THREE years of election automation—2010, 2013, and 2016. Surely the COMELEC has learned many lessons from the experience, one of which, hopefully, is that the anomaly of entrusting our elections—democracy’s most important activity—to a foreign company, should be corrected.
Ask yourself this question: Why are our elections managed and run by foreigners? And at a cost of billions of our pesos! It does not require deep thinking to see how wrong that is. Even worse, these foreigners, because of a badly designed automated system, have the power to determine who should win and become our leaders, and who should not.
For years, I have been saying that the Smartmatic PCOS/VCM (Precinct Count Optical Scan/Vote Counting Machine) system is very vulnerable to tampering by an insider, realistically, upon instructions from a higher official in the organization. By insider, I mean a technical person working with the COMELEC, or with Smartmatic.
I have said that so often—during radio and TV interviews and in my articles—that Mr. Sixto Brillantes, when he was chairman of the COMELEC, dared me to prove that statement. I suspected then that the reason he posed that dare was that he thought I would have to do the tampering myself! He probably got a bit confused with what “tampering by an insider” meant.
Anyway, he made the dare official during a JCOC (Joint Congressional Oversight Committee) hearing at the Senate. He asked me to list down the equipment I would need for the demonstration. I readily accepted the dare and told him to produce in the next JCOC hearing a PCOS machine, a laptop, and a Smartmatic technical person who knows the software.
I explained what I would do: that I would ask the Smartmatic technical person to point out to me where in the various computer programs the various functionalities are. I would then tell him what to alter in the programs, if, for instance, I would want to change the elections results.
Perhaps finally realizing what “tampering by an insider” meant, Mr. Brillantes withdrew his challenge and never brought up the matter again.
Actually, my being asked to prove the statement that the Smartmatic system was vulnerable to tampering by an insider was totally unnecessary … because Smartmatic itself has proven it—on four different occasions.
The first time was when Smartmatic “corrected” the results in several precincts in Wao, Lanao del Sur, during the canvassing of the 2008 ARMM election. I understand that they even did this remotely from Manila. The second time was during the 2010 National and Local Elections (NLE), when they “corrected” the number of registered voters, which reached 250 million! For these situations to occur, there must have been “bugs,” or errors in the Smartmatic software.
The third time was during the 2013 senatorial elections, when Smartmatic “corrected” the total votes of Sen. Poe that reached 12 million after only the first two hours of canvassing. The fourth time was during last May 9’s NLEs, when Marlon Garcia, of Smartmatic, “corrected” the “?” in some of the candidates’ names and changed them to “ñ”. Again, Smartmatic had to make these “corrections” because of software bugs.
It is so unfair that we would pay them billions of pesos for machines and software, which were not fully tested. We don’t even know if those “bugs” were planted so they would have an excuse to tamper with the programs.
An equally serious anomaly that needs to be corrected is the lack of transparency in the elections process.
No voter saw the precinct counting, so nobody knows if the votes were counted correctly or not. We just accepted the results given us by machines that were programmed by Smartmatic. (Yes, Virginia, there is human intervention even in an automated system.) What if some insider tampered with the software? We wouldn’t know. What if there were again “bugs” in those programs? We wouldn’t know.
Neither would we know if someone tampered with the Election Returns (ERs) while they were being transmitted electronically to the City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers. Nor would we know if someone tampered with the canvassing software and the results as they were being transmitted to the next canvassing level. We would know nothing because the process is so non-transparent.
We recommended a simple step that would have added transparency in the electronic transmission and in the canvassing, but despite the COMELEC’s commitment to incorporate that step, they didn’t implement it. Not properly, anyway. Were they averse to a transparent system? Or don’t the Commissioners appreciate the value of transparency? And the value of controls in an election process?
Three COMELEC generations—under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, Atty. Sixto Brillantes and, now, Atty. Andres Bautista—and not one of them realized the anomaly of a foreign group managing our elections and of an election system that is not transparent, despite being required by law?
THESE ANOMALIES MUST BE CORRECTED. If the Commissioners can’t do it, then perhaps they should step aside for those who can before the 2019 mid-term elections.