• The Advisory Council: What is its real value to Comelec?

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    NELSON CELIS

    Last of 3 parts
    ANOTHER bad omen is coming in the 2019 midterm elections after Chairman Andy Bautista of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) clarified in the recent Automated Election System (AES) Technology Fair that the AES technology recommendation of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) will not automatically be the one implemented in the 2019 polls! Though Bautista explained that the CAC’s report would carry weight in Comelec’s final decision, the AES Watch could only raise again a question on what’s the real value of the CAC. Zero percent (0 percent)? Is that the weight of the CAC’s time and effort that would be expended in coming up with a recommendation?

    The CAC held tech fair on July 26 and 27 at the controversial Novotel Hotel. It may be recalled that vote counting machines (VCMs) were allegedly found at Novotel Hotel during the height of 2016 elections last year.

    Why zero percent? It’s because Bautista made pronouncements already in the tech fair that the Comelec is currently considering six options on what AES solution to implement in 2019. These are: Option 1 – refurbishment of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in 2010 and 2013 (that’s Smartmatic); Option 2 – exercise again the option to purchase (OTP) the VCMs leased in 2016 (that’s Smartmatic again); Option 3 – the combination of refurbished PCOS machines and possible purchase of 2016 VCMs (that’s Smartmatic again, and again); Option 4 – lease of new optical mark reader (OMR) machines (Smartmatic?); Option 5 – use of other systems besides an OMR technology (Smartmatic’s Direct Recording Electronic or DRE technology?); and Option 6 -any combination of the previous five options (i.e., there’s no choice there except Smartmatic!). Bautista mentioned nothing about Filipino ingenuity. However, the CAC was able to encourage innovators of Precinct Automated Tallying Systems (PATAS) and Transparent Election System (TAPAT) to participate in the tech fair.

    With Option 1, the major problems of PCOS machines in the 2013 elections were the presence of digital lines in the ballot images resulting in inaccurate counts. By 2019, these nine-year-old machines will be beyond the normal useful life of five years.

    Option 2 would be a disastrous move as what happened in the 2012 OTP. The CAC then recommended not to use these machines in 2013 and beyond but Comelec insisted. This perpetuated the use of Smartmatic’s machines until last year.

    If we opt to choose Option 3, it means we never really learned from the past.

    For Option 4, Comelec already presented its plan to use DRE during the deliberations of the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) hearings with Sen. Koko Pimentel, the then JCOC chair. However, its use was not approved by the JCOC because of its high cost of implementation. Let me just quote Commissioner Christian Lim regarding his statements at the JCOC hearing on February 5, 2015. He said, “Our position, Your Honor, under 9369 which we are to implement is that the choices are limited to OMR and DRE.” That means, Comelec has only two choices of technology. However, in the same hearing, he said, “ xxx my personal opinion that Internet voting is a form of DRE… but I don’t know if the other members of the en banc share the same opinion as I do, x xx.” Lim classified Internet voting as DRE! He should have asked the CAC about what Internet voting technology is and not his fellow en banc members. To appreciate how DRE works, you may view a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTeMYps4r0I.

    Looks like all options being considered would yield to Smartmatic. The opportunity losses on the use of their technology was explained in my past article entitled “The judicious spending of taxpayers’ money: Does it matter?” The cost implications related to warehousing, logistics and maintenance alone was estimated at P40 billion.

    There were so many issues and concerns in the past national and local elections that were not settled. Not only in the Philippines; even in the country where Smartmatic machines originated, issues on accuracy was a major problem. The results of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly elections last month were manipulated. Smartmatic’s CEO, Antonio Mugica, said that there was a discrepancy of one million votes between the results announced by the government and those processed by his machines.

    So, what’s the real value of the CAC to Comelec? Nothing! Maybe the best thing to do is to make the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) handle the AES technical implementation part of elections that would cover planning up to activation of the AES during the elections.

    Then, there would be no feasible options left for the Comelec except for the DICT to adopt a system developed by Filipinos. The Comelec would be treated by DICT as a plain user of a system in this regard. Anyways, DICT is the technical arm of the government, not the Comelec en banc or its officials.

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