THE inventors of the indigenous automated voting system TAPAT (Transparent Election System) gave a demonstration of how it works at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila this week, and impressed those who participated in the “mock voting,” beginning with Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and cinema icon Nora Aunor. I failed to attend the demonstration, but spoke to many who did and asked Dr. Nelson Celis, who had worked with Engineer Arnold Villasanta and Prof. Toti Casino of Philippine Computer Society in developing the model, to replay the demo on my weekly TV program (Una sa Lahat) on Global News Network (Destiny Cable) this Sunday evening.
TAPAT has all the virtues which the Optical Mark Reader (OMR) or precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machine being peddled by the Venezuelan marketing firm Smarmatic does not have, and none of the PCOS machines’ notorious defects. First of all, it has all the security and safety features and accuracy mechanisms which the Comelec had illegally removed from the PCOS machine in 2010 and 2013. These include the ultra violet scan, the voter verification system, the digital signature, and so forth.
It is slightly slower than the PCOS machine (two to three minutes per voter), but only because it allows the voter time to get a receipt for his vote and confirm that it has been read and recorded right by the machine, whereas the OMR or PCOS machine does not. The voter does not keep the receipt, but places it in an appropriate bin after perusing it.
TAPAT costs a mere fraction of the OMR or the PCOS. It uses inexpensive, easily available laptops or computers in the market, at an average of P10,000 or so per unit, against the P90,000 or so per OMR or PCOS unit. Thus, the Comelec would spend around P1 billion or so only for 100,000 computers, as against the P12.641 billion to P14 billion it wants to spend on 93,977 OMRs, exclusive of the post-election warehousing cost for the OMRs.
After the election, the computers could be donated to the public schools to promote computer literacy in the city and countryside, or to the local government units, many of which have yet to connect meaningfully to the computer age. Aside from making our elections more transparent, this triumph of Filipino technology could be marketed to other countries, including those where some former Comelec officials are reportedly now selling the PCOS for Smartmatic.
TAPAT’s entry into the picture makes it so much easier for Comelec to discard Smartmatic, which is facing several adverse petitions before the Supreme Court. But even without this alternative technology, Comelec may have no choice but to junk Smartmatic for the most compelling reasons.
First of all, Smartmatic international’s official disclosure to the British House of Commons that Smartmatic-TIM Corporation, like all its operations in many other countries, is a 100-percent-owned foreign subsidiary, means it does not have any legal authority to conduct business in the Philippines. Even if it were legally established as a 60/40 Philippine corporation, it appears that it does not have a license to do business with the Comelec after the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Moreover, Smartmatic appears tohave colluded with another company to win a Comelec contract on at least two occasions. In the bidding for the lease (with option to purchase) of 23,000 OMRs/PCOS, Smartmatic competed with IndraSistemas of Spain, but the latter’s bid was in excess of the approved budget for the OMRs. It is not easy to dismiss this kind of mistake as a pure and simple oversight or accident. What seems to give the game away is that although both bidders were disqualified for different reasons, only Smartmatic appealed its disqualification. Indra did not.
In the bidding for the lease (with option to purchase) of 70,977 OMRs,Smartmatic and Indra again competed. But Indra’s bid was for the 23,000 units, which it had already lost to Smartmatic, not for the 70,977 units. For a company that employs presumably competent lawyers, and is said to have some official dealings with the government, this unresponsive bid from Indra seems to suggest a simulated bidding, not free from fraud. This cannot be simply shoved under the rug of carelessness or incompetence.
Comelec’s appropriation for “election preparations” is around P12 billion. But it had to realign every election-related expense item in the budget in order to come up with the P12.641 billion to P14 billion needed to pay for the 93,977 OMRs and other hidden “costs.” This realignment is illegal, as the massive fund realignment of funds under PNoy’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was illegal, and which the Supreme Court had to strike down as void and unconstitutional. This is the reason eight Catholic bishops and archbishops, two Protestant pastors, former Biliran congressman and transparency voting advocate Glenn Chong and this writer have petitioned the High Court to declare the massive fund juggling as unconstitutional. A couple of other petitions against Smartmatic have since been filed.
Despite all this, the Comelec seems determined to keep Smartmatic on top of the election. First, the Comelec en banc abolished its Bids and Awards Committee after it had disqualified Smartmatic on legal and technical grounds from previous biddings, and replaced it with a special BAC composed of members especially sympathetic to Smartmatic.
After the Philippine visit of Smartmatic International Chairman Baron Mark Malloch-Brown to Manila last month, “a much stronger wind in favor of Smarmatic started blowing within the Commission, despite the initial ‘independent’ posturing of the new commissioners,” says a Comelec insider. Malloch-Brown is an international political operator associated with the billionaire speculator George Soros in bringing down “unwanted governments.” He once worked for Cory Aquino during and after her campaign against Marcos in the 1986 snap presidential elections, and was reported to have lunched with PNoy at the Pangarap Guest House during that visit. This report is denied by some Smartmatic regional official, but not by Malacañang.
Thus, after the successful TAPAT demonstration, Chairman Bautista was quoted as saying there would be “no more time” to use the far more transparent and cheaper voting system; the Comelec might consider using it in the 2019 election, he suggested, but not now. What? No more time for a truly transparent, clean and honest election? Does it mean that between now and May 2016, Comelec has time only to arrange a dishonest and dirty election like those of 2010 and 2013?
Between the last election and the next one is a period of 36 months. Yet for more than half that period, the Comelec simply sat on its ass doing nothing. And now they tell us, no more time! Will they tell us next that there’s no more time to bar the constitutionally disqualified Grace Poe, who is neither a natural-born Filipino nor a resident of the country for the last ten years immediately preceding the election, from running in the election?
The official campaign period has not even begun, and the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy is in October still. Why should it take the Comelec more time to authorize TAPAT to provide the appropriate voting system than it would take them to give Smartmatic all the business it wants, assuming it is legally qualified to do business in the Philippines?
What could possibly happen should the Supreme Court grant our petition and restrain the Comelec from awarding Smartmatic a supply contract because it would be unconstitutional? Would the Comelec then say there is no more time left to put up an alternative system, or to revert to manual voting by special legislation, so the only option left would be to declare a force majeur and cancel the elections? Is this, in fact, the unspoken and unrevealed final option?
The nation has every right to a transparent, clean and honest election. This is what we need, and this is what we deserve and ask for. Neither Malacañang nor the Comelec has the right to tell us that our only choice is between a dishonest and dirty election, and a more dishonest and dirtier election. Or between an old crook and a new one. Or between the father of all lies, and the children of that old liar.
Comelec’s only raison d’etre is to provide the nation with the most transparent, trustworthy and credible election. Unless it can do this, it has no reason for being. This is an indispensable part of the abc of our supposedly democratic existence, and one of the first things we must teach our children. The nation has sunk into the deepest mire when even our adults think and behave like retarded children.