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:
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.