The credibility of election results is of utmost importance. That, all can and do agree with.
However, listening to the arguments during the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing held on March 23, 2016, one sees that it seems that there are very few people who truly understand how to make elections credible. Comelec, Smartmatic, and most of the politicians present seemed to be interested only in resolving the issues in order to get them out of the way–not necessarily to make our elections more credible.
Almost three hours were spent discussing the problems Comelec faces because of the “receipt” issue (VVPAT, or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). For example, much time was spent by Comelec in explaining why the printing of the “receipts” could not be done without going through the display verification routine first, thus doubling the time the voter spends in front of the machine. Comelec further explained that if they disabled this display verification routine, the software would have to undergo again the required source code reviews.
That’s true, but the addition of one instruction to the software (to skip the routine) would only require an equally short review. And this concern is minor compared to the other non-compliance issues of the Smartmatic system. Very glaring is that the machine is a new model. Chances are, that model has not been tried and tested in an actual major election, as required by law. So what’s the big fuss about the addition of one instruction to the software? It shouldn’t take a day to do that.
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There was a humorous moment during the discussion of the “receipt” issue when JCOC Chairman Koko Pimentel commented how odd it is that we’re paying some P40,000 rental for each of the PCOS units (total of about P4 billion), but still have to purchase scissors (how primitive indeed!) to cut the “receipts.” Comelec was worried about paper jams and Smartmatic, the machine provider, did not have a better alternative for it.
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One resource person suggested that because of the possible extended precinct voting, the teachers should be granted an increase in their allowance. A surprising reaction came from the representative of a parish-based NGO. He said that their organization is, in fact, the most disadvantaged group during elections because they do most of the work, yet, unlike the teachers (BEI), they were not being paid for it. I was stunned because in my many decades of being a Namfrel volunteer, working with tens of thousands of other volunteers — young and old, rich and poor, professionals and students, clerics and laity — this was the first time EVER that I would hear a volunteer mention compensation for his work.
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I was given an opportunity to do a 5-slide presentation where I explained — and put on record — how uploading all Election Returns (ERs) received for canvassing into a public website would expose any cheating in four of the six points of vulnerability in our election system. Commissioner Christian Robert Lim reported that while they agreed to implement my recommendation, in a meeting with political parties on February 19, 2016, the latter expressed their preference for the public website data to be copied from the Central Server, instead of the City/Municipal Boards of Canvassers (CMBOC), as I have suggested.
Why is that material? What’s in the Central Server is supposed to be the same as what the CMBOCs have and therefore it should not matter where the data are copied from. Unfortunately, because of transmission glitches (many transmissions come from remote places), the chances of them containing exactly the same data, is pretty slim. As had been experienced in 2010 and 2013. Comelec can still say therefore, as they did in 2010 and 2013, that tabulating the data in the public website will really not be the same as the official canvassing results because of transmission glitches. Being so, what good would this exercise do?
Comelec could have explained this difference to the political parties very easily. Did they bother? Chairman Bautista promised that this coming election will be the most transparent ever. Well, the above modification will not make it so. Automated “dagdag-bawas” can still rear its ugly head!
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During the discussion of the transmission issues, Nelson Celis, AESWatch spokesman, asked why the contract was again awarded to Smartmatic, considering their dismal failure in 2010 and 2013. 9% of the PCOS machines failed to transmit successfully in 2010; 23%, in 2013. These are truly unacceptable! Election management bodies of other countries would have blacklisted Smartmatic for that.
Comelec said that they asked the telcos (telephone companies) to bid, but they were unwilling to do so. They are however willing to provide the same service through Smartmatic. So now, we have to deal with a middleman, who will surely add their profit to the price. Are the telcos worried that they may not be paid on time if they dealt directly with Comelec? And can’t the latter remedy this concern? What a mess!
And why is Comelec accepting the telcos’ refusal to provide the service? Aren’t the Commissioners aware that theirs is the most powerful institution during the election period? Comelec can even commandeer the services of the entire military, including all their facilities – planes, boats, tanks, personnel – should they find it necessary. Yet, they can’t convince/force the telcos, which, after all, get their franchises from the government, to provide our elections this service? Even out of patriotic duty?
So now, we have to settle with dealing with a proven failure? And risk the credibility of our elections once again? Oh, dear readers, join me please in praying for our country and our democracy.