Congress to take up digital signatures before canvassing

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 26 2010 01:56 AM | Updated as of May 26 2010 07:14 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A key security feature in the automated election system threatens to further delay an already delayed canvassing of votes for president and vice-president.
When the joint canvassing committee formed by the Senate and House of Representatives, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers for president and vice president begins work on Wednesday, they won't be tackling the certificates of canvass just yet.
At the close of the joint session of both chambers of Congress on Tuesday, May 25, 2010, leaders of both the Senate and the House summoned officials of the Commission on Elections and poll automation contractor Smartmatic-TIM to appear before the committee and explain why the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEIs) who manned the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines were not made to affix their digital signatures prior to the transmission of the electronic election returns (ERs) and Certificates of Canvass (COCs).
The move stems from a motion by Maguindanao Representative Didagen Dilangalen to ask the entities mentioned to explain how members of Congress will ascertain the due execution and authenticity of the certificates of canvass without that security feature.
Dilangalen’s motion delayed the vote of the House on the adoption of the rules of canvass on Tuesday.
Why no digital signatures?

While the Senate quickly adopted, with no objections, the House-proposed rules of canvass, congressmen, led by Dilangalen, raised several questions when it was their chamber’s turn to vote.
Dilangalen reminded the body that the digital signatures were a security requirement of the poll automation law.
He originally wanted Comelec and Smartmatic officials to explain to the plenary, a motion Speaker Prospero Nograles rejected, telling Dilangalen that the Comelec and Smartmatic will instead face the joint committee.
For his part, Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño cited the lack of the digital signatures as basis in calling for an expanded Random Manual Audit of the PCOS machines.
Lawmakers want Comelec and Smartmatic to answer any and all questions on the accuracy of the machines before the joint committee.

Manual or electronic COC?

Besides accuracy, another key issue was: which certificate of canvass will be canvassed? The electronic- or manually-transmitted COCs?

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman cites the automation law in calling for the canvass of the electronic COC only, which Nograles rejected by saying both manual and electronic COCs will be canvassed to further double-check the figures.

Any discrepancies will be set aside to allow the canvass of COCs with no discrepancies. They only return to the COCs with discrepancies if these will affect the final results of the canvass.

After the rules were formally adopted, the 18 lawmakers from the Senate and House who will sit in the canvass committee were officially nominated.

Alternates were also designated.

Won't sacrifice accuracy

Both Speaker Nograles and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile assured they will be able to proclaim a new president and vice-president before the end of the current administration’s term on June 30, 2010.

But, while they maintained they will not sacrifice accuracy for speed, they also will not allow dilatory tactics to derail to proceedings.
For his part, Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said he will ask the committee to work from 9 am to 5 pm daily instead of the current schedule of 3 pm to 8 pm to further hasten the canvass and proclaim the winners by June 10 at the latest.