FIT4E: The only transparent solution

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WHO understands our Automated Election System (AES) Law or Republic Act (RA) 9369? Not the Venezuelans of Smartmatic! Their interest is just to gain profit in implementing their defective solution. Surprisingly, in the 2010 and 2013 national and local elections, non-compliance of Smartmatic with RA 9369 (e.g., implementation of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT, digital signatures, source code review, contingency plan, etc.) was ignored by Comelec by Melo and Brillantes. They should have defended us, Filipinos, from domination of Smartmatic by strictly carrying out provisions of the law.

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As early as 2009, AES Watch had forewarned Comelec officials about the risks of Smartmatic’s solution using Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines. They didn’t listen and we had the first election catastrophe in 2010. Because of this first ill-fated AES experience, AES Watch launched the Filipino Information Technology for Elections (FIT4E) in a conference exactly four years ago, June 2011. In the tradition of the past three successful three events of the National Search for Product Excellence in IT by Department of Science and Technology (DOST), AES Watch highlighted in the conference the 4th IT Search: National Search for Technology Excellence in Automated Election System with the primary objective of implementing Filipino-made AES that would really fit our national and local elections. History, however, would tell us that Comelec decided on the option-to-purchase of the defective PCOS machines in 2012 and FIT4E did not materialize in the 2013 elections.

The FIT4E aims to crystallize, organize and systematize efforts of a broad network of civil society organizations, citizens’ election watch groups, IT scientists and practitioners, research institutions, professional organizations, government agencies, private entities and concerned individuals who have the mutual goal of protecting the most basic right of citizens, that is, the right to vote through the use of the latest advances in information technology as developed by local IT experts. In simple terms, to come up with a voter-friendly, efficient, secured and auditable automated voting system that will reflect the true voice of the Filipino electorate.

Backing track a little bit, Proclamation 655 (http://www.gov.ph/1995/09/19/proclamation-no-655-s-1993/) signed by then-President Fidel V. Ramos on September 19, 1995 declared 1996 as Philippine IT Year. This move was undertaken by the government as a further means to promote wider and greater awareness of the strategic value of IT for national development. Proclamation 655 also directed the holding of the annual IT Search, which aims to harness Filipino ingenuity and exploit fully the potentials of IT in developing world-class IT products. The IT Search then produced a lot of Filipino innovative IT products. And one of the winners of the IT Search then was the former chairman of the Technical Evaluation Committee (i.e., RA 9369, Section 11), Denis Villorente, an engineer who is currently director for Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

The FIT4E was organized then by AES Watch, the Philippine Computer Society, the University of the Philippines’ Information Technology Training Center, Philippine National IT Standards, Computing Society of the Philippines, NAMFREL, Concerned Citizens Movement, De La Salle University’s College of Computer Science, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) and others in cooperation with the Comelec and DOST.

For the 2016 elections, AES Watch is still hoping to implement FIT4E solution under the administration of new Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista. On June 27, Comelec will give the Filipino-made AES solution called Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS) a chance to be demonstrated in one of the public schools in Bacoor, Cavite. Contrary to what the critics have been saying, PATaS is not a pure manual system but rather a method to verify the public counting with the automated count of a laptop computer for improved transparency. Once the counts are the same between the public and automated tallies, election results (ERs) shall be printed and electronically transmitted. The automated canvassing and consolidation processes shall be the same as adopted in 2010 and 2013.

The enhanced version of PATaS that we will see this coming Saturday would be the merging of more innovative ideas collected from the collaboration of AES Watch convenors. The new feature of PATaS would be the use of numbers corresponding to the candidates and this was taken from the lotto-type AES solution developed by Arnold Villasanta, also an engineer, and his son Angelo. In the improved PATaS, voters would just put the numbers on ballots instead of the names. The following are the advantages:

There’s no need to write the names of the candidates. It will be easier for the voter to write the number/s rather than writing the names of the candidates.

The filing of candidacy may be returned to January, the customary practice before 2010 elections, instead of October. It was set to be October because it requires Comelec more time to prepare printing of ballots using PCOS technology.

The corresponding numbers for the candidates shall be determined through draw lots in January. Hence, the candidates can only start campaigning for their numbers in 2016, not in 2015. Of course, Comelec need not bother to print the ballots with their corresponding numbers.

For now, AES Watch decided that the PATaS would have the above features as Chairman Bautista only wants to see one alternative solution. Who knows, the other lotto-type features may be fully integrated in the near future by just shading the number instead of writing it!

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