By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The faint smile on Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo during the evening of May 10 indicated feelings of relief and pride that they were able to push through with the automated elections. A lot of people were bedazzled by the speed by which the election returns were tabulated. Soon, people were praising the Comelec, including a columnist of a major broadsheet saying that he was glad he had to eat his words.
But after a week, the Comelec and Smartmatic were peppered with criticisms and complaints. And now it is being flooded by election protests, which, according to Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento, even exceeded the number of protests filed in 2007.
Comelec officials are dismissing these election protests as mere reactions of losers. A Comelec official was said to have commented that there are two types of candidates – those who won and those who were cheated. Malacañang suggested that Congress dispenses with these complaints and proceed with the canvassing of votes for president and vice president.
The position of those who are allied with presumptive president Noynoy Aquino is very much the same – proceed with the canvassing and proclaim the winning candidates. They are even expressing fears that the proclamation of the next president might not be done on time, and would lead to a power vacuum.
Then came a supposed whistleblower who alleged that certain Comelec officials have offered their services in ensuring the victory of candidates in exchange for money. Fingers are being pointed at different directions as to who are behind the alleged whistleblower dubbed as koala. The Comelec is saying that all these are being orchestrated by a losing presidential candidate. Rep. Teddy Locsin is pointing at Malacañang.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting is attesting to the credibility of the elections and is saying that discrepancies between the election results at the precinct level and what has been transmitted to the municipal and provincial levels are negligible. The Legal Network for Truthful Elections, also a citizens’ watchdog, is saying that while there are a lot of complaints, nobody has produced evidences that would stand in court.
Aquino believes that these are all part of a fishing expedition. Aquino and the Comelec are questioning why these allegations are being revealed only now.
How are we to treat these supposed exposés and how are we to assess what has happened during the May 2010 elections?
First, with the complaints and protests focused on the alleged cheating in the automated system, being ignored are the more blatant forms of violations on the right to vote such as vote buying — which seems to be more widespread and barefaced now than in previous elections as people are openly talking about this when you go to the provinces — the intimidation and harassments of voters by private armies and the military, and the numerous incidences of unconcealed coaching that were done by poll watchers and representatives of candidates in precincts in rural areas. Add to these those who were not able to vote because of the long queues and the missing names in voters’ lists and we probably have the most massive disenfranchisement of voters since martial law.
Second, if the Comelec and Smartmatic are being flooded with complaints and protests, it is because of their own doing and undoing. The Comelec practically abdicated its duty of ensuring the conduct of an honest and credible election to a foreign private corporation Smartmatic. From the preparations to the actual conduct of the elections to the canvassing of votes, the Comelec was totally dependent on Smartmatic and referred all questions to the latter.
Smartmatic, on the other hand, tried to maximize its profits at the expense of a smooth electoral exercise. It made available too few PCOS machines, some of which appear to be lemons. A foreign election observer from the People’s International Observers‘ Mission even discovered that the PCOS machines had no cooling fans, thus, the frequent breakdowns. Furthermore, there was only one technician and one modem servicing too many clustered precincts.
The much-awaited testing of the PCOS machines, which was done barely a week before the May 10 elections, was a total failure, with Smartmatic having to recall 76,000 compact flash cards, which contain the program that operates the machines.
Computer errors seem to be the rule rather than the exception. A few days after the elections, Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance) discovered that there were around 150 million registered voters listed on the Comelec website. When its attention was called to this glaring error, Smartmatic corrected the figures explaining that the three servers mistakenly added the 50 million registered voters listed on each server. During the preparations for the canvassing of votes for president and vice president, the number of registered voters transmitted to the Senate last May 26 was a staggering 257 million. Again Smartmatic corrected the figures explaining that an error in the program mistakenly added the number of registered voters transmitted from the precinct up to the national level. Also, two sets of certificates of canvass were sent to the Senate: one for president and the other for vice president.
Worse, election paraphernalia are being discovered in strange places: PCOS machines were found in a house of a Smartmatic employee in Antipolo, election materials were discovered in a junkshop in Cagayan de Oro, and Rep. Annie Susano was suddenly in possession of compact flash cards that came from PCOS machines. Are these not supposed to be safeguarded by the Comelec?
There is also the issue of the removal of safeguards for reasons of expediency such as dispensing with the digital signatures of the Board of Election Inspectors, skipping the process of review of the source codes, and the disabling of the feature that would enable voters, after casting their ballots, to review what was being recorded by the PCOS machine.
At the minimum, both the Comelec and Smartmatic committed sins of omission, which were brought about by the haphazard preparations and inefficiency on the part of Comelec and the desire to maximize profits on the part of Smartmatic. The worst case scenario is that there was a conspiracy to commit electoral fraud to favor some candidates and parties and to deprive some of their votes. There are anecdotes of vote shaving such as one reported by a Bayan Muna member that the party-list group did not get a single vote in a precinct in Bicol that is supposed to be one of its strongholds and where even the vote of its poll watcher was not counted.
Even if, as of today, there is still no evidence of fraud that would stand in court; even as, the Filipino people have the opportunity to finally kick Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo out of Malacañang and the relatively more popular candidate Sen. Noynoy Aquino is poised to assume the presidency – he got 30.1 percent of the votes as of the latest tally of gmanews.tv, which is still a far cry from what former president Joseph Estrada got during the 1998 elections and what his mother Cory Aquino got during the 1985 snap elections – we still could not dismiss the allegations of fraud and irregularities outright.
There should still be an independent investigation of these allegations as well as a comprehensive assessment of the automated elections. At the minimum, the Comelec and Smartmatic should be held accountable for the numerous problems we encountered during the May 2010 elections. There should also be a thorough review of the current election automation system to see if the same should be used in the future or if the elections should be automated at all. Nothing should be swept under the rug and no one should be spared. (Bulatlat.com)