The issue here is not only the highly irregular process in which Comelec chose Smartmatic-TIM to do diagnostic work with the PCOS machines. The issue here is the lack of transparency, the lack of check and balance within Comelec, the lack of openness and accountability to the public.” — Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Senior Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Neri Colmenares welcomed today April 22 the Supreme Court’s decision junking what many quarters have described as a highly irregular Smartmatic-Comelec deal. It is the deal where Comelec reportedly went against the advice of its own Law Department and decided to tap Smartmatic-Total Information Management’s diagnostic services to check the state of the 82,000 precinct count optical scanner (PCOS) machines even without the benefit of a public bidding.
On top of the apparent violation of the procurement law, automated elections advocates believe that the vendor of the PCOS machines could not be trusted to conduct the diagnostics for its own products.
“There have already been serious questions on whether automated election fraud was committed,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said in an earlier statement. If Smartmatic-TIM comes into the picture and destroys possible evidence left in the machines, the public may never truly know,” he said.
“The issue here is not only the highly irregular process in which Comelec chose Smartmatic-TIM to do diagnostic work with the PCOS machines. The issue here is the lack of transparency, the lack of check and balance within Comelec, the lack of openness and accountability to the public,” Ridon said.
With the Supreme Court junking on April 21 Comelec’s P240-million deal for the diagnostic services of Smartmatic-TIM, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares urged the Comelec to discard once and for all the use of Smarmatic-TIM’s PCOS automated system. He said it violated the democratic tenet of secret voting and public counting and yields sovereign control of the electoral process to a foreign entity.
Proposals for transparent automated elections
Colmenares urged Comelec to heed now the proposals to ensure transparent, participatory and verifiable election process. This, the Comelec can do, if it “earnestly prepares for and conducts manual voting and counting at the precinct level and automating transmission and canvassing of encoded election returns,” Colmenares said.
He suggested that, “since we cannot allow a postponement of election, the Comelec can still salvage the problem it has caused by automating the canvassing of votes while allowing for manual voting in the precinct level.”
Maintaining the secret and manual voting but ensuring a public counting of the votes is also the suggestion of automated election advocates.
Prof. Bobby Tuazon of CenPeg, AES Watch convener, told Bulatlat.com that in this type of automated election, after the public counting of votes at the precincts-level, automated transmission will begin with the election returns having its required digital signages. He said this mode of automated election has been adapted by many countries, including those which tried and abandoned the use of PCOS machines. Examples, he said, include Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, Netherlands, Australia and Japan.
Colmenares said “Manual vote by precinct is the best safeguard against cheating because voters can check and contest the results being canvassed by computers. Unlike now, where no one knows whether his or her vote was properly counted by the highly un-transparent and suspicious PCOS machines.”
Supporting the combination of manual, public counting and automated transmission, Colmenares added: “The problem in the previous manual elections is the delay and the “dagdag bawas” in the canvassing stage, not in the precinct count which is practically over a few or several hours after voting closes. So the solution is to automate canvassing to preempt dagdag bawas but allow for manual precinct voting so that voters and candidates can verify their votes in the canvassing stage.”
In this option, the Comelec does not require sophisticated technology since the main safeguard is the manual voting in the precinct, and bidding process and preparations can still be undertaken long before May 2016, Colmenares said.
Advocates of automated elections have long offered software and various crucial help in the IT department, without the high cost of the PCOS machines, its software and attendant consultants and upkeep.
With the money to be saved from ditching PCOS and the services of Smartmatic-TIM, Colmenares said, the Comelec can now afford to double the current allowances of BEI members in the 2016 elections, for the work that they do in the service of the people.
Larger force for Smartmatic?
But will the Comelec listen now to proposals of automated elections advocates? Since it started automating for 2010 and 2013 polls, critics have railed at its habitual, sometimes arrogant brushing aside of the more important questions, and narrowing of the issues to mere technicalities.
Ridon of Kabataan Partylist said as early as last January it was very apparent that a larger force is behind the “highly-orchestrated move” to keep Smartmatic-TIM in control of the automated elections.
He noted, for example, how the chairman of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms was warning about the effect of putting Comelec in a bad light, “even if Comelec officials were simply casting aside the most essential questions on the PCOS machines’ integrity.”
In earlier statements, Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis said the desperation of the Aquino clique to seal its victory in the 2016 polls could be propelling the rush to favor Smartmatic-TIM’s PCOS again. On Apr. 6, the Comelec allowed Smartmatic to demonstrate-test to them, closed-door, the new PCOS-like machines it is currently selling the government. The Comelec is in a negotiation to buy 23,000 of such machines, from Smartmatic again.
“It (Smartmatic) has already manifested its usefulness to the ruling party in the last two elections, it will become handy once again for administration bets in the coming 2016 national election,” Hicap said. Also, he warned, such maneuvers will likely seek to limit the participation of progressive party list groups and the opposition in the 2016 polls.