Incredible. . .but true!

15

SOMETIME in July, 2011 —my third month as Commissioner of the Commission on Elections — I asked its IT Director the question, “Kaya ba nating mag-develop ng sarili nating CCS?” (Do we have the capability to develop our own Consolidation and Canvassing System?”) The immediate reply was a pleasant surprise to me, “Oo naman, sir!” (“Absolutely, sir!”) I was actually half-expecting the common reply, which would be, “We’ll try, sir”. But no, she was so sure!

Smiling widely, I said, “Gawin natin!” (Let’s do it!). And so, after about a month of preparatory activities (engagement of two systems analysts from DOST, procurement of laptops, and other minor items), the team started the development on August 26, 2011.

But before I proceed with this story, perhaps a brief explanation is necessary. The Philippine election system basically consists of four phases: voting, precinct-counting, transport/transmission of precinct results, and consolidation/canvassing of such results. Generally, even when elections were still purely manual, the first three phases would only take a day, maybe two, for most precincts. On the other hand, when it was still manual, the fourth phase, the consolidation and canvassing, could take as long as forty days.

Automation cut down the canvassing to something like five days. In fact, theoretically, it can be cut down to one day, assuming no hitches in the transmission of results. I have to say this again, PCOS only cut down the time spent for the first three phases by half a day. Yet, PCOS cost the taxpayers P11.3 billion in 2010 and almost P9 billion in 2013; automation of consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) cost us less than half a billion, not including telecoms cost. Very few bad government IT projects would equal the Comelec’s when it comes to wasting taxpayer money!


Now, why did I want Comelec to develop its own CCS? Several reasons:     (1) As explained above, CCS is independent from whatever system is used in precinct-counting. Whether it’s Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), like PCOS, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system, or even manual counting, they will use the same CCS. In fact, for as long as they all send their results to CCS in the same format, there won’t be any problem using all three technologies in the same election. Such being the case, it would be to Comelec’s advantage if it develops its own CCS and procures the canvassing equipment (laptops and servers) directly.

(2) CCS needed quite a few modifications for the 2013 elections, including the synchronization of the ARMM elections. Like any system, modifications will be needed again and again. It is best therefore NOT to be dependent on a vendor for this recurring need.

(3) Training on CCS would not be dependent on vendors.

(4) Then there’s the pride angle.Comelec’s IT Department would be able to prove that they are equal, if not better than the vendor’s foreign technical staff.

After discussing the system enhancements with the IT team, I disengaged myself from the project and almost forgot about it, until the IT Director came to my office on December 22, 2011 to tell me that they had finished the development and that only stress testing was left to be done. Wow(!), I thought. Not even three months.

Just to complete the picture, I asked the IT Director to check how much Comelec paid when it bought Smartmatic’s CCS for the 2008 ARMM elections. She went to Accounting, came back, then told me Comelec paid Php 58 million for it, including VAT. Then I asked her to compute how much they spent developing our own CCS. She came back after a few days and told me that they only spent Php 600,000. That confirmed my suspicion that we’d been had!

But I was very happy and very proud of our IT team. I talked about it in all the meetings that I attended at Comelec during the start of 2012. I also announced the good news during the following en banc meeting of the Commission.

And that was when the bomb was dropped! Chairman Brillantes said we could not use the Comelec-developed CCS … because it had not been used in a previous election exercise, as required by R.A. 9369. Unbelievable, isn’t it?!

R.A. 9369 says that the AES must use appropriate technology and that the system procured must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise, here or abroad. Fine … if it’s a new system.

Chairman Brillantes and I must have debated on this for an hour. I basically argued that there was nothing new in the system, or in the technology. It’s the same system and technology that were used in the 2008 and 2010 elections; the same system and technology used by most countries in their consolidation of election results. They mostly also use laptops and servers. All that the Comelec IT team did was write new computer programs for it. In fact, there was no procurement involved.

What does the system do anyway: It consolidates the precinct results at the municipality level; then it consolidates the municipal results at the provincial level; and finally, it consolidates the provincial results at the national level. Namfrel used to write a new set of such programs in every election (from 1984) where it ran a parallel count.

I also argued that when Smartmatic employed its CCS in 2008, it was unused in any other election. How come Comelec allowed its use? Ahh … selective enforcement of rules.

After an hour’s debate, on cue, one of the Commissioners called for a vote. As expected, the vote was 6-1. None of the others dared to contradict the chairman, even if obviously, he was wrong.

I’d like to play a little game with the readers: Let’s list down all the possible reasons why the chairman vetoed the use of the Comelec-developed CCS.

I’ll start with one: If I wanted to tamper with the results, it’s safer to ask the vendor (especially, if foreign) to do it for me because they will surely keep it a secret to protect itself. With Comelec personnel, I can never be sure.

If you can think of other possible reasons, please send them to the Opinion Section Editor of this paper (opinion@maniltimes.net).

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15 Comments

  1. Perfecto R. Yasay, Jr. on

    If as Comm. Gus Lagman asserts that the first three phases of the election system was completed in just a matter of a day when the process was fully manual and only the fourth phase – canvassing and consolidation – took about 40 days, then common sense implied that only the 4th phase should have been automated to complete the entire official process in just a matter of a day or up to 5 days, and preserve the transparency and speed of the first three manual phases. Apparently there was nothing wrong with the manual process of the first three phases. However the automation of the entire 4 phases eliminated the vital need for transparency seen and understood by the people. The manual process would also have also provided the best paper trail for the validation of the automated 4th phase should discrepancies arise.

  2. Comelec Chairman may have been right after all in declining to deploy this new and untested system in an actual election scenario. Apart from the legal impediment, R.A. 9369, the system has not been proven and tested if it is really ready for GO-LIVE, assuming it passed with flying colors during the (multiple) UAT testings during the DEV Phase. What is the effect of those UAT Testers compared to the actual scenario that has millions of data coming in and tight deadlines of an actual election.

    You cannot expect a baby to perform marathons. It’s starts with a baby walk.

    Chairman Brillantes, cannot take the risk and bear the brunt of the nation’s wrath if things go wrong with this new and unproven system. After all, no peso value can be matched for this constitutional exercise. We cannot afford a failure of election, and Comelec for all it’s tarnished reputation cannot afford to loose whatever integrity it has remained in it’s sleeves.

    What i would suggest however, is to deploy this In-House CCS system in a mock Elections nationwide, utilizing the Military Camps in the provinces. And fine tune the system from the end users feedback. If that is cost prohibitive. I would suggest to continue fine Tuning the System through a series of testings that will test it’s vulnerability from downtime, security and audited results confirming accuracy.

    And to deploy this system side-by-side with those uber expensive smartmatic systems during an actual election and compare results. This i think is the best way to give credence to this In-House CCS system. All new systems undergo similar processes, you cannot expect to deploy anything even the most expensive navy ships and fighter planes to perform the grunt immediately..it has to take a series of small steps to confirm its capability first. Same with any new IT System.

  3. I’ll try to be objective here.
    When government tries or does something, it is usually inefficient or slow.
    Private sector can do it better.

    Both can have corrupt practices so it does not matter who does the CCS when it comes to corruption.

    Another thing, the COMELEC-developed program maybe cheaper now. But wait until they test it and purchase all the hardware needed for the whole country.

    My point: pag-aralan mabuti wag basta basta sabihing mas ok kung COMELEC na lang gagawa lahat.

  4. …of course, no one will make money out of it and they can’t manipulate the election results for the benefit of their sitting patrons. In govt its all over…corruption and manipulation…

    • Leodegardo Pruna on

      TRUE and incredible indeed. Who made money? Who else but the one with a BRILLIANT mind spelled in the plural sense. God bless the Philippines.

  5. walang kikita kung ang mag de-develop ng program ay yung mga empleyado na ng comelec. siguro kung ipapasa sa isang kumpanya ay baka lumusot kasi lalaki ang presyo at tongpats for the boys. ang importante e kontrolado ng mga pinuno ng comelec ang supplier para sa electronic dagdag bawas

  6. It shows how corrupt incompetent & basically useless these people are. You have a country run by idiots who care only for themselves. I was discussing with someone just yesterday on a senators salary is P90,000 per month but when on committees & being in charge of them it can jump to a maximum of P1,400,000 per month. Now look at that then look at this story again & you will have your answer.
    There isnt a single honest person running this country.
    I dont have a clue how you will start to solve these huge problems, they seem insurmountable & i pity an honest politician trying to change things.

  7. jesus nazario on

    A funny comparison here is this. I have a kasam-bahay at home who performs ALL household chores day-in-and-day-out. One day I told her, “Huwag kang maglaba today, Ako na ang bahalang maglaba dahil kayang-kaya ko naman yan.” Ang sagot ng kasam-bahay, “Aba boss hinding-hindi po puede yan dahil nasa kasunduan natin (per RA 9369) eh ako lang lang maglalaba dito sa bahay na ito.”

    What do you think was my reaction ? Laughter, Anger or Frustration ? As Gus says, “Incredible….but true !” as Gus says).

    Given this, maybe we shd amend RA 9369 adding the relevant provision that Comelec MAY (dapat SHOULD pa nga eh) use its own-built component of the AES solution as soon as it has produced and tested one para matapos ang twists (palusot) ng mga lawyers on a very technical matter on a very technical system such as the AES.

  8. jesus nazario on

    Rationale ? Unimaginable Dishonesty and Utter Incompetence of the decision-makers – a very deadly mix.

  9. Kailangan ilife style check ang mga comelec official at imbestigahan,dahil sa kanila nag-uugat ang pagsasamatala,
    Magbabago lang at magiging pantay ang election kapag naalis ang mga lintang Official!
    Warning,!! Ito pa rin ang magdedisisyon kung sino ang mananalo sa darating na election.

  10. There was this nasty rumor in 2010 that indeed, the introduction of this automated system made the job of vote manipulators a lot easier – with the telcos as willing and necessary participants in the “apportioning” process.

  11. A very simple and obvious reason is the money taken as kickback in procuring something foreign. Note that the amount of the PCOS machines reached in the tens if not hundreds of millions. Imagine 30% of that amount going to Brillantes and other commissioners.

    No wonder Gus Lagman was alone in his fight to do something good for the country at a minimum cost. The commissioners would have been left with nothing to divide among themselves.

  12. It is people like Gus that we should elevate to the highest levels and exclaim, “Here is an example of civic due diligence”. Why is this not taken up by the elected officials in the Philippines? Probably because the very point Gus makes in his reason point, they too are on the take. P58 million versus P600,000! I do the math at that is $1.4 million dollars versus $14,285 dollars. Criminal behavior if you ask me. But then again, nobody has. Good luck Gus, I hope you never give up.