By BENJIE OLIVEROS
It may be too early to assess what happened in the May 2013 automated elections. But since the Comelec and the Aquino government have been dismissing the not-so-flattering reports about the numerous glitches and have been, this early, trying to project the elections as a successful democratic exercise, it behooves me, as a citizen and as someone who made an effort to observe the conduct of the elections, to also try to give a more balanced view of what transpired.
Smartmatic and Comelec claim that there were less glitches with the PCOS machines now than during the 2010 elections. They said only 258 PCOS machines malfunctioned and were replaced compared to 450 during the 2010 elections. But that is just it; they counted only the machines that were replaced. They did not count the temporary shutdowns of PCOS machines because of jams. Teachers serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) had to cut ballots, use sticks, brooms, or umbrellas to push ballots in to prevent jams. These have caused long queues, leaving only the determined ones to sweat it out, some for more than six hours, to be able to vote. What about the many more who left? This, Kontra Daya says, constitutes voter disenfranchisement. And these are not isolated cases.
I have observed problems happen with the PCOS machines in every stage of the voting process: from the insertion of votes, to the tabulation of results, to the transmission. There were numerous cases, and this was confirmed by news reports, where PCOS machines shut down when the back up CF cards were inserted. “There is no connection between the backup CF cards to the transmission,” Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. was quoted as saying by an Inquirer report. But dear Comelec chairman, how could the PCOS machines transmit if it shuts down when the back up CF card is being inserted? In one clustered precinct that I was observing, a member of the BEI and a Smartmatic technician were about to attempt to kick me out of the polling precinct because they had to ask the permission of the Comelec to begin transmission even without the back up CF card because every time they inset the card, the machine shuts down. I showed them my Comelec-accredited press ID so that I would not be sent out of the room.
I also saw cases where the PCOS machine shuts down when teachers pressed the command to end the voting and start the counting of the votes. And in a school I have observed, all machines encountered problems with transmission. The first to be able to transmit was able to do so after more than an hour of trying. One PCOS machine shuts down when the modem was plugged in. Thus, it is not surprising that the transmission of results to the municipal and national Board of Canvassers, as well as the “transparency server” of the Comelec’s citizens’ arm the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), has been very slow. “Transmission of poll results much slower in 2013 than 2010,” a gmanews.tv report read.
In terms of accuracy, there are incidents that raise questions regarding the probable manipulation of results. A May 15 interaksyon.com report by Tricia Aquino revealed that the political coalition UNA was “’gravely alarmed’ that a certain Daton Cerino, supposedly from Smartmatic, ‘manipulated data’ at the Pope Pius Center in Manila, where a parallel count of election returns is being conducted by the PPCRV and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.” Earlier in a bulatlat.com report it was revealed that a Smartmatic employee had to adjust the script of the source code that canvassed the results because it “double counted” the votes resulting in the bloated figures, which the PPCRV released. In reaction, election watchdog Kontra Daya said “That Smartmatic can change the script of the source code during the canvassing shows serious problems with the entire automated system.” Also, Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of youth group Anakbayan, sent tweets that their members who observed the elections in polling precincts were wondering why in certain clustered precincts, progressive partylist groups got no votes when they were sure that they have supporters in these areas.
The Comelec and Smartmatic reacted defensively regarding UNA’s allegations. Well, in the first place, if they allowed a review of the source code before the elections, these doubts could have been lessened.
Even before election day, Comelec Chairman Brillantes has been blaming independent watchdogs for demanding a review of the source code and for pointing out the problems that occurred during the final testing and sealing of the PCOS machines, branding them as ‘saboteurs’ and daring them to go to the United Nations to complain. Now he is blaming local protests and bad telecommunications signals for the delays in the canvassing. Smartmatic, on the other hand, is blaming the BEIs.
Well, the Comelec has only itself to blame for the problems that surfaced during the elections. Problems in Smartmatic’s PCOS machines and automated election system already surfaced during the 2010 elections. But instead of exploring other options, the Comelec even chose to buy the PCOS machines from Smartmatic. One could not help but wonder: What is with Smartmatic that made Comelec not only use the same machines but even buy it? And to think that the Aquino government’s Comelec bought a system that is the subject of a court case between Smartmatic and Dominion. Who in his right mind would buy something that is under litigation?
What is even worse is the fact that the rule of guns, goons, and gold still lorded it over Philippine politics. Police reports claim that there were less incidences of election-related violence, but the victim count is another matter. Also the PPCRV reported that there was massive vote buying. This confirms what people have been hearing. In Metro Manila, the buying price for votes was around P500. In one city, people allegedly lined up at a house the night before the elections. In an Eastern Visayas city, the buying price was a minimum of P2,500 and could have gone up to P5,000 if the voter agrees to raise his or her ballot for the candidate’s watchers to see who he or she voted for.
The result is that political dynasties, old and new, won big in the recent elections. We now have four Binays in government – and Vice President Jejomar Binay has already declared his intention to seek the presidency in 2016 – three Ejercitos, three Angaras, four Cayetanos, three Marcoses, three Mangudadatus, and the wives of three leaders of the Ampatuan clan who are on trial for the Maguindanao massacre, as well as three of their clan members and possibly, more relatives. We also have a virtual unknown, the president’s cousin Bam Aquino, who, most probably, would land a seat in Senate. This list is far from complete as more political dynasties are winning in local elections all over the country.
Elections every three years is the only venue where people participate directly in governance. Thus, when the people go out en masse to vote it may mean two things: they want to express their disgust over the incumbent by voting against its candidates or they really think their vote counts because they have trust in the electoral system and the government. The former is what happened during the 1985 snap elections and the 2010 elections, where there was a 75 percent voter turnout. But during the just-concluded elections, the unofficial count of the PPCRV, covering 69.2 percent of the total precincts, revealed a mere 54 percent voter turnout. This may be because the people have no one to rally against and that they do not think their votes would count. The low voter turnout shows that many people do not believe that the elections would make a difference in their lives. So how could we call the elections as successful and democratic?
The positive thing in the 2013 elections is that the proclamation of the top 6 senators – on the basis of 23.6 percent of Certificates of Canvas – was fast. The counting of votes in polling precincts was also fast. And teachers did not have to do the manual counting themselves. But these do not make an election, democratic and truly successful.