There seems to be a normal trend in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) when they want something done quickly. They just simply disregard what the stakeholders advised or directed them to do resulting in lost time or basically in a created, artificial fear that a possible postponement of elections is inevitable.
Take for example the Comelec decision to do direct contracting with Smartmatic for the refurbishment of the 82,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines before the retirement of former Chairman Brillantes early this year. The Law Department of Comelec opined that Brillantes’ decision was a violation of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act. But in spite of that, Brillantes, just the same, signed the P268-million refurbishment contract with Smartmatic. However, Automated Election System (AES) Watch petitioned that it be nullified and the Supreme Court (SC) decided to junk the poll body’s Smartmatic deal. Brillantes–to get back at the head of the Law Department then, Atty. Esmeralda Ladra– transferred her to another department. That’s how a leader like Brillantes indirectly reproved and demeaned an honest working officer.
But the worse problem with Brillantes was that he ignored the directive of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) to determine the number of defective PCOS machines as early as December 2013. It was the time when the shameful digital lines were reported to have caused undesirable counting of additional votes in 2013 national and local elections (NLEs). Even Sen. Koko Pimentel, JCOC’s Senate Chairman, didn’t like it that there were votes added in his favor by the said lines when sample PCOS-counted votes were presented in the JCOC hearing. Hence, had Comelec followed the directive of JCOC in 2013, they would have had enough time to identify the defective machines and finish the refurbishment in time for the 2016 elections.
Then again, when Chairman Bautista was appointed as replacement to Brillantes, Comelec was advised by Smartmatic that refurbishment was not possible anymore. Though Chairman Bautista somehow showed interest in the two feasible alternative solutions that are cost-effective, transparent, secure and reliable (i.e., these are the Precinct Automated Tallying System or PaTAS and the TrAnsPArenT Election System or TAPAT), he could not get off the clutches of Smartmatic, when Comelec en banc finally decided to lease the new 93,977 vote counting machines (VCM) for the 2016 National and Local Elections from Smartmatic (again and again) at Php 7.6 billion through a controversial bidding process. Don’t be misled by the word VCM as this is the same as Hocus-PCOS. My colleagues in AES Watch dubbed VCM as Vote Cheating Machine in lieu of hocus-PCOS.
Last month, Comelec was leasing an additional 3,540 VCMs for P133.5 million as they expect more voters in 2016. Every inch of the way, the number of needed new VCMs have been increasing. Months ago, it was merely refurbishment of old and government-owned 82,000 VCMs…then refurbishment plus lease of new VCMs…then lease of 93,977 VCMs…then lease of 3,540 more VCMs! It appears that Comelec has not really managed the preparation of 2016 elections as they make decisions on the spot!
All critical risks encountered were mitigated at the pleasure of the Comelec en banc. No well-thought plan was crafted – a shot-gun approach! That’s what happened also to their Comelec Strategic Plan 2011 – 2016 (COMSTRAT 1116).
Another blunder of Comelec committed more than a week ago was the awarding of the electronic transmission of election results project to Smartmatic (again and again) at the Php 507 Million bid. Per Chairman Bautista, Smartmatic’s bid was the second lowest and he stressed its track record. What record? He might not have been advised that Smartmatic had BAD records of 9% and 24% untransmitted election results in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Are these records something to be proud of for which Smartmatic is to be rewarded? For not electronically transmitting 9 million votes in 2013? That number of votes can make or break a presidential candidate next year! Worst, Comelec is saying that they are only targeting 90% successful transmission of election results next year. If the turn-out of votes in thye 2016 NLEs is 75% of 54.6 registered voters (i.e., 41 million), then, 4 million votes, at 10%, would not be transmitted! But what if 30%, based on the increasing trend of non-transmission in the past elections? That means, 12.3million votes would be affected! Is that a good track record? Yes, as basis for blacklisting!
Comelec on the other hand would always argue that they had the continuity plan of transporting the compact flash (CF) cards for untransmitted election results! How can we be sure that those CF cards were not replaced? That is even a violation of the automated election law or RA 9369. The law specifically stipulates that the proclamation of winning candidates shall be based on electronically transmitted and digitally signed Election Returns (ERs) and Certificates of Canvass (COCs). The 90% target for 2016 is a violation of the law. Comelec should stick with 100%, nothing less. Else, amend the law!
Not just that, Smartmatic didn’t participate in the electronic transmission bidding in March this year as they said that the budget of P558 million was too low and unprofitable. So Indra won in the said bid. But how in the world of magic did Indra not get the award and suddenly Smartmatic won (again and again) the recent bidding for its P507 million bid! If Comelec stood firm in accepting Smartmatic’s excuse that it would not participate before due to the low budget, then the BAC, or even Comelec en banc, should have blacklisted Smartmatic in the electronic transmission bidding exercise! ‘Di ba?’
To add more injury to the transmission fiasco, the JCOC has already mandated Comelec in its past hearings to exercise its power to take over public utilities during elections, especially the electronic transmission of the telecommunications companies (Telcos), as required by our Constitution. Comelec said yes and there were meetings with the telcos. There was even a discussion regarding areas to be serviced by the two giant telcos. But what has happened about that? Nothing!
The takeover of the telcos was a move due to the heated arguments in the JCOC hearings. Smartmatic was claiming that the telcos were the cause of the transmission problems in 2010 and 2013 elections. The telcos, of course, reacted vehemently that their facilities were 100 percent active and they didn’t get any downtime incident. When AES Watch analyzed the issue, we found out that the telcos provided the needed subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to Smartmatic and the latter mismanaged them! Worst than that, there was no check and balance because Smartmatic was the provider of the VCMs and they also managed the consolidation of the transmitted election results. You would not be able to check whether the transmitted results really came from the authorized precincts, like what happened in the Antipolo scandal, the place where the rogue 60 PCOS machines were seized by Sen. Jamby Madrigal in 2010.
Is Smartmatic credible, or does it have a good with track record in handling electronic transmission? Nope! Their competence is in the development of direct recording electronic (DRE) technology (i.e., touch-screen voting machine) and not VCM technology. They just started with the VCM technology this year and our country is their guinea pig. They used the VCM technology of Dominion Voting System (DVS) of Canada in 2010 and in our 2013 NLEs and that they purely acted as DVS’sales channel.
Going a bit more to other blunders, days ago, Comelec was threatening the SC of the probable postponement of NLEs next year if the SC would not lift the temporary restraining order on the Comelec’s “No Bio, No Boto” campaign. In the first place, had Comelec done the continuous cleansing of voters registration database immediately after 2013 elections, they would not have encountered this problem today.
AES Watch analyzed further that Comelec BAC didn’t do any due diligence about the background of Smartmatic during the 2009 biddings. There were negative reports to Comelec already that Smartmatic did a mess of our ARMM elections in 2008 like remotely changing of election results. But those were brushed aside! Lately, we received a report that Cesar Flores and Smartmatic’s CFO went to South Korea in May 2015 offering to buy Miru, an election technology provider. The Koreans refused the offer as they feared to get linked with Smartmatic’s unethical reputation globally.
Let’s face IT! The above cases are blunders with same degree of high risks due to poor management practices for more than a decade now. After each NLE, Comelec would always go on hibernation state. It is a constant complacency mode that would result in “beating the red light” scenario when the next election is about to ensue in few months’ time. Ergo, when these blunders happen, Comelec triggers a panic button to alarm all of us that something bad will happen if xxxxxx! This also puts the three branches of our Government in a compromising position!
Well, AES Watch and Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) could only surmise about the uncontrollable Comelec’s mafia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgVakuOizSg) that is likely to be behind the rigging of the biddings in favor of Smartmatic. In short, Smartmatic made a mockery of RA 9184; that is, from direct contracting, VCM bidding up to transmission bidding!
Can we, therefore, expect transparency in 2016 NLEs when everything is controlled by Smartmatic?