Filipino groups present automated poll systems, ideas in tech fair

Michael Bueza

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Filipino groups present automated poll systems, ideas in tech fair
'It's high time that we have a Filipino system in place for a Filipino election,' says the alternate chairman of the Comelec Advisory Council

MANILA, Philippines – For the country’s 4th automated polls in 2019, a handful of Filipino teams and individuals hope to take part in the conduct of the elections or even provide a completely new system.

At an automated election system (AES) tech fair in Quezon City on Wednesday, July 26, 5 of the 7 participating groups who presented technologies and ideas are Filipinos.

“It’s high time that we have a Filipino system in place for a Filipino election,” said Undersecretary Eliseo Rio of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). Rio is also the alternate chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Advisory Council.

Rio added that they would have to check whether any of these Filipino-made technologies, if chosen, can be implemented in 2019 and in future polls, in accordance with Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election Law.

Section 10 of RA 9369 states that an AES “must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.”

During the fair, the Comelec announced it is reviewing 6 options on what technology to use in the 2019 polls. Among the choices is the use or incorporation of a new system other than those using optical mark reader (OMR) technology. The vote-counting machines deployed in the 2010, 2013, and 2016 elections are OMR devices.

AES with enhanced transparency

The first local team to pitch was Former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman presented their “AES with Enhanced Transparency and Accountability” or AES/ETA. 

Previously known as the precinct automated tallying system (PATAS), the AES/ETA system is similar to the current AES but there are no vote-counting machines.

Instead, the votes would be counted manually by election officers with the aid of laptops in each polling precinct. For transparency, the tallies would be projected on a screen.

Transmission and canvassing of votes would remain electronic and automated.


The TAPAT election system of father-and-son Arnold and Angelo Villasanta was the next homegrown technology to be demonstrated. TAPAT, or “honest” in Filipino, was taken from letters of the word “transparent.”

The younger Villasanta took the stage to showcase TAPAT, which uses a tablet on top of a black box to “scan” or take a photo of a ballot under it. The tablet then reads the marks on the ballot, as shaded by the voter.

If the voter makes a mistake in shading a candidate’s number, he/she can shade over it with a marker of a different color, which the system won’t read and accept as a valid vote.

The ballot for TAPAT is shorter because it would only have numbers representing the candidates. The names of all candidates would be printed on the ballot secrecy folder to serve as the voter’s guide.

TAPAT also features a voter receipt, plus an option to audit the votes after polls close. Villasanta added that after the elections, the government may reuse the tablets for other purposes.

DBP Data Center Inc

Up next were a group of programmers and IT specialists from government who have developed software systems for various agencies “at zero cost.”

DBP Data Center Inc (DCI), a subsidiary of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), were behind the systems that handle National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearances, Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) records, and the processing of arrival and departure documents in airport immigration.

For future elections, DBP DCI proposed a system where Filipinos would vote using mobile handheld devices deployed in polling precincts. To start, the device would scan a QR code containing the voter’s identity. Then, an app on the device allows the voter to select his/her candidates.

DBP DCI said one transparency server would receive transmitted votes in real time, while another would be used to validate votes by scanning another QR code, printed after a voter is done voting.

IP Converge Data Services

Data services company IP Converge (IPC), based in Makati City, did not pitch an election system but a way to secure various elements of the AES using security algorithms that clients would customize themselves.

IPC offered a service called “Own Your Own Security”or OYOS, where users would create their own security algorithm (assisted by IPC), which would be embedded in chips then installed in various devices.

IPC said that OYOS may be used, for instance, as an added level of security in vote transmission.

Arronet Solutions

Finally, Butch Virtucio of Arronet Solutions Integrator Incorporated presented another implementation of online voting.

Foreign groups: Laxton, Smartmatic

The remaining two presenters were Laxton Group based in Guangzhou, China, and Venezuela-based Smartmatic International Corporation.

Smartmatic supplied the AES in the last 3 automated polls, but not without controversy.

At the tech fair, Smartmatic featured a device for biometrics registration and authentication, a touchscreen direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, as well as a system for Internet voting.

Meanwhile, the Laxton Group demonstrated its biometrics registration kit. The kits have been used to register voters in national elections in some African countries like Malawi and Guinea.

The AES Tech Fair was organized by the Comelec Advisory Council to aid them in recommending to the Comelec “the most appropriate, secure, applicable, and cost-effective technology” to be applied in the country’s automated elections.

DICT Undersecretary Rio said the council plans to make its recommendation “at least before August 8.” –

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Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.