2025 elections: Will more transparency translate to credible results?

With the credibility of the 2022 election results still in question with some Filipinos, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) promises “absolute transparency” in the conduct of the 2025 midterm polls.

To election watchdogs like the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) and Democratic Insights Group, the poll body’s efforts to be transparent in the procedural aspects, including its procurement activities for the upcoming elections, have been unprecedented under Chairman George Erwin Garcia.

Rona Ann Caritos, executive director of Lente, said at the third investigative journalism conference recently that even people who were actively participating in the election process as watchers are still “not that confident of the results” of the 2022 elections.

Laging tanong sa amin, ‘Tama ba ‘yung resulta ng 2022 national and local elections?’ Hindi po ito tanong na galing sa mga taong nasa kalye lang na hindi masyadong babad sa election. Ito ay tanong ng mga taong nagbantay ng eleksyon, kumulekta ng ER (election returns), nag-transmit ng ER, ipinadala ‘yung picture ng ER, pero sila on their own they’re not that confident of the results,” Caritos said.

Deepfakes and GenAI

With the use of deepfakes and generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) in disinformation and production of campaign materials, how could the results of the 2025 midterm and the 2028 national and local elections be any different?

Deepfakes are digitally manipulated videos or sound recordings that replace a person’s face or voice with that of someone else, in a way that it appears real. GenAI allows users to create contents and ideas such as text, images, conversations, stories, music and other forms of media.

These advancements in technology could make electoral activities even more challenging and could leave the voters more confused in making decisions based on accurate and truthful information about candidates and the election process.

Nevertheless, the Comelec is introducing changes in the conduct of the 2025 automated election system to make the results as credible as possible. For one, the poll body signed last March a P17.99-billion lease contract for 110,000 voting machines and peripherals, including ballot boxes, laptops and other printing requirements, with the South Korean Miru Systems Co. Ltd.

No more overheating machines

Garcia said in the same conference organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that voters will no longer see election officers manually fanning or using electric fans to cool down overheated vote counting machines.

He said Miru has shown to some representatives of election watchdogs how the 14-inch machines are assembled and how these work. “First time po natin ginawa ‘yun; hindi naman dati ginagawa ‘yun. The machines can read the ballots in 3 seconds, 200 millimeters (mm) per second; dati 70 mm lang per second. Pagkatapos, may automatic correction ‘yung machine and dalawa ang features: direct recording … touch screen and shading … OMR (optical mark recognition) technology,” he explained.

The touch screen technology may be used for overseas voting while voters in the country will still be shading their ballots, just like how votes were cast in the past few elections.

Responding to questions on the track record of Miru in holding electoral exercises over supposed irregularities in the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq, Garcia said the service provider had handled five presidential elections in South Korea and “there was no single objection or comment in its technology.”

Ang ginawa ng Miru, dahil dalawang technology, binabaan nila sobra ang presyo kasi ang gusto nila mai-promote ang kanilang technology,” he said.

The South Korean company was initially declared ineligible in the first round of bidding in December 2023 for its failure to meet the legal requirements of the lease contract. It qualified in January when the Comelec special bids and awards committee conducted a second round of bidding where Miru submitted new documents complying with all the legal and financial requirements for the project.

The first 20,000 units of the counting machines are expected to be delivered by August and the remaining 90,000 by December.

No more transparency servers

To counter check the election results, another group, iOne Resources Inc., has been contracted to supply the Secure Electronic Transmission Services. Electronic results of the elections will be sent from Miru’s automated counting machines directly to the consolidation and canvassing systems, the National Board of Canvassers and data centers, which will be accessible to different stakeholders such as the Comelec, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), the dominant majority and minority parties, and the media.

Sa darating na election wala na po tayong transparency server… kasi doon po nagkakaproblema. Lahat ng pinanggagalingan ng results dun lang sa transparency server, eh, paano kung nagkaproblema sa transparency server, paano kung nabulunan sa transparency server?… Ngayon po the strategy is from the precincts ‘yung result ng bawat presinto mata-transmit ito sa lahat ng entities tulad ng PPCRV, Namfrel, majority and minority parties, and [the] media. So there will be five entities that will be practically receiving the results coming from the precincts para sila-sila na mismo magko-compare among themselves. Meron po silang data center na ang Comelec mismo ang magse-set up ng data centers na ito,” Garcia explained.

Premature campaigning, voting in malls

To somehow level the playing field in campaigning, the Comelec will take a bold step in challenging Republic Act (RA) 9369, which has rendered premature campaigning a thing of the past.

“We will presume all those who will be filing their certificates of candidacy (CoC) on Oct. 1 to 8 as candidates already and we will apply premature campaigning. If they want to go to the Supreme Court, then so be it,” he said.

Under RA 9369, candidates are considered as such only at the start of the official campaign period, which is 90 to 120 days later, so their campaign expenses and activities between the filing of CoC and the campaign period are not included in the statement of contributions and expenses (SOCE) they will be filing.

Another laudable transparency measure the poll body is adopting is making available online all the SOCE that candidates are required to submit within 30 days from the election date.

For the first time also, Comelec plans to conduct internet voting for the overseas voters, hoping to have a higher turnout. In the 2022 elections, Garcia noted that out of at least 12 million Filipinos overseas, only 1.697 million had registered, and only 40.59% of them cast their ballots. “That was the highest [overseas voting turnout] in history, hindi man lang naka-50% and we spent almost P500 million just to allow almost 600,000 voters to vote on election day,” he noted.

In the past elections, overseas voters cast their ballots in person in Philippine embassies and consulates or by mail, but many voters do not send back the ballots even with free postage.

Another innovation is setting up voting precincts in shopping malls nationwide and to have early voting hours from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. exclusively for senior citizens, persons with disabilities and heavily pregnant women.

Purging flying voters

If plans push through, voters will find it easier to look for their names on the voters’ list, which will be posted outside the precincts. Flying voters can be easily detected because the list will have the voters’ photos in it.

With the changes in the voting system and the efforts of the Comelec to make the election-related activities and processes more transparent, the citizens’ cooperation is necessary to ensure peaceful, honest and orderly conduct of the elections and have credible results.

The public has a responsibility to watch against vote-buying, abuse of state resources to promote the candidacy mostly by incumbents, use of violence by politicians and their supporters as well the sources of campaign funds and possible conflicts of interest by aspirants.

Voters also need to be well informed to be able to make wise choices. As former Comelec commissioner Luie Guia said: “The only way we can have genuine democratic election is when voters are truly, sufficiently and truthfully informed of the issues that can be used as basis for them to make good political decisions, pero kung dysfunctional ang information environment, voters are deprived  of that right to be informed of facts that will make them decide well. Hindi bobo ang botante, deprived sila ng information.”

But with deep fakes and GenAI being abused to suit political interests, voters face a bigger challenge in using discernment to pick the best candidate. While Comelec can aim for absolute transparency in the technical and procedural aspects of the elections, the ball is still in the hands of individual voters to make the election results credible by actively participating in the process, being discerning, and making sure that votes are counted properly.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.