The 2016 national elections may be over but the controversies surrounding the recent automated polls are not. If these are not resolved and explained by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) headed by Chairman Andres Bautista before the 2019 mid-term elections, then the Smartmatic election system should be permanently junked and replaced with a fool-proof, transparent and easily verifiable technology from other automated election system providers. That or go back to manual elections.
Comelec cannot sweep these controversies under the rug hoping that it will somehow die down or go away. The many server and canvassing issues during the last elections should not become a mere footnote during the Duterte presidency because the integrity of the country’s voting process is at stake.
Comelec certainly has a lot of explaining to do.
Months before the May 2016 elections, Comelec boasted that the then upcoming polls would be one of the quickest and most accurate ever. Comelec Steering Committee chairman Christian Lim even assured the public that the vote-counting machines (VCMs) would give precise voting results. And to quickly disseminate the poll results, Comelec set up a mirror server – the so-called “transparency server” – at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Ermita, Manila.
The way Smartmatic’s automated election system was supposed to work is that results from 92,509 vote-counting machines (VCMs) in 369,138 precincts nationwide were to be electronically transmitted to the board of canvassers, the Comelec central server and the transparency server at Pope Pius XII.
It is this same election results that were supposed to be received by four parties directly from the transparency server – the Liberal Party, the United Nationalist Alliance, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the citizen’s arm authorized by the Comelec to conduct the unofficial count.
As Comelec made it appear, the counting and canvassing of the election results would basically be an automated process, free from human intervention, and impliedly, safe from manipulation.
The election protests and server discrepancies during the May 2016 polls clearly prove that this was not the case. Contrary to the poll body’s representations, Smartmatic’s automated election system was riddled with serious vulnerabilities, exposing the entire system to shenanigans.
Case in point is the poll mess involving the Confederation of Non-Stock Savings and Loan Associations (CONSLA) party list.
Based on PPCRV’s Quick Count, CONSLA garnered some 342,513 votes results as early as 11:00 p.m. on election day. The next day, May 10, the PPCRV’s tally showed the party-list group receiving some 555,896 votes, ranking 14th out of 115 party-list groups running in the elections. In fact, Comelec even handed out access cards to CONSLA as a “Party-List Elect.”
Curiously, after the Comelec finished the official canvass, CONSLA ended up in 54th place with only 213,814 votes, around 3 notches below the cut-off for winning party-list groups.
Although PPCRV admitted there were errors in the quick count results, its Communications and Media Director Ana de Villa Singson blamed these on “network connectivity issues.” But even with this networking issue – which is really just a transmission problem – shouldn’t Comelec and PPCRV end up with the same result at the end of the day?
Moreover, how can the poll watchdog come up with a different result from Comelec when PPCRV’s quick count results are supposed to be “automatically” uploaded from the poll body’s transparency server?
The explanation of PPCRV’s legal counsel, Howard Calleja, raised even more questions when he allegedly admitted that the numbers documented by CONSLA were not sourced from Comelec’s transparency server.
So where did PPCRV get their data in the first place? What was PPCRV’s source for the results they were showing the public? Isn’t this tantamount to a confession that they can manipulate the release of poll data? And is this not a serious violation of PPCRV’s obligation to faithfully publicize the results coming directly from Comelec’s transparency server?
But that isn’t the only discrepancy relating to the Comelec’s transparency server.
A week after the polls, some media folks also noticed that the number of votes for some candidates posted on the Comelec-GMA mirror server started going down. For instance, the votes for vice-presidential candidates Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos decreased by a few hundred in a span of two hours or so.
Comelec’s Bautista explained that the Board of Canvassers “inadvertently” transmitted both the test votes and the actual votes to the server. He says the test vote refer to the accuracy tests conducted on the VCMs before the election using the actual names of the candidates. Bautista said Comelec was then in the process of removing the test votes when the incident happened. “Nililinis na,” the Comelec chairman said.
Bautista’s pronouncements are alarming, to say the least. Contrary to Comelec’s representation that the vote canvassing system was “automated,” it turns out Comelec can easily enter the system and alter the results, just as they had done with the removal of the test votes. What is more worrisome is that if Comelec can go in and “clean” the results in the election system, what can stop them from accessing or altering the votes for particular candidates?
Perhaps this is why there was a big uproar when a Smartmatic technician inserted the “enye” in the transparency server, ominously coinciding with the downward slide of Bongbong Marcos’ votes.
Since Comelec is solely responsible for the conduct of the elections, Bautista is duty-bound to satisfactorily explain to the public why and how these discrepancies happened. More so now, after being accused of secretly meeting with Vice-President Leni Robredo.