By BENJIE OLIVEROS
A wide chasm separates the assessment of the Comelec and election watchdog AES Watch on the May 2013 elections. Commission on Elections Chairperson Sixto Brillantes Jr. called it as the best elections the Philippines ever had. AES Watch, on the other hand, deemed it as a technological and political disaster.
Comelec Chairman Brillantes might have based his assessment on the fact that the poll body was able to proclaim the fist batch of winning senators in only three days after the elections. All winning senators were proclaimed by the fifth day. He might have also relied on the report of Smartmatic that there were only 258 PCOS machines that needed to be replaced compared to 450 during the 2010 elections.
AES Watch, on the other hand, based its assessment on the Comelec’s propensity to short cut the processes of poll automation, thereby disregarding the security features of the system and violating the very provisions of the poll automation law. It failed to submit the source code for a thorough review by independent as well as interested parties and did away with the digital signatures.
This raised questions regarding the correctness of the count by PCOS machines and created doubts of data manipulation. The “60-30-10” pattern in the votes canvassed has generated much controversy because of suspicions that the data is being manipulated. There is now a debate regarding the implications of the “60-31-10” pattern. The Comelec, as well as those siding with it, says that it merely reflects the people’s votes when aggregated. Critics say that a thorough review of how the votes were canvassed and transmitted from the different precincts to the municipal-level, and from the municipal to the provincial level could show the same pattern and therefore, would prove programmed cheating or manipulation.
Second, the Comelec allowed a physical transport of the back up CF cards because of the slow transmission and even based its proclamation of senators on tallies or grouped canvass reports of provincial and city board of canvassers sent through fax instead of waiting for the transmission of the certificates of canvass. Now the Comelec admitted that a substantial number of CF cards were corrupted causing the delays in the transmission. (Brillantes was earlier quoted by an Inquirer report as saying “There is no connection between the backup CF cards to the transmission.”) Brillantes is raising the possibility of a conspiracy to corrupt the CF cards.
Indeed I have witnessed a situation where the PCOS machine shut down when the CF card was inserted so the Board of Election Inspectors and the technicians proceeded with the insertion of the ballots, counting of votes, and transmission of the results without the back up CF card. And there were many other cases all over the country that were similar to what I witnessed. In other words, there is no back up data and there is also no way of checking the correctness of the counting of votes except by manually counting the ballots and comparing it against the printed count.
If there was a conspiracy to corrupt the CF cards, it could only come from the Comelec and Smartmatic because they were the ones who supplied and handled the CF cards.
Third, the Comelec, instead of getting to the bottom of the delays in the transmissions, it tried to cover it up, blamed telecommunication companies, and made short cuts in the process.
The Comelec has been branding critics, and AES Watch, in particular as “saboteurs” who are out to destroy the credibility of the elections. What Brillantes fails to realize is that it is the right of citizens to complain and the job of government to explain. More important is the fact that with its sins of omission and commission, the Comelec itself caused the doubts in the whole election process. The May 13 election is indeed a technological disaster with all the problems that surfaced with the PCOS machines and the transmissions. If this would result in a political disaster would depend on how the Comelec would address the problems that are being raised by election watchdogs and how it would respond to the call for a manual audit of the results.