With the decision of the Comelec to lease the 93,977 units of Smartmatic’s Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) machines, the new advertised name to mask the bad image of its original name Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS), our democracy is at risk for the third time in the hands of the Latinos in 2016 elections! Past experiences would attest that Smartmatic, in tandem with Comelec, disregarded the Automated Election Law (RA 9369), e-Commerce Act (RA 8792), Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184), and the Supreme Court’s Rules on Electronic Evidence (REE). Comelec didn’t even promulgate the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 9369 making our automated election system (AES) vulnerable to anything favorable to Smartmatic’s shortcomings.
It is unfortunate that our new Chairman Andy Bautista inherited this supposedly controllable mess in Comelec. But our new Chairman can still do something and make a difference by strictly complying with the provisions of RA 9369 and by considering other issues explained below.
Compliance with RA 9369 Section 6.e: “Provision for voter verified paper audit trail.” The OMR machines must provide voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), a “receipt” that a voter could verify if the machine appreciated his vote. For 2016, when the voter is done feeding his ballot in the OMR machine, the printed VVPAT should be folded and dropped in a separate ballot box near the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) to prevent vote buying as what Comelec feared. Thus, Chairman Bautista should not listen to minions who are saying that the ballots would serve like a VVPAT. This is wrong! That’s why, the IRR of RA 9369 is needed to explain the real interpretation of VVPAT, digital signatures, source code review, etc.
Compliance with RA 9369 Sections 22/25: “The election returns/certificates of canvass transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of a winning candidate.” Though all the SIM cards used by the PCOS machines were fired up as far as the telcos are concerned, Smartmatic failed to transmit 9% and 23% election results in 2010 and 2013, respectively. As deliberated in the past Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on AES, Comelec has the power to deputize or even take over the public utilities during elections as stipulated in the 1987 Constitution. It was noted that only the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was able to connect the communications between Manila and the Vizayas during the height of typhoon Yolanda. Hence, 100% transmission is possible and comply with Sections 22 and 25 with the use of AFP’s facilities and private telcos. Appreciatively, I was informed by Chairman Bautista last week that he just had a meeting with AFP.What a good sign!
On the other hand, Smartmatic also failed to use digital signatures as defined in RA 8792 and REE. Surprisingly, in the last JCOC hearing on August 6, 2015, USec Louis Napoleon Casambre, Chairman of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and head of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO)/DOST, said before Chairmen Sen. Pimentel and Cong. Sarmiento, “Actually, even in 2013 we have been working with Comelec as far as the digital signatures are concerned. I think in 2013 we issued 200,000 digital signatures. And yes, sir, the national public key infrastructure is already operational. It’s being rolled out across government. And, of course, the Comelec is more than welcome to use it.” Even USec Casambre knows the true meaning of digital signatures! But Comelec didn’t want to listen because they only pay attention to the ill advice of Smartmatic that one (1) “machine digital signature” was enough then for all 82,000 PCOS machines. Now, Chairman Bautista and other commissioners have been enlightened. Comelec should implement the digital signatures issued by ICTO in 2016 to authenticate that the election results transmitted really originated from the BEIs and Board of Canvassers.
Further, Smartmatic should not be allowed in 2016 to be the aggregator, an entity responsible for integrating all the transmitted election results via the telcos. For whatever reason, Comelec didn’t realize that there was conflict of interest on the part of Smartmatic as being the supplier of the OMR devices and the aggregator at the same time then. There was no independence! Yet the good news last month, Smartmatic’s competitor, Indra, got qualified as the aggregator for the Comelec’s approved budget of P558-million. Smartmatic didn’t participate in the said bidding as they alleged that the budget was not enough. The bad news, Indra failed the post qualification days ago. Hence, Comelec should sit down already with the telcos for the “take over” scenario or simply negotiate with them directly. One critical issue to be settled is the telcos’ appointment of a competent aggregator. Of course, AFP should be in the picture as cited earlier.
Taking out PPCRV in the equation. Ecumenical organizations and civil society, including AES Watch, had shied away from Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). In 2013, PPCRV intolerably manage the transparency server operations which caused wrong senatorial counts. Hence, AES Watch recommends that the transparency server be handled by an organization with unblemished independence from Comelec and with credible competency (e.g., NAMFREL). Remember that former Commissioner Goyo Larrazabal became a PPCRV officer after his retirement? That’s a clear evidence of non-independence.
Posting of election results on the web. Comelec needs to improve posting of election results on their web. Its reliability was tarnished with changing and non-dependable figures as the canvassing was ongoing then. Better yet, LGUs should have its election results posted on its own web immediately.
Independent project management (IPM). There was nobody overseeing Smartmatic in the past which resulted in poor AES project implementation! Comelec’s project team never checked on them. AES Watch recommends that Comelec should tap an IPM team. Actually, an IPM should have been bidded out separately. But nobody in Comelec wanted this to happen. Only Chairman Bautista can do this possibly for the upcoming elections with the aid of Commissioner Guanzon, a former COA commissioner who certainly knows checks and balances in the field of auditing.
We still believe in your leadership and professionalism, Chairman Bautista!