It’s a race against time for government agencies involved in the issuance of digital signing privileges to teachers who will serve as poll workers in the 2022 national elections.
The 2022 polls will mark the first time electoral boards will be able to digitally sign election returns generated by vote-counting machines, unlike in the past three automated elections where the digital signatures came from the VCMs.
During a hearing by the Senate Electoral Reforms Committee on June 3, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary Emmanuel Caintic said they are in talks with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Education (DepEd) to speed up the issuance of digital signing privileges to 300,000 teachers.
“Ang timeline namin is from September to January, mabigyan namin sila ng digital signing privileges. Ang challenge right now for me is the issuance, ang pagbigay sa 300,000,” Caintic said.
(We target to grant digital signing privileges to 300,000 teachers from September 2021 to January 2022. The challenge is the issuance.)
Comelec Deputy Executive Director Teopisto Elnas Jr. said the process can start as early as June.
“Na-deploy na rin namin ang equipment that will be used for the enrollment of the digital signature of the electoral board. We will be starting the actual enrollment, i-jumpstart na namin iyan by June, para in time, makuha na namin lahat, at magamit namin sa elections,” he said.
(We have deployed the equipment that will be used for the enrollment of digital signatures of the electoral board. We will jumpstart the actual enrollment by June, so everyone will have their digital signatures in time for the elections.)
Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua said the process can be sped up if the DICT will relax some of its requirements.
“What we do on the part of the DepEd is to request DICT to waive some of the hard copy requirements, but instead, the DepEd will be providing them Excel files containing DepEd employees’ verified data for bulk processing,” Pascua said.
“We have already provided them the way, the methodology of how we will do it, and I think the DICT is now evaluating that methodology. If we do that, everyone will have digital signatures by July,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.
Caintic said that the DICT is continuously working hand in hand with DepEd to relax the process of enrollment and distribution of digital signatures to election officers.
Senator Imee Marcos, who chairs the panel, also agreed that the DICT should just “piggyback” on DepEd’s system.
“They are highly accustomed to registering and monitoring their 900,000 employees at DepEd. Perhaps just plugging into that online registry system will expedite the entire process,” she said.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said in May that the use of the digital signatures in 2022 is part of the poll body’s efforts to make elections more transparent.
The poll body had been planning to adopt the system in the 2016 and 2019 national polls, but was unable to do so due to the lack of resources.
Republic Act No. 9369, also known as the Election Automation Law, states that election returns “transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of a candidate."
In the past, election watchdogs and other stakeholders had tried to challenge the Comelec in court as to whether machine-produced signatures were enough.