS) framework, to secure the AES, and even their internal operations. That desperate move was a result of the catastrophic ComeLeak incident before the 2016 elections. That should be another good initiative of Comelec. Where is it now? Nada! Would you believe that this project has been around in the poll body for more than a decade also? It even started in 2003 with ISO/IEC 17799, the predecessor of ISO/IEC 27001. Read our related series of articles about “ComeLeak: Telltale sign of poor governance.”

When a strategic plan fails, it is a manifestation of poor governance. That’s very much correlated with managing projects, simple or complex. Comelec’s strategic plan, especially the infamous COMSTRAT 1116 (i.e., Comelec’s Stratplan from 2011 to 2016) during the time of chairman Sixto Brillantes, was a typical horrendous and fruitless project like AES implementation. In an interview with him in 2012, Brillantes said: “Documentation matagal ko nang sinasabi! Pag-inbentaryo ng mga dokumento…We are in the process of transforming it from regular…puro papel into centralized document system. Until now, si Goyo (former Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal) cannot be cleared for certain cases that he could not produce. Di na nya malaman kung saan napunta! That should not happen anymore….Di rin namin nae-enforce…..Ang concentration ng pera namin is all towards elections. Pero yung regular system namin, these should be done in between. These should have been done in 2011…”

Well, to conclude this 17-part series, the “laway” syndrome overcoming “talino” may continue to prevail in the elections to come, even in the next presidential elections in 2022, due to the inability of our constitutional commission, the Comelec, in managing its internal affairs and in handling the AES project. The three branches of government should already intervene and put a lot of pressure on the Comelec’s operations. Let’s get on to the recommendation of the ConCom to espouse the “Public Nature of Elections” coupled with right management skills and leadership in the Comelec’s organization. How? Political will!

As Alfred Chandler (1970) said, “Structure follows strategy!”

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