The following is the letter to the chairmen of the Senate and the House’s electoral reforms committees from Automated Elecion System Watch (AES Watch) asking that a public demonstration be allowed to show the Smartmatic PCOS machines can easily be tampered with by an “internal operator.”
January 25, 2015
Hon. AQUILINO ‘KOKO” PIMENTEL
Chair, Committee on Electoral Reforms and People Participation (CERPP)
Hon. FREDENIL H. CASTRO
Chair, Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms (CSER)
House of Representatives
CO-CHAIRS, JOINT CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE (JCOC)
On the AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM (AES)
Dear Sen Koko Pimentel and Rep. Fredenil Castro:
We, conveners and members of the AUTOMATED ELECTION SYSTEM (AES) WATCH, write the honorable Co-Chairmen and Members of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the Automated Election System (AES) to take heed on the long-time plea of independent poll watchdogs, IT experts and academics for the rule of law to prevail in so vital a matter as the elections and the election systems used to ensure that the right of suffrage is well exercised –votes counted accurately and secured– and not to dwell alone on the issue of speed of automation.
Since 2009 before the nationwide automated polls was first implemented in 2010 and up to today, we have been consistently providing the JCOC-AES, the Committees on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms (CSER) in the Lower House, the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People Participation (CERPP) and the COMELEC under then Chairman Armand Melo and current and soon to retire Chairman Sixto Brillantes all our research-based studies, findings, papers, publications as well as presentations on the 30 vulnerabilities of the PCOS machines provided by the favored foreign vendor, Smartmatic, and the 30 safeguards spelled out in RA 939 of Poll Automation Law to help ensure the security and accountability of the PCOS technology used to count and canvass votes and which Smartmatic borrowed from the real technology owner, the Dominion Voting System (DVS).
We never wavered in our unified position that the PCOS machines, without the safeguards in place, did not count the votes accurately in the last two elections and are easily prone to manipulation by insiders who have access to the programs. We remain steadfast in the results of our studies despite being labeled by both Comelec and Smartmatic officials and propagandists as “noisy critics,” “saboteurs,” ‘troublemakers,’ ‘publicity hungry.’ Let us not resort to name calling which Chairman Brillantes has been allowed to do since the day he assumed office as chairman of a powerful election body against concerned citizens’ groups like us. Name-calling is for those who have run out of arguments. It’s not only careless, it’s irresponsible.
We went through all possible legal courses of action – courts, congressional hearings, and media and even tried the streets to voice out our legitimate concerns. Many other groups have arisen from looking into these studies as well as out of an increasing number of election protests over votes surges, mismatched counts of scanned images and election returns, absence of digital signatures, the questionable CF cards, among others, and the dirty digital lines in the scanned images of the PCOS machines that were discovered by the Technical Evaluation Committee of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which are so disturbing that this alone “could have altered the votes” if not looked into.
The approaching 2016 election is very critical. This is when we again vote for the national candidates — the President and the Vice President who will steer this country for another six years. This is not about a popular candidate pitted against a relatively less popular one. Neither is this about knowing who won and who did not. This is about knowing if our votes we cast in as voters are counted well, accurately and have not been electronically tampered with. This is about whether the machines to which we have now entrusted the counting, will truly reflect the votes cast in.
To end all speculations and for science and sense of propriety and decency to prevail along with the rule of law, our IT experts—the Filipino IT that has been marginalized in favor of foreign vendors who are not even IT specialists but plain businessmen – have long challenged the Comelec and Smartmatic to allow independent source code review to be done by Filipino IT experts–to no avail. We were subjected to ridicule and stringent requirements. The independent source code review never materialized because the codes were never released by the real technology owner, DVS up to three days before the 2013 elections.
Again, in an effort to promote transparency and accountability, AES Watch IT experts led by the country’s veteran programmer, former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, reiterated the long held view among the Filipino IT community that the “results of the Smartmatic’s PCOS can easily be tampered with.” Chairman Brillantes called this “undermining the electoral system…” He added, addressing Mr Lagman, “As former commissioner it is your duty to demonstrate how the results can easily be tampered. I invite you to exhibit or explain how it can be done. Come to my office to talk details, like presence of media and election…”
This challenge was accepted immediately by Mr Lagman and other IT experts. But only a few days ago, Chairman Brillantes again backed out from his dare, as he is known to always do whenever his challenges are readily accepted.
Systems are designed and developed by people; therefore they can be modified, altered, tampered with by the same people, or by others trained by them. No demo needed; it’s commonsense. But for the sake of simple demonstration and so that our honorable lawmakers would be well guided on how the PCOS really counts and be secured, AES Watch experts reiterate this challenge to end all issues once and for all about the real defects of the Smartmatic provided PCOS machines they loaned from DVS.
Remember that one week before the 2010 election, Smartmatic recalled the CF cards of all PCOS machines already deployed – to match their formats with the ballots. They altered the contents of the CF cards, a vital component of the system. How many thousands of technicians did Smartmatic employ and train to make the alterations? The techs all now know how to modify the contents of the CF cards. Did some of them work with election operators in the 2013 election to offer candidates a sure win for the right amount? Whether the technicians did it or not, Smartmatic itself proved right. Contents of CF cards were altered. It was easily done – by insiders.
Quoting Mr Lagman again, “Had the en banc heeded my recommendation in early 2012 not to buy the 80,000 PCOS machines, taxpayers would not be saddled now with multibillion-peso warehousing and refurbishing.”
We appeal to you. Let us not allow Smartmatic to again get away with the removal of all safeguards of the PCOS machines and pocket billions of pesos every election year for no sweat. Chairman Brillantes has refused now to pursue his first challenge for the Filipino IT community to demonstrate the vulnerabilities of the Smartmatic PCOS machines and is now in fact covering up for Smartmatic’s failure to comply with the safeguards.
External hacking is not the main problem. What is most worrisome is that the PCOS machines are vulnerable to tampering by an insider. We, the other Filipino IT experts, share with Mr. Lagman this basic premise, “How does one demonstrate ‘internal tampering’ but by an ‘insider’ doing it? “Not only can the PCOS software and CF cards be tampered with by an insider, but also the Consolidation and Canvassing System and the Election Management System. They shouldn’t be, if Smartmatic made tight controls, which it didn’t.
All Election Returns and canvassing results should have been posted on a public website. Anybody, even an OFW in the Middle East, could have done his own consolidation of the ER data, and compared his totals with the Comelec official canvass. But the public website had incomplete data. Is this intentional to prevent public checking of the results? In 2010 and 2013 the entire Smartmatic system was non-transparent – from precinct counting to the canvassing. We had to depend solely on the vendor’s (and Comelec’s) word.
We ask the JCOC, the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms (CSER) and the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People Participation (CERPP) to initiate this demonstration before the public and media if need be. In order to safeguard the PCOS equipment, our IT experts would require the presence of any Smartmatic technical person (an insider computer programmer) to be present.
The Smartmatic technical person should know the software and how to modify it. The rules are standard programmer rules. He will be asked to explain the different modules that comprise the software, as well as the data format and contents of the CF cards; after which, any programmer like Mr Lagman will instruct him where and what to alter. And presto! You will have altered results!
It is crucial to have this demo immediately before the retirement of the chairman and commissioners due by law on February 2 and before any contract is signed with the favored negotiated vendor without bidding.
What is at stake in this fight is not only about truth and accountability but for HOPE. We know we have tremendous problems — a society without civic discipline, cynical and short of compassion, a government ridden with incompetence and corruption, a slide towards tyranny of the few with the poor growing more dispirited and hopeless. But the power to change all that is held by the people, and as long as they have the power to choose, they can change our country for the good.
It is this power to choose that is stake in the PCOS issue. If we lose it to election manipulators, we will lose everything.
Please find enclosed the Joint Protest Letter addressed to the COMELEC en banc last January 13, 2015
AES WATCH Letter to CERPP, CSER & CO-CHAIRS JCOC-AES JAN. 26, 2015.pdf