CenPEG | May 10 Polls: Not Just System Glitch, but Policy Failure

In the end, the major structural flaws were disturbing, among them: The required change in management was wanting as shown in the failure to make implementation compliant with the law; in the lack of systematic data on the availability of infrastructures that will support poll automation (power supply, road and water networks, telecommunication connectivity of the voting centers); poor training extended to members of the Board of Election (BEI) inspectors; no effective system in crowd control under the precinct clustering; and lack of competent IT technicians (even non-ITs were hired indiscriminately).

CenPEG report

In the synopsis of its final report which it presented in a post-election summit (PES) last Oct. 5 (dubbed October PES) organized by AES Watch, CenPEG revealed: There was a high incidence of technical hitches, blunders, voting procedural errors, and other operational failures throughout the country. These can be attributed to the defective automated system adopted by Comelec – the lack of safeguards, security measures, as well as timely and effective continuity/contingency measures (software, hardware, technologies, and other system components) that proved damaging to the accuracy, security, and reliability of election returns. Comelec’s seeming fixation for “speed” ran the risks of removing vital mechanisms, short-cutting procedures, glossing over voter’s rights and the principle of “secret voting, public counting” and, inevitably, bypassing strict constitutional and legal requirements. Stripped of its vital organs, the automated election system (AES) that was harnessed for the May 10 polls was not only vulnerable to various glitches and management failures but also favorable for electronic cheating including possible pre-loading of election results. (Read “The CenPEG Report on the Many 10, 2010 Automated Elections: A Synopsis,” www.eu-cenpeg.com and www.cenpeg.org)

Indeed, several of the 100 election protests filed with Comelec so far involved alleged electronic cheating such as switching of CF cards, unexplained sudden stoppage of transmissions, ballot pre-shading, and other reasons. The report also dared Comelec to explain why it was showing “fast” election results at its national canvassing monitors when delays, interruptions, and glitches were happening in many clustered precincts nationwide.

The challenge of establishing solid proofs and empirical data to verify automated cheating – including a possible pre-loading – has been impeded by the national poll body’s unexplained refusal to disclose vital election documents – all 21 of them – that were long requested by CenPEG and other citizens’ groups. The disclosure of these documents should help validate Comelec’s claims of election “success” and dispel increasing allegations of electronic rigging. However, the more intransigent Comelec is in refusing to make this public information available the stronger public concerns there will be that the poll body is hiding something.

Accountability and policy of exclusion

Under the circumstances, Comelec should be made accountable for making decisions that are inconsistent with the RA 9369 requirements involving “the use of an automated election system that will ensure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and all election, consolidation and transmission documents in order that the process shall be transparent and credible and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.” The poll body also failed to adopt “the most suitable technology of demonstrated capability taking into account the situation prevailing in the area and the funds available for the purpose.”

The procurement law and RA 9369 should be upheld to test Comelec’s accountability with regard to the still-questionable contract with the foreign consortium Smartmatic; on the real ownership of the vital source code, programs, and systems; the absence of public bidding and other requirements in other transactions (logistics, voter education, secrecy folders, UV scanners, etc.). Comelec should explain why it chose to outsource the election automation when the Constitution and RA 9369 explicitly provide for the use of Filipino science and technology and the adoption of a technology appropriate for the country’s “actual conditions.” Was the country’s sovereignty compromised when Comelec virtually abdicated its responsibility as election manager in favor of a foreign company? Were the voters’ sovereign will expressed freely in the absence of features that guarantee secret voting and public counting, verifiability, and auditability – not to mention the fact that election results may have been tainted by the absence of accuracy and security safeguards?

Moreover, the right to public information suffered with Comelec’s lack of transparency. The poll body failed – and continues to fail – to meet the transparency requirements of the election system by its intransigent and unexplained refusal to deny citizens’ groups access to vital election documents. Its lack of transparency left majority of the electorate misinformed and uninformed, duped by the illusion about automated election modernizing democracy and weeding out fraud.

To quote the president of TI-Philippines, Judge Dolores Espanol, until CenPEG and AES Watch publicized their appraisal of what happened on election day the truth about the automated election system dysfunction was hidden by Comelec from the public. “The Comelec has been the most un-transparent in the whole election exercise by not disclosing vital election documents,” she said. Some observers have described this lack of transparency as a “criminal act.”

Aggravating this lack of transparency is a policy of exclusion maintained against critics from all walks of life including ITs, academics, poll watchdogs, and people’s organizations. Such policy of exclusion only exposed Comelec’s closed-door policy against public engagement that is contrary to the very Constitution the poll body promised to uphold – that governance is a partnership between the state and “civil society”, of all stakeholders.

Nevertheless, the battle for the election source code scored a victory when, on Sept. 21, the Supreme Court (SC) in its ruling on CenPEG’s petition for mandamus directed the Comelec to release the source code for independent review by the petitioner and other independent parties. David A. Wagner, the principal investigator of the source code review for California and computer science professor at the University of California-Berkeley, congratulated CenPEG for the victory but asserted, as the SC decision says, that its release should be “unrestricted.”

The SC’s favorable ruling on the source code review is a breakthrough – the first for a country in the whole world. On this case, the high court’s action on CenPEG’s request for mandamus is a distinct service to the Filipino people’s quest for a democratic and credible election.

And if there is anything positive about the whole exercise it is that it forced millions of people, including teachers, voters, citizens groups, and poll watchers to intervene and push through with the election. (Bulatlat.com)

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