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When silence is not golden



On 13 May 2019, designated public schools served as polling precincts opened their doors at 6 a.m. and closed by 6 p.m.

The much-hyped voting counting machines would commence transmitting precinct returns to the respective municipal/city canvassing servers, then to provincial canvassing servers, and finally to the transparency server.

“To prevent the anxiety caused by delayed transmissions, the poll body should be more open and transparent with AES data, make such information more open to local IT experts.

A couple of minutes past sunset, media outlets started reporting vote counts in agonizingly slow trickles. The vote count remained glued to the numbers reported as of 6:30 p.m., based on results reported from approximately 0.38 percent of the total polling precincts. The unofficial tally continued to be stuck for several hours, with the transmission rate pegged at the 0.38 percent level.

With the media dependent on the election results transmitted by the transparency server to the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), live coverage of the elections shifted to armchair analysis of the data blackout. More alarming was the uncanny lack of response from Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials, much to the unease of all stakeholders, from candidates to political parties, poll watch dogs and the general public.

The clamor for an explanation for the delay in the transmission by the transparency server drew a reaction from Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, but only after three hours had elapsed. He surmised that the issue was in the “reporting of the transparency server,” which could not generate a report for which it was programmed to do. Now, isn’t that worrisome? Even Mr. Jimenez expressed concern over the appallingly slow transmission rate, considering that the Municipal Board of Canvassers and Provincial Board of Canvassers have been receiving steady transmission of precinct level returns.

Ideally, the transparency server should have transmitted unofficial vote tallies to accredited media groups, poll watchdogs and political parties at 10- to 15-minute intervals. As it turned out, things were far from ideal, as the only transmission received for close to eight hours, bore the timestamp of 6:15 p.m. of 13 May.

While the public heard the spokesman admitting that “Tama kayo, nakakabahala na medyo malaki ’yung gap ng reporting na nagaganap (You are right, the large gap in reporting is alarming),” not a peep was heard from any of the commissioners. The anxiety over the stalled media count heightened as the hours dragged on.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” The inexplicable silence of the Comelec commissioners, whether singly or collectively, has been viewed as nothing short of a betrayal of the trust reposed by the general public. Instead, the public was provided the quite lame explanation by Comelec director Teopisto Elnas Jr. that the computer service generating election data for the KBP and PPCRV “encountered technical difficulties.”

In hindsight, Comelec should have acceded to the request for the automated election system (AES) data interposed by the oldest poll watchdog, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections.

To prevent the anxiety caused by delayed transmissions, the poll body should be more open and transparent with AES data, make such information more open to local IT experts and, more importantly, not restrict these data only to the Comelec and the foreign technology vendor.