Comelec must show why it bought PCOS

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I would like to share with the readers the following statement that I read during the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing held at the Senate session hall on May 14, 2015:

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Mr. Chairman, considering that there is now at least one other systems solution that is available to the COMELEC, we believe it is necessary for the COMELEC to explain to the public—certainly to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee—how it will choose the automated solution for 2016. Before the new Chairman was appointed, the Commission apparently arrived at the conclusion that what was used in the last two elections should also be the same solution to be used for the 2016 elections.

In a past JCOC hearing, I requested for a copy of the working papers used by COMELEC in arriving at its choice of the automated solution in 2010 and 2013. We have yet to receive those documents. Usually, a matrix is employed showing all the alternatives that are worth considering, and then grading each against a list of criteria, for example, accuracy, transparency, cost, speed, etc. It’s the usual cost/benefit study that any organization uses to analyze the alternatives in a project.

In fact, we did just that before our group recommended TCrES, our automated solution. We would be happy to furnish the JCOC with that analysis.

Our request for a copy of COMELEC’s working papers is a most reasonable one. First: elections are such an important activity in a democratic system and it is of utmost importance that the methodology used in choosing the electionsystem pass through the most rigid scrutiny.

Second: the automation of elections is also very expensive – costing the country billions of pesos – and so the more reason for the selection process to be transparent.

And third: COMELEC has had a very poor track record in the decision-making process in the past few years.

Please consider the following: Ignoring the required source code review by political parties and groups; instructing the BEI to reply in the negative when digital signatures are asked for; almost lawyering for Smartmatic in the Smartmatic-Dominion legal case, instead of castigating and penalizing them for lying to COMELEC and the Filipino people about the real owner of the software; purchasing the PCOS machines despite being warned that if we did that, we would be shouldering the warehousing and maintenance of the machines; allowing Smartmatic to proceed despite failures to meet the required accuracy level in all mock elections; and let’s not forget that much earlier, deciding on buying ballot secrecy folders for more than P700 million pesos, which fortunately, a whistle-blower exposed; and many more.

The most recent was almost a disastrous occurrence. COMELEC’s former Chairman announced to the media, that they needed to have the 80,000 PCOS machines that they bought from Smartmatic, diagnosed for defects, and then repaired and refurbished. He also announced that such services would cost P1.2 billion . . . and that it might even reach P2 billion if enhancements were to be incorporated.

Some of us in the IT community and in AES Watch, raised very strong objections against this plan, before the media. As a result of the objections, COMELEC made a subsequent announcement – that they would break up the project into two: diagnostics, and then repair and refurbishing. The diagnostics, according to them, would only cost P300 million and they would bid that out ahead; the repair and refurbishing, P900 million. We continued expressing our objection to this pending decision.

And then the Chairman announced before this body that the COMELEC was able to negotiate with Smartmatic the lower price of P268 million for both diagnostics and repair and refurbishing. In fact, the Chairman – just three days before he was to retire – signed the contract with Smartmatic.And the Chairman, a practicing lawyer of many years, who time and again, would remind us that we are not lawyers and should not discuss legal issues, signed it without going through a bidding process, as required by law. As we all know, the Supreme Court nullified the contract, thus upholding the position that we, non-lawyers, took.

Imagine how much the country would have lost and how foolish we would have looked had we not raised our voices against it and simply accepted the COMELEC-announced price of P1.2 billion? And what was Smartmatic thinking, quoting us P1.2 billion when, just a few weeks later, P268 million would be acceptable to them? They must take us for fools, Mr. Chairman. Oh, they must be laughing at us for being so naive and gullible. As a Filipino, I truly felt insulted and wondered why COMELEC and other government officials did not feel the same way. Surely, it’s more than enough reason to blacklist them forever!

Given what we know, which unfortunately, the public doesn’t, and some politicians choose to ignore, we, IT practitioners, who follow set standards of professionalism, cannot just sit back and accept everything that the COMELEC says without questioning its methodologies. We therefore reiterate and make official our request to be furnished a copy of its working papers showing how it decided in favor of Smartmatic’s PCOS in the past two elections. More important, we would like COMELEC to also explain to the public the methodology it will use in deciding what technology it will employ for the 2016 elections.

Just telling us what that decision is will not suffice. Thank you.

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6 Comments

  1. When Dean was interviewed by Mrs. Monsod-if there is only partial automation as u recommended-it will require hiring more than 2 million teachers and/or election qualified volunteers-as compared to full automation where u need only 500,000 or less? Could U react to this statement of the new Comelec head

    REPLY
    Does the new Comelec head mean that since it is difficult to have transparency and more credibility our elections shuold continue being UNTRANSPARENT, fraudulent and maniulated by IT experts who can use the codes only Smartmatic knows to maniulate the results to be transmitted by the PCOS machines?

  2. Hopefully, this time, Commissioner Andy Bautista will listen to the cry of the experts, not the defense of a money-hungry former commissioner, election lawyer and a glorified salesman who works for Smartmatic, both not experts in computerization but controlled the elections in 2010 and 2013. And our wish should be that the newly appointed Comelec hierarchy will not be bought by Smartmatic.

  3. Amnata Pundit on

    Please correct me if Im wrong, but isn’t there a provision in the automated election law which specifies that only a software that has already been used in an election can be considered by the Comelec? This if true guarantees that only an imported program like Smartmatic’s or its clone can be used in our elections, completely disqualifying any locally written software because it will be still a “virgin.” This country is doomed if that provision is not repealed. Perhaps the Supreme Court can nullify it for being unconstitutional, since all officials including President and Comelec commissioners should all be natural born Filipinos, it should follow that the software used in our elections should be natural born also, right? Question: when does a country go against its self-interests? Answer: when there is a superior irresistible power dictating to it. Get It?

  4. Dominador D. Canastra on

    Indeed, Mr. Lagman and your co-writers of the LFIT! column, and the editors and columnists of The Manila Times, the previous bosses of the COMELEC– Melo and Brillantes, must be made to account for their decision to have a contract with Smartmatic and buy the PCOS machines despite the fact that Smartmatic was not complying with the requirements of the law. We Filipinos paid multi-billions of pesos to this Venezuelan company and its Filipino partners.
    They–Smartmatic and the former COMELEC officials– must be investigated and charged. And those who have the tasks of investigating and charging them but are in fact protecting these WRONGDOERS AND CRIMINALS must also be investigated and then charged.
    THe new COMELEC chief, Mr. Andy Bautista, is supposed to be an honest man. He should initiate doing the right thing. God and the people are watching him.

  5. Allen llamar on

    Just wandering, why nobody is suggesting to investigate Former Comelec chair Brillantes.Every time I saw this fellow in TV grinding his teeth, I think he makes money out of this.

    REPLY: Sir, we in The Manila Times have been begging the people and the DOJ and God to investigate Mr. Brillantes and Smartmatic. But wenare beign ignored, Sir. And you, Sir, don’t seem to now that there is a crusade. Please join us and not just “be wandering” but be active, sir.