“These irresponsible threats (from Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes) are meant to muzzle election stakeholders especially critics for them to just keep quiet amid the publicly-exposed blatant transgressions of the election law, the repeated errors, malfunctioning, and glitches of the PCOS machines, data inconsistencies, and recently, the bypassing of canvassing rules.” – AES Watch
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Just last week, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes told poll automation critics to shut up, threatened them with legal charges, and by weekend, accused them of conspiring to undermine the elections. In between belittling election watchdogs and saying he would resign if proven wrong, he threatened to “expose” soon the critics behind it.
Brillantes told the media that these critics have been giving him a hard time. AES Watch and KontraDaya, on the other hand, said they have been offering constructive suggestions right from the start to help make poll automation secure, transparent, accurate and credible. In fact, most criticisms of the watchdogs center on the biggest Comelec deviations from the poll automation law, which, they said, put the credibility of election results in question.
“AES Watch has gone on public since 2009, engaged Comelec, Congress, Malacañang, and other state agencies with our research-grounded findings backed by proposed policy reforms and system improvements,” said Bobby Tuazon, Director for Policy Studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) and AES Watch co-convener. He added that it is already on public record that AES Watch is not just a “critic” on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Smartmatic-provided poll automation system.
Compiling Comelec deviations from the poll automation law and the resulting election woes reported to watchdogs from the first day of testing and sealing to the canvassing period as of last week, the election watchdogs released last weekend the result of their assessment of automated polls. They judged the Philippines’ second experience with poll automation as worse than the first time it was used in 2010.
Brillantes countered by accusing election watchdogs of engaging in a “conspiracy to sabotage” the elections. In response, AES Watch called for his immediate resignation as chairman of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Brillantes dared to resign, abide by the law
Maricor Akol, president of the Philippine National IT Standards, said AES Watch was only raising legitimate issues but if the Comelec chairman “cannot stand the heat, then he should go.”
“Chairman Brillantes should make true his threat to sue us instead of harassing us with dangerous labels, so that the truth will come out,” said Nelson Celis.
The former president of Philippine Computer Society, Celis was awarded the Most Outstanding Electronics Engineer in IT for 2012. He teaches business management at DLSU. He is also the spokesman of AES Watch, a coalition of more than 40 citizens’ organizations composed of academicians, IT experts and professionals, policy study analysts, faith-based groups, grassroots organizations, poll watchdogs, good governance advocates and lawyers’ groups.
“If Brillantes adheres to the democratic principles of transparency and accountability, (then) he should stop threatening and go through due process made available by the Constitution and the laws of the land to respond to the issues raised by legitimate citizens’ groups,” Celis added.
The spokesman of AES Watch decried last weekend the woeful lack of implementing rules and regulations of the poll automation law. It forced Filipino voters, he said, to rely on the Comelec’s and Brillantes’ “interpretations” of the law.
But Brillantes responded to criticisms of his “interpretations” and decisions by “resorting to labeling, name-calling and repeated threats to harass Comelec critics.” In doing so, Brillantes “is diluting the real issues of the non-compliance of the Comelec under his administration to the legally-required independent source code review, digital signatures and vote verification by voters,” said Celis.
“Instead of refuting point-by-point the concerns that we’ve raised since 2009 and aggravating issues under his watch, the Comelec chairman has resorted to name-calling and intimidation, challenging his critics to show their credentials,” said Celis. He added: “These irresponsible threats are meant to muzzle election stakeholders especially critics for them to just keep quiet amid the publicly-exposed blatant transgressions of the election law, the repeated errors, malfunctioning, and glitches of the PCOS machines, data inconsistencies, and recently, the bypassing of canvassing rules.”
Probe on election fraud, Comelec-Smartmatic ‘conspiracy,’ urged
The AES Watch welcomed Brillantes’ threat to sue them, as they thought that with it, “all parties will be compelled to make public all vital information about the automated system provided by the foreign supplier, Smartmatic, which, up to now, continues to be kept secret by the Comelec itself,” said Celis.
Tuazon of CenPEG said Brillantes’ threats constitute political harassment and a human rights case.
Thirty-four individuals led by members of AES Watch including lawyer Harry Roque recently filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking relief from the continued violation of civil and political rights of citizens.
Meanwhile, the AES Watch led by former Vice President, Teofisto Guingona, Jr. also called for an independent fact-finding body to probe into what they described as highly-irregular conduct of the 2013 mid-term elections, “topped by the arbitrary decisions of the Comelec chairman that infringe on the election law and voters’ rights for their vote to be counted accurately, thus raising questions on the integrity of the elections.”
Fr. Joe Dizon, a convener of AES Watch and Kontra Daya spokesman, said: “Let an independent body of competent and independent IT, public administration, scientists and other experts recommended and endorsed by non-partisan organizations be formed to ferret out the truth behind the highly irregular actions of the Comelec on the non-compliant Smartmatic voting technology.”
“The conspiracy that should be investigated is the conspiracy between the Comelec and Smartmatic in deceiving the people about the true state of the election technology,” he said. KontraDaya urged the reform minded groups and individuals to participate in submitting information on the widespread glitches and irregularities related to the Smartmatic-run technology including massive vote-buying, which poll automation has never addressed.
Amid these still unanswered complaints on the foreign-controlled automation system favored by the Comelec, Brillantes was reportedly still open to reuse the PCO machines in the 2016 national polls. But Dizon warned that “re-using the unlicensed Smartmatic voting technology in 2016 poses a dangerous and certainly anti-people precedence.” He criticized this as “promoting a voting system that does not count accurately because of uncorrected program errors, and is non-transparent because it does not verify the votes cast by the voters.”