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NAMFREL’s Preliminary Report: 2022 Elections Went Smoothly, But Not Without Issues

NAMFREL

NAMFREL releases to the public the Executive Summary to its Preliminary Report on the May 2022 National and Local Elections (NLE). The Report was submitted last month to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in compliance with the terms of NAMFREL’s accreditation as citizens’ arm.

The Report is the result of NAMFREL’s monitoring of the conduct of all pre-election, election day, and post-election activities, through tens of thousands of volunteers nationwide. Generally, the 2022 NLE proceeded smoothly, but not without issues, which are detailed in the Report. The issues relate to the transparency and performance of the automated election system, the training of Electoral Boards, the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, as well as reported cases of vote-buying.

NAMFREL will release a more comprehensive, final report on the 2022 NLE after all processes have concluded.

NAMFREL is the first citizens-led, national election monitoring organization in the world. It has observed Philippine elections through volunteers since 1983. Currently, NAMFREL is observing the ongoing voter registration process, and monitoring procurement for the 5 December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections. For more information on voter registration, visit NAMFREL’s open election data platform: https://www.voteforus.org.ph.


Executive Summary

Pursuing its mission to serve the cause of free and fair elections in the country, NAMFREL applied for and was once again accredited by the COMELEC as citizens’ arm for the 2022 National and Local Elections (NLE). Pursuant to its accreditation, NAMFREL was tasked to: (1) Provide assistance to voters on election day; (2) Assist in providing informational assistance; (3) Assist in implementing campaign finance rules and regulations; (4) Assist in conducting the Random Manual Audit (RMA); and (5) Assist in all other activities, as the Commission may deem necessary.

Pre-Election Period

NAMFREL’s pre-election activities fell under three main activities:

(1) Participation in preparatory activities with COMELEC and other election stakeholders such as Congress and civil society organizations.

As a member of the COMELEC Advisory Council, as well as a participant in meetings of the COMELEC AES Steering Committee and hearings in Congress, NAMFREL recommended five standards and other measures to improve the transparency of the Automated Election System (AES). NAMFREL also suggested improvements to the RMA as member of the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations in the RMA Committee. A few recommendations were adopted in the conduct of the elections and the RMA.

NAMFREL also monitored the procurement of AES goods and services, which were done online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, participated in voting simulation and mock elections and recommended measures to ensure a COVID-free 2022 NLE.

AES-related activities were also observed, such as the Local Source Code Guided Review, Trusted Build, End-to-End Demo, Printing and Random Testing of Ballots (after it had been opened to on-site observation following stakeholders’ plea for transparency), Loading and Dispatch of AES, Ballots and Other Supplies, among others. As citizens’ arm, NAMFREL also had access to the output of the Transparency Media Server, where unofficial results came in as soon as the polls closed.

After the End-to-End Demo, NAMFREL’s IT team pointed out that the VCM System Hash Code did not match what was published during the second Final Trusted Build. After calling COMELEC’s attention, the latter posted on its website a “CERTIFICATION OF CORRECT SYSTEM HASH” by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) and the letter from Pro V & V with the subject “Generated VCM System SHA256 Hash Discrepancy.” In addition, the process of building the components into a system and that should have generated the system hash was never shown publicly to anyone. Aside from the VCM System Hash, there were no other hash codes exposed to the public to check. Hence, NAMFREL requested documentation on the process and independent verification of all hash codes.

(2) Public information and voter education efforts about the different activities in the election calendar.

Anchored on transparency and open data principles, NAMFREL launched Vote For Us (www.voteforus.org.ph), which contained data sets on Location of COMELEC offices and contact details, COMELEC distribution hubs of election equipment and supplies, Links to lists of candidates, Links to videos candidates’ debates, Links to COMELEC resolutions organized by category, Election calendar, Information on overseas voting, AES procurement, “Botante Bits” short videos, and long videos on voting under the “new normal”, the AES, and how ordinary Filipinos could be citizen election observers.

NAMFREL also posted announcements, photos, statements and press releases on social media, conducted online briefings and a Twitter Spaces talk show called “NAMFREL Huddle”, all relating to the 2022 NLE.

(3) Organizing NAMFREL chapters which included recruitment and training of volunteers.

As in past elections, and despite the difficulty brought by the pandemic, NAMFREL recruited and mobilized volunteers nationwide to monitor election-related activities in the pre-election, election day, and post-election periods. Volunteers were oriented and trained through online assemblies.

Tens of thousands of NAMFREL volunteers turned up at voting centers across the country to observe and help safeguard the 2022 NLE. Some chapters also provided voter assistance in the voting centers on election day and through remote voter assistance desk.

Observation Reports

NAMFREL volunteers nationwide observed and submitted reports on the following: (1) pre-election activities: campaigns, public demo of VCMs, delivery of VCMs and election materials; (2) AES monitoring: during Final Testing and Sealing and on election day, from opening, voting, closing and counting, transmission, canvassing, and pull-out of VCMs and ballot boxes in polling places selected for the RMA; and (3) post-election activities: RMA and campaign finance.

(1) Pre-Election Activities

NAMFREL chapters observed that many pre-election activities proceeded without untoward incidents. However, many COVID-related protocols were not followed or enforced during many of these observed activities. Another top observation was the physical distribution of food, drinks, and other items, which was disallowed by the COMELEC’s campaign guidelines.

Some technical issues happened during the public demo of VCMs, as well as during the FTS. In some areas, the deliveries were not announced ahead of time, causing some observers to arrive late.

In the few days prior to election day, including the weekend before 9 May, NAMFREL received complaints from distraught citizens saying that the COMELEC’s online precinct finder were telling them their records could not be found. Some voters might have been disenfranchised.

(2) Election Day

Generally, the polls opened smoothly. However, the high turnout seemed to have overwhelmed many voting centers, in which COVID-19 protocols were not properly enforced and observed, most especially physical distancing. NAMFREL volunteers reported confusion among voters about queueing procedures outside voting centers, and crowding outside polling places.

Some Electoral Board (EBs) members made minor mistakes in procedure, which appeared as if said members lacked proper training. Many polling places observed also did not start on time. Some volunteers in certain areas reported that there was power failure which delayed the opening process.

Voting also generally went smoothly, but hundreds of polling places observed (representing a small fraction of the total observed) encountered many VCM-related and procedural issues during the voting process. With regard to VCM-related issues, EBs in most of the polling stations concerned were able to fix the problem either on their own or by seeking technical assistance.

Some machines that broke took too long to be replaced that NAMFREL volunteers reported that many voters were not able to vote until later in the night or even the next day. There were many instances which led to lapses in maintaining the secrecy of the ballot, which appear to stem from a lack of training or control on the part of the members of the EBs, or lack of knowledge on the part of voters and watchers regarding vote secrecy. A few cases of the VVPAT or the voter’s receipt not matching the votes on the ballot were noted. NAMFREL volunteers also reported that many voters did not bother to even look at the contents of the VVPAT.

A considerable percentage of voting centers observed had no Emergency Accessible Polling Places (EAPPs) for senior citizens, persons with disabilities, or heavily pregnant voters, or no Isolation Polling Places (IPPs) for voters with COVID-19 symptoms.

In some polling places, the EBs did not print all copies of the election returns (ERs), and/or were not sure whom they were to give them to. The electronic transmission of results went smoothly in most polling places observed, with difficulties observed because of weak mobile connection. The canvassing process in municipal/city canvassing centers was observed to have been smooth, systematic, and well-organized, but lacked enforcement and observance of COVID-19 protocols.

Augmenting the observation reports from volunteers were the results of bandwidth tests, as well as photos of ERs, submitted by the general public. The ER photos matched the electronically-transmitted ERs from the Transparency Media Server.

Pockets of violence and intimidation marred an otherwise peaceful election day. In Lanao del Sur, election-related violence led to a failure of election in several barangays.

Many NAMFREL chapters observed cases of vote-buying in the open, with one volunteer describing it as an “open secret”. Volunteers commented that the rampant vote-buying made the election not fair. A chapter reported vote-buying undeterred by the presence of law enforcement officers. The latter, in turn, advised that formal complaints first be filed before they can take action. However, formal investigation, leading to sanctions, rarely take place because complainants are required to disclose their names as required by law.

The 2022 NLE also took place in an atmosphere of intense political division, driven by disinformation, as observed by many chapters. NAMFREL had warned against such disinformation during the elections.

NAMFREL is one with many of our fellow citizens who would like to see those responsible for vote-buying and for fraudsters to be thoroughly investigated and punished to set an example for anybody who would try to unduly influence people’s minds and tamper with election results.

NAMFREL will release a more comprehensive report after all processes related to the 2022 NLE have concluded. The report will contain further details about the observations received and will provide a more complete picture of the elections as observed and documented by NAMFREL volunteers.

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