“What happened in this election “are very serious concerns of the Filipino people….This constitutes a grave travesty of the peoples’ right to suffrage and the integrity of the votes”– AES Watch
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Comelec under chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., a lawyer “with dictatorial tendencies,” made a lot of shortcuts, in violation of the poll automation law, just to be able to proceed with the 2013 elections and proclaim the winners of the senatorial elections. This is one of the many conclusions of the sharing of IT experts on their assessment of the 2013 election this Saturday May 18, five days after the elections.
The Comelec rushed the announcement of senatorial winners this week, proclaiming six of them ahead of the others on Wednesday May 15 even if at the time it had canvassed only 23-percent of the votes cast. In its rush to proclaim the winners, the Comelec committed additional violations of the poll automation law, said AES Watch. It ranges from Comelec’s shortcutting of rules and procedures in conducting random manual audit to allowing the CF cards to be brought physically to the National Board of Canvassers.
As Comelec’s canvassing of votes this week repeatedly got bogged down by transmission problems and “glitches” such as double counting, pollwatchers and voters alike decry also the difficulty of following what happened to their votes. In Quezon City, for example, pollwatchers who attended the AES Watch election assessment complained about their votes mysteriously going down unexplained, or about the number of votes of all their pollwatchers failing to materialize in certain areas.
“Most local candidates don’t know where to protest so-called glitches. And in local villages, even a few hundreds or thousands of votes matter. Unfortunately, it is hard to pinpoint where they could follow it up because of lack of transparency,” said Dr. Gani Tapang, spokesman and co-convener of KontraDaya.
Although election watchdogs have wangled from Comelec a concession in aid of transparency, this has not really been followed this elections, said Maricor Akol of Transparent Elections. Pollwatchers and some candidates’ lawyers said they were reduced to staring open-mouthed and helpless at LCD screens in precincts that showed them only the status of transmission of their votes, but not the number of votes being transmitted. They could not discern potential discrepancies, and they also do not know where or who to approach to work on it.
What happened in this election “are very serious concerns of the Filipino people….This constitutes a grave travesty of the peoples’ right to suffrage and the integrity of the votes,” the independent watchdog AES Watch said.
Comelec in denial
AES Watch’s Dr. Temario C. Rivera, chair and research fellow of CenPEG, enumerated some tragic, “glaring facts” which, they said the Comelec is in denial of. These include, among others, the widespread incidents and cases of programming errors, zero vote data –which happens when PCOS machines registered no votes even when voters said they shaded appropriate circles in their ballots– corrupted CF cards, paper jamming, questionable transmissions, PCOS machine shutdowns in 99.9999 percent of provinces.
Amid these national electoral complaints, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. has described the 2013 polls as the best election we ever had; he even threatened to sue critics. But according to AES Watch, the 2013 elections is in fact a showcase of “technological and political disaster.”
Compared to the 2010 national elections, the 2013 midterm elections has gone from bad to worse, a panel of IT professionals and leaders of various election watchdogs said.
“The May 2013 automated polls proceeded with no independent source code review, no licensing agreement with the real owner of the PCOS program, no full corrections of the errors and bugs found in the testing of the software in Colorado, USA (which used toy data only for certification, no industry-prescribed digital signatures, no voter verification feature, no secure transmission system and no clear-cut contingency and AES protest mechanism,” said Dr. Rivera of AES Watch.
“After paying so much (for this poll automation), after huge expectations, we deserve better,” said Fr. Jo Dizon, co-convener of election watchdog KontraDaya. The group has monitored widespread disenfranchisement and far-reaching vulnerabilities to vote manipulation resulting from lack of transparency and security features of this poll automation, plus the widespread troubles in its system, as their network observed and reported from election day to this week’s canvassing.
Fr Dizon said voters do not deserve all these – encountering hardships and inconveniences at voting precincts and never knowing precisely whether their votes were accurately counted.
Electorate left defenseless by Comelec
Rivera said the Comelec has resorted to “premature, arbitrary proclamation” of some winning senators in a bid to deflect attention and criticism from Comelec’s non-compliance with poll automation law and unprecedented and large-scale poll automation failings.
Rivera told Bulatlat.com that the premature proclamation of some winning senators (based on only 23-percent canvassed votes) is an “attempt to diffuse what is emerging as massive dissatisfaction over PCOS problems and delayed transmission.” He added that it might also be part of a “spin” where Comelec is portrayed like it has no control over much of these poll problems, although even telecommunication companies, Rivera said, had countered Comelec’s excuses regarding lack of signal.
Apart from using the premature proclamation to deflect people’s anger at Comelec inefficiencies, Rivera said it is also a “political effort to proclaim team Pnoy over UNA,” or seal the seeming victory of President Benigno “Noynoy’ Aquino III’s candidates.
Sharing the AES Watch assessment of the 2013 elections, Rivera noted that political clans are also even “more entrenched” now.
AES Watch said that in 2010, the delay in the transmission of votes lasted two days; this time, 18,187 clustered precincts or 23-percent still failed to transmit election returns five days into the canvassing. Only 12-percent of ARMM votes had been canvassed. Given the ballots’ vulnerability to manipulation the longer its transmission is delayed, 9-million voters potentially stand to be disenfranchised through the delay alone, according to Dr. Rivera of AES Watch.
This may just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What is worse in this poll automation system prepared “hodge-podge” and with security features disabled by Comelec, is that even those who have cast their votes may have been disenfranchised, too. According to KontraDaya, it has reports from everywhere in the country that malfunctioning PCOS machines had compelled teachers and election officials in precincts to treat these like unsecured ballot boxes instead. The filed ballots were thus left vulnerable to manipulation. Also, a Quezon City pollwatcher told Bulatlat.com that some ballots rejected by the machines were automatically disenfranchised by the system. We have no way of knowing now how many they are, and who they voted for.
Far from envisioned honest poll automation
Weeks before the midterm elections, AES Watch and KontraDaya have called for full manual counting, saying this is the only “remaining way to establish credibility of elections, but the Comelec ignored this call,” Dr Rivera told the media.
Most election watchdogs that came with this gloomy assessment of Comelec’s handling of poll automation also expressed their desire to pursue poll automation, “but not like this.”
AES Watch said the Comelec is the only one to blame for casting doubts on the results of the elections, adding it has made a mockery of the poll automation law. The election watchdog said the poll automation law suffered a beating under the Comelec chaired in 2010 by Jose Melo and in 2013 by Sixto Brillantes Jr.. The latter succeeded, they said, in “circumventing every provision of the law on installing fundamental security safeguards as part of the minimum requirement to make poll automation true to the spirit and intent of a secured and transparent computerized election.”
Dr Gani Tapang of KontraDaya said the Comelec’s “hodgepodge solution just to make things “work” is not the automated system we want.” What election watchdogs want is fast, accurate voting and transmission from precincts to municipal to provincial and national canvassers. “We want it to be truthful and accurate,” said Tapang.