Winner and loser

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

The election into office of misfits, rascals, the poorly qualified and members of entrenched political dynasties may not be the worst result of the recently concluded midterm elections. More pernicious and fatal to our democratic processes, or the appearance thereof, is the virtual enthronement, if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is to have its way, of the current automated election system (AES) designed and operationalized by a foreign multinational company, Smartmatic, to a seat of honor in running and controlling Philippine elections.

It is no surprise that Comelec Chairman Brillantes’ first post-election statement was a glowing appraisal of the AES’s success in supposedly speeding and cleaning up the counting and canvassing of votes, as if slow counts were the main or only source of the widespread fraud that has continued to plague Philippine elections. Cast into the shadows were the people’s patience and determination to hurdle the travails brought about by the PCOS breakdowns and other related problems.

Unfortunately for Mr. Brillantes, his premature announcement of smooth-sailing automated elections plus his hype that a speedy count eliminates the possibility of fraud is backfiring: the count is stuck at 70% and close to 12 million votes is still unaccounted for three days after the closing of the polls.

This delay is being attributed to malfunctioning PCOS machines and weak or non-existent telecommunications signals both of which problems were earlier pooh-poohed by the Comelec as minor and already being addressed, if not resolved. But even if the remaining 30% of votes are eventually counted, these will be held suspect and indelibly tainted with doubt.

Comelec obscures the fact that it has not been able to rectify the sins of omission and commission with regard to the AES dating back to the 2010 presidential polls. These had caused uproar, not just from losing candidates, but from the Filipino InfoTech (IT) community and various election watchdogs.

Comelec instead bought the lemon of a system from its foreign vendor Smartmatic. The two entities colluded in disregarding, trifling with and dispensing with the technical requirements, including security features, mandated by law to ensure that the vote count accurately reflected first, bona fide ballots and second, correct election returns.

Not only this, Comelec/Smartmatic even aggravated the situation further as we shall illustrate.

For the 2010 elections, there already was the failure to have an independent review of the source code (the human-readable instructions that would be then programmed into machine language and installed into the PCOS machine) and to determine whether the source code used by all 76,000 PCOS machines was the same one stored at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

For the 2013 elections, the new source code that was supposed to incorporate corrections and improvements in the AES drawing from the 2010 experience, was not in the hands of the Comelec until election day itself due to a legal dispute between Smartmatic and Dominion, the software provider.

Three years after the 2010 polls, Comelec again failed to give political parties and other interested groups the chance to do this crucial independent review only doing so at the last minute when it was impossible to do a proper review because of time and other constraints.

In 2010, there was no certification of the consolidating and canvassing system, which starts from the PCOS transmission of results to the municipal and provincial canvassing and from there to the national canvassing. In the actual canvassing, the AES came up with grossly erroneous and inconsistent figures for the total number of registered voters. This was eventually corrected and Smartmatic was allowed to get away with explanations that didn’t wash and were obvious cop-outs.

This time around, we have the case of bloated results reported from the supposed parallel quick count conducted by the PPCRV-KBP using data from the Comelec transparency (sic) server during the early hours of the transmission of votes. More than 10 million votes were tallied from only 1,418 precincts whereas each precinct only has 1,000 voters at most.

Smartmatic eventually came in to fix the problem supposedly in the “script” that added the results incorrectly. But as Kontradaya convenor Dr. Ganni Tapang pointed out, “The whole episode shows how Smartmatic (or anyone for that matter) can change the codes that tally the results at will (underscoring ours) — even during Election Day. Without the benefit of public disclosure of the AES source code and thorough pre-testing, these statistically wrong results put the whole canvassing of votes into serious question.”

Moreover, the PPCRV-KBP count was exposed as completely dependent on the Comelec count and thus not the independent parallel and safeguard count it is claimed to be.

The discovery of a supposedly unused compact flash (CF) card with recorded votes in a precinct for overseas voting in Hong Kong draws attention to the problem of tampered CF cards. How many such errors need to surface before Comelec and the Aquino administration admit to serious problems with the AES?

What guarantees are there that no other erroneous or even false figures — unobtrusive and therefore largely undetectable — have been generated by the pre-programmed machines and are now incorporated into the official results? How are those results to be trusted as valid and true?

The cavalier attitude and kid gloves treatment by Comelec and both the Aquino and Arroyo administrations towards the design flaws, gross shortcomings and violations of legal and technical requirements by Smartmatic is not mere negligence or laxity on their part.

It betrays a q of shameless subservience to foreign technology coupled with the lack of trust in the Filipinos’ capability to do the automation on our own terms. It reveals an utter disregard for the people’s sovereign will and right to exercise suffrage without foreign intervention, much less dependence on it. It reflects the preponderant objective of covering up their gross incompetence as well as the likely corrupt transactions undergirding the purchase of the AES from Smartmatic for close to ?2 billion.

In all of the Comelec’s statements and actuations — and for that matter the ruling regime’s — the contrast in their attitude towards foreign technology on one hand and the people on the other becomes starkly clear. It is not the people’s will and determination that make for successful elections. Foreign-designed and operated software and machines, no matter that they are inadequately tested, veiled in secrecy and in fact suffer breakdowns, are hailed as the keys to success, serving the aim of perpetuating the system and the ruling elite.

The people, from this standpoint, are the ones treated as mere instruments, not as the real sovereigns wielding their power to choose their leaders.

Published in Business World
16 May 2013

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