The Advisory Council Meeting 02.14.07

The Advisory Council has been convened by Secretary Ramon P. Sales, Chairman of the Commission on Information Communication Technology.

The members:

  • DOST – Usec. Fortunato T. dela Pena
  • Representative of the Academe – Manuel C. Ramos
  • Representatives of ICT Professional Organizations – Renato B. Garcia; Lilia C. Guillermo; Ivan John E. Uy
  • Representatives of Non-government Electoral Reform Organizations – Gonzalo O. Catan Jr.; Andie C. Lasala

[update]

The Advisory Council, through its spokesman and legal counsel Lorenzo Formoso III, announced its recommendation on whether the COMELEC ought to push through with automation under the AES law.

The long and short of it is what Formoso said “… the Advisory Council as a body recommended that the automated election system not be implemented for the May 14, 2007 elections …”

Excerpts from the Resolution of the Advisory Council, as signed by Messrs. Ramon Sales (CICT), Fortunato dela Pena (DOST), Renato Garcia (PETEF), Gonzalo Catan (PPCRV), Andie Lasala (CER), and Ivan Uy (PCS):

“Solutions Provider Readiness: Preliminarily, it must be stated that COMELEC does not have the option to simply buy the most suitable packaged or off-the-shelf AES and simply adapt or customize COMELEC processes and procedures to the purchased AES. While Section 31, paragraph 2 of RA 8436, as amended, authorizes the COMELEC to prescribe other mannor or procedure for the canvassing and consolidation of votes as technology evolves, such authority is not extended to other aspects of the electoral process and is further subject to the minimum capability requirements of the AES specified in Section 6 of RA 8436.

“COMELEC must, therefore, require the AES package that will be procured to be adapted or customized by the solutions provider to the existing electoral processes and procedures of the COMELEC as required by law, whether through changes in configurable parameters or through programming.”

This explanation, to me, speaks to the often repeated claims of ‘automation-NOW’ advocates that there are many available election solutions just waiting to be plucked, so to speak, from the commercial vine. It is not enough that the technology exists; that technology must be tailor-fitted (or tweaked or re-tooled, if you prefer) to the unique requirements of Philippine laws.

The AC struck this point merely a glancing blow, true enough, when it said that the COMELEC’s rule making authority did not extend to other aspects of the electoral process – other aspects that would inevitably be affected by automation – but it did expose the greater truth: while the COMELEC has rule making powers, these powers are not a substitute for the legislature. If we were to try to wrap existing rules and procedures around off-the-shelf tech designed for other election systems, the COMELEC would probably end up re-writing laws. If we did that, Congress would be up in arms, our work would be struck down by the Supreme Court, and we would, once again, be tarred and feathered. Thanks. But no thanks.

“For the procurement and deployment of the AES, the following activities need to be undertaken:

“For the Advisory Council:

  1. Prequalification of Vendors
  2. Deliberate on system technical requirements; systems integrity and accountability; and compliance with the law
  3. Shortlist highly recommended providers
  4. Officially transmit to the COMELEC the resolution

“For the COMELEC:

  1. Issue terms of reference
  2. Conduct bidding process
  3. Contract awarding
  4. Testing of the AES
  5. Acceptance testing
  6. Secure the certification of the AES

“As (the law) requires that the AES be certified by the Technical Evaluation Committee thru an established International Certification Entity eight weeks prior to the May 14 (polls) or not later than March 19, 2007, (all the steps except Securing the certification of the AES) have to be undertaken or completed between today (2/14/07) and that date, or a period of less than five weeks.

“The schedule is actually tighter because the certification process requires the completion of the following conditional events even prior to march 19, 2007:

  1. The successful conduct of a field testing process followed by a mock election event in one or more cities/municipalities;
  2. The succesful completion of an audit on the accuracy, functionality, and security controls of the AES software;
  3. The successful completion of a source code review;
  4. A certifiction that the source code is kept in escrow with the BSP;
  5. A certification that the source code reviewed is one and the same as that used by the equipment; and
  6. The development, provisioning, and operationalization of a continuity plan to cover risks to the AES.

“Given the above timelines and the legally mandated minimum capability requirements of the AES, it is very unlikely that an AES solutions provider can comply. And even assuming that an AES solutions provider can hurdle the above conditions, the issues of COMELEC readiness and voter -and other stakeholder- readiness remain.

Again, and at the risk of sounding smug, this is exactly what we’ve been saying all along. Alright I sound smug; deal with it.

Anyway, the AC resolution goes on to discuss the issue of COMELEC readiness to implement the AES. It talks about the various processes and procedures that will have to be re-engineered to accomodate the AES, the organizational and structural changes that will be needed, the training, the competence building …. and so on and so forth. None of which can be adequately achieved or met by the COMELEC in the time remaining.

And then the Resolution winds up with stakeholder readiness. This part I really appreciated because the AC resolution really fleshes out what it means to conduct a public acceptance and voter education program to support a pilot in 2 highly urbanized cities and 2 provinces in LuzViMin. We will have to educate and train:

  • 2,000,000 voters
  • 46,281 election officials
  • 22,968 local government officials
  • 309 COMELEC staff
  • all National politicial parties and affected Regional or Local parties
  • all National and affected Local candidates
  • the military and police in the areas affected; and
  • 15,000 members of the BEI (who are mandated by law to be IT-capable)

Rough, man.

All told, the AC Resolution paints a realistic picture of the challenges that the COMELEC will face if it forges on ahead with this pilot. As the Advisory Council itself says:

  1. “Given the timelines and specific requirements of RA 8436, as amended, it is highly unlikely that an AES solutions provider will be able, ready, and willing to comply with all the conditions and provide COMELEC with an AES solution in time for the May 14, 2007 elections.
  2. “The COMELEC does not have enough time to change manage in time for the May 14, 2007 elections.
  3. “The voting public and other electoral stakeholders in the pilot areas will not be ready for the AES for the may 14, 2007 elections.
  4. “The AES cannot be implemented in the 12 pilot areas for the May 14, 2007 elections and (the Advisory Council) cannot recommend the use of the AES therefor.”

Well, I guess that wraps it up and 30.

2 Responses

  1. […] You can also see more details from Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez’s personal blog […]

  2. I guess this news is independent from the Singapore OAV issues, right?

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