By the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) congratulates the teachers, media, watchdogs, and the Filipino people, for their collective efforts at vigilance and dedication to national interest during the May 10, 2010 national and local elections. Although there should yet be no judgment on the overall failure or success of this electoral exercise, these people provided the face of Government where Government, particularly the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its agent Smartmatic, was non-existent. They demonstrated to the Filipino nation the values of accountability and transparency in their own humble way.
These traits we witnessed in the face of what many believed to be the Comelec’s and Smartmatic’s seeming disorganization, ill-preparedness and chaotic indifference, to what was the first automated elections in our history. Indeed we were left to fend for our own selves–from creating systems on verifying voters’ list to providing means by which manual voting and electronic counting could perhaps proceed, if only to save the nation from discord and strife that could have followed the elections. Where the Comelec and Smartmatic failed in extending adequate voters’ education and poll watch training to millions of voters, it is the citizens watchdogs, various groups from the Church, schools, NGOs, and other institutions, including those that the Comelec-Smartmatic and CAC unabashedly called “doomsayers” and AES “critics” – that filled this void.
CenPEG is alarmed that the Comelec and Smartmatic have tolerated a flawed process to fester, and is dismayed that these entities have appropriated today’s calmness and sobriety that the Filipino people by their own, individually and collectively, embraced and nurtured. Indeed victory has many parents but decency dictates that the Comelec and Smartmatic cease from patting their backs in congratulatory mode, for they did less than what was expected of them to make the automated election system work.
The election results may have been “fast,” to cite Comelec and Smartmatic, but this claim should not gloss over the fact that over and above the poll outcome is the overarching need to establish the integrity of such results and to determine whether automation did promote democracy and address the systemic problem of fraud.
CenPEG’s monitoring of the May 10 elections through reports from its field researchers, poll watchers, and other reliable sources reveal a significant number of incidents all over the country on the May 10 automated elections involving:
1. Malfunctioning, shutting down, and even destruction of PCOS machines, compact flash (CF) cards unable to function, paper jams, and power outages in many areas;
2. Failure of transmission from the clustered precincts, forcing BEIs to bring the CF cards or even PCOS machines to the municipal canvassing centers (manual transmission). We have received reports from May 10-15 of failures of transmission from many municipalities and provinces; a number of clustered precincts resorted to manual count due to PCOS and CF card failures;
3. Delayed canvassing and random manual audits (RMAs) in many areas with the results of completed RMAs remaining undisclosed
Aggravated by inefficient voting procedures enforced by Comelec and the lack of training given to BEI personnel, these technical glitches, power outages, and widespread transmission failures resulted in the disenfranchisement of many voters during the election. CenPEG estimates the actual number of voters at 35.3 million or 70.9 percent of the 50.7 million registered voters, and leaving a big 15% percent unable to vote or disenfranchised. The number of disenfranchised voters could be bigger because of a significant number of rejected ballots. The poor voting management procedures, technical breakdowns, transmission failures, delayed canvassing and RMAs were vulnerable to the tampering of the election results, an independent probe of which has been started by CenPEG.
In many rural areas nationwide, CenPEG’s field reports reveal Comelec’s failure to prevent soldiers and police personnel from intruding into voting centers in violation of election laws to position security forces outside the 50-meter radius of the polling place.
Even before the holding of the May 10 election, the automated election system (AES) was already stripped of the legal processes, safeguards, and minimum industry standards as mandated by the election law and Comelec’s ToR. Urgent proposals and recommendations raised by CenPEG, the AES Watch, and other citizens watchdogs for a source code review, the enabling of voters verifiability feature, digital signature and private keys to be generated solely by the BEIs, adequate and timely voters education and BEI training, the holding of real mock elections, and accurate field tests remained unheeded up until the final stretch of election preparations. As mandated by law, all these were absolutely necessary in order to establish the integrity of the AES and the election results.
Meantime, there are issues and concerns that Comelec should answer to test its claim of “success” and “celebration of democracy” of the May 10 election. We ask Comelec’s cooperation in providing us data and information in the spirit of fully disclosing or explaining the following:
1. Failure to fully cleanse the voters’ registration lists, with many legitimate voters de-listed from their polling precincts and many others unable to vote;
2. The actual number of PCOS machines that successfully transmitted and how transmissions were done from polling centers with many machines unable to transmit or failed to transmit altogether;
3. The magnitude of PCOS breakdowns, malfunctioning CF cards, and other technical problems;
4. The real reasons for the malfunctioning of the CF cards in the May 3 final testing and sealing (FTS) and whether the new CF cards were correctly reconfigured. How many of the reconfigured CF cards reached their destinations before election and how many did not? The problem arising from incorrectly configured CF cards that Comelec discovered on May 3 and the haste and limited material time for the Smartmatic to re-do the process would contribute to the erroneous counting of votes.
5. Whether a final FTS was done prior to the election and, if so, how many of the 76,340 clustered precincts were able to conduct the FTS and what is the percentage of success or accuracy. In relation to this, was the FTS in the clustered precincts witnessed by poll watchers and election watchdogs?
6. Why the use of the P30M worth of UV scanners was not fully complied with and why the Comelec website reveals only summarized election returns (ERs). The accuracy of the ERs cannot be verified unless the digitally-signed, consolidated returns from the clustered precincts are transparent. on the website.
7. Why did Comelec Chairman Jose Melo start reading before the media the first transmitted results?at 6:30 p.m. May 10 even if the polls were to be closed at 7 p.m.? Comelec should explain the discrepancy in the first transmitted results from Western Samar and Zamboanga Sibugay when the first transmissions were officially registered from a different province at 7:30 p.m.? Western Samar was able to transmit results only on May 14.
8. Moreover, was it simple oversight, or just a case of incompetence, or was there an evil scheme to rig election results in the case of the highly-irregular storage of 67 PCOS machines in Antipolo and the reported Cagayan de Oro election returns (ER) junk shop discovery?
9. Why were CF cards vital pieces of evidence– ordered destroyed in the face of the May 3 CF card disaster?
10. And many other questions that beg to be answered including the 153,902,003 number of voters registered by Smartmatic machines at the national canvassing center!
Moreover, contrary to Comelec claims, the automation system failed to prevent fraud of all types like the widespread incidence of vote-buying, election-related violence, campaign overspending, vilification schemes against progressive candidates, and other types of cheating. It failed to “promote democracy” owing to the big number of disenfranchised voters. It also failed to equalize the election playing field with many political dynasties and powers-that-be being retained in power from the presidency down to the LGUs. It would take longer to verify the accuracy and credibility of all the election results amid the failure of the system to provide transparency to the counting, canvassing, and consolidation of the results.
CenPEG is in the process of collating data to help each of us objectively and rationally assess the outcome of the recently-concluded elections. As social scientists, we cannot stand idly by to accept a verdict without substantiation, to allow our sense of vigilance to be lulled by the Comelec and Smartmatic’s empty “trust-the-machine” rhetoric.
An overriding task of researchers and analysts is to seek out facts. Well-researched findings should be able to provide the outcome of projects and programs, generate solutions, safeguards, and/or remedies to identified problems and vulnerabilities way ahead of implementation and, in the process, help support policy and law reform toward effective governance. THAT was the rationale behind CenPEG’s study on the 30 vulnerabilities and 30 safeguards of the Philippine AES. Research is not doomsaying, research is truth and fact finding. And a basic requirement to make any research meaningful is access to information and availability of documents.
CenPEG therefore asks the Comelec and Smartmatic to provide or at least make available to every interested voter, candidate or entity engaged in electoral advocacy, all documents, electronic and hardcopy, by which this assessment could be accomplished with reasonable accuracy and transparency. The state of elections is at severe and critical stake if we are to continue in this context of Governmental disarray and purposelessness, turmoil and incompetence. The only way to arrest this skid, nay, this systemic disorganization in our electoral system is to work here and now and impose accountability upon those who should be accountable.
In the tight race for the Vice Presidency, the anxious 10th to 12th spot fot the Senate, the party-list contests, the fiercely disputed local posts, the CenPEG certainly cannot say that electoral problems and issues are over and done with. We must reserve judgment until all parties have been asked and their questions answered, until judgment is due. We cannot afford another case of impunity in this country for we have already too many to count. As an immediate remedy, there should be an immediate probe into the highly irregular destruction of CF cards and questionable actions related to the handling of the PCOS machines and election procedures all over the country.
As part of policy reform, CenPEG calls for the formation of an independent, non-partisan, and impartial citizens’ body to review and assess the conduct of the May 10, 2010 automated elections, including the processes and procedures taken and inquiry into BUDGET USE in preparing for the election and thereafter. The Joint Congressional Oversight Committee under a new administration must also act now to exercise its statutory mandate to require the Comelec and Smartmatic to reveal all information or data in whatever form so that the citizens’ body could very well perform its intended duties. This independent initiative is imperative not only to clear the air with regard to the conduct of the recent elections but to conclude once and for all whether the Smartmatic-propelled automation as claimed by Comelec promoted fair, transparent and credible May 10, 2010 election.