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Judges from the Visayas region review sample ballots as part of their training exercises.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines, assisted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in partnership with International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Libertas, an association of Filipino lawyers advocating for fair elections, completed the training series on election automation laws. In preparation for disputes that may arise from the first automated national elections in the Philippines, which were held on May 10, more than 600 judges from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao regions took part in the trainings.
The trainings held from April to May addressed the changing aspects of election dispute resolution under the Precinct Count Optical Scan Automated Election System. The training covered the system’s legal framework, election contest-related judicial procedures, election laws, electronic evidence rules and judicial reporting requirements, employing simulated voting, counting and canvassing of results.
Judge Renato Muñez from the Negros Occidental Province thanked USAID and ABA ROLI for supporting the training. “The training program is a welcome development, particularly for judges like us who are not technologically savvy,” he said. “Now, I am better prepared to handle election contest cases when I go back to my station.”
Attorney Luie Tito Guia, director of the Democracy and Electoral Reforms Desk at Libertas, discussed key electoral process changes associated with the switch from a manual to an automated voting system. In explaining the differences, he said that the manual process is long and geographically inconsistent, creating opportunities for electoral fraud, such as substitution or stuffing of ballot boxes, and vote-padding or shaving—locally known as dagdag bawas.
The automated system uses pre-printed ballots with the candidates’ names barcoded to guarantee authenticity and an optical scanning machine that stores picture images of the ballot and election returns to count votes. To further ensure information security and transparency, results are electronically transmitted from the precincts to the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and congress, and authorized scanning-machine operators have unique passwords. With its audit log of users and real-time results features, the automated election system promises speedy and accurate count and a highly efficient reporting mechanism.
COMELEC officials afforded the trainees with first-hand experience on the system, from voting to counting to canvassing results, showing them system-generated sample documents that may be used in resolving election disputes. Judge Mona Lisa Tabora from Baguio City said, “The training was helpful. Before, I had no idea how the machines worked. Here, I got an actual view of how the machines operate, how the technology works—the whole process.”
Retired justice Teresita Dy-Liacco-Flores, an election law trainer for the judiciary, provided the trainees with a guideline for handling election contests. She discussed electoral fraud investigation techniques, electronic evidence authenticity and common campaign-related offenses.
“The conference was helpful in explaining all the digital information, electronic evidence and federal regulations that have changed with this election,” said Judge Maria Anifaith Fides-Reyes of San Fernando City. “Justice Flores was very clear in articulating the rules and considerations for election disputes in an electronic election.”
To complement the trainings, ABA ROLI and USAID, in collaboration with the Philippine Judicial Academy and Libertas, published and distributed to all first level trial court judges approximately 1,000 digital reference materials containing all relevant election laws, COMELEC resolutions, court issuances and training lectures. They will help guide the judges in effectively handling election disputes under an automated system.
To learn more about our work in the Philippines, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.