[First of two parts]
[Delivered on Monday, May 23.]
LADIES and gentlemen, good afternoon.
I take the floor on a matter of personal and collective privilege, and on a particular matter concerning not only this representation, but the entire Filipino electorate as well.
This is no ordinary resumption of regular session by Congress. First, we have resumed our regular session on the heels of the automated national and local elections fourteen (14) days ago, an election which was much anticipated after our characteristically wild and frenetic campaign season. Second, the recently concluded election saw no less than thirteen (13) of our colleagues in the Senate—including this representation—vying as candidates for various positions.
I congratulate the newly elected and “presumptive” President of the Republic Rodrigo Duterte, as well as the twelve (12) newly proclaimed Senators of the land, who will soon grace this hallowed hall and lend their talent and brand of public service to the Filipino people. I congratulate and hail my Presidential candidate, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for braving the rigors and stresses of this whirlwind campaign, despite her health issues.
We have come a long way since we as a people made the resolve to automate our elections. Indeed, automation is the way to go. But in doing so, we must not lose sight of the State’s policy for doing this. Our automated election system should be one that “will ensure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot and all election, consolidation and transmission documents in order that the process shall be transparent and credible and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people.” (Sec. 1, RA 9369)
COMELEC Chair Andres Bautista was quoted as saying that, “we want to show (the world) how elections are being conducted in the Philippines. He even said that while before we were just learning from other countries, now “we are teaching them international best practices.”
In this age of digital media—the very technology that allowed us the automated option in the first place—the COMELEC Chairman has been given and extended advice and assistance, solicited or not, by netizens all over the country via various social media and other networks.
Netizens have footage and other evidence of cheating
Netizens were able to capture footage and other evidence of cheating and other abhorrent election offenses from different parts of the archipelago. Our countrymen now are not only aware of, but also knowledgeable in, computers and other digital devices.
As captured by netizens through photos and videos, we see the same sad story in the Philippines. Vote-buying has become ever more rampant, as have been the acts of terrorism, threats and intimidation.
We have received reports of information and communications technology (ICT) companies that were engaged by candidates to boost their chances in winning the automated elections. Parts of the package included access to official voters database and vaunted “magic laptops” which they claimed could tap into the COMELEC’s main server.
I brushed aside all these alleged offers as being mere hearsay until I saw it happening before my—and the country’s—very eyes on the day of elections.
On or about 7:30 in the evening on May 9, Smartmatic’s Marlon Garcia, a Venezuelan national, admitted entering a new “script” or computer command in the PPCRV transparency server. Note that this change was done not before the elections, not when they were doing the pre-testing, but DURING transmission of results from our canvassing boards nationwide.
It was after this particular act of computer programming wizardry that votes for this representation started to slow down and the votes for another candidate started to accelerate—at an unprecedented and linear rate of 45,000 votes for every additional 1 percent of votes counted.
This is the very same Marlon Garcia who was charged with electoral sabotage for doing the very same thing during the 2013 elections.
What are the chances that this computer programming change can be linked to the odd pattern that emerged during the PPCRV quick-count?
How sure are we that that the computer change did not open windows of opportunity for “trap doors”, “trojan horses,” “worms,” or “time-bombs” to enter the system?
COMELEC Chair Andres Bautista claims that the programming change in the transparency server was nothing more than a “cosmetic change,” and that the same did not alter the results of the elections. What proof do we have of this? We have not seen any.
Last week, I formally wrote to COMELEC and personally asked them to allow my IT experts to examine their servers. I made sure each and every Commissioner was given a copy of my request. Not one of them has replied to my request. Unlike FPJ, it has not even been “noted.”
I have to ask myself: why is COMELEC turning a blind eye to the quantum of proof that is before them? Every day netizens post new photos and videos of election fraud. Police found thousands of pre-shaded ballots in an abandoned warehouse in Alaminos, Pangasinan. Unused SD cards were found in a trash can in Kabangkalan, Negros Occidental. There is video of election fraud in Datu Ampatuan, Maguindanao. And yet, Comelec has done nothing. They would rather concentrate on immediate proclamation in the hope that the uproar will die down soon after.
All these reports give us a clear sense of how the terrain of our electoral process has evolved since automation. Now, it is clear that we are waging the battle on two fronts: on the ground level; and in the field of computer science and programming.
I recall the words of Dr. Rubin, an American computer expert, speaking on automated elections when it was first implemented in the United States:
“My biggest fear is that someone would program a machine to give a wrong answer. If that were to happen, the machine would still work fine. We just wouldn’t know (that it had given a wrong answer).”
Another added: “Any time a program is changed, it can change things you don’t see.” (Bev Harris, “Black Box Voting” )
You can tell a computer to behave badly in thousands of different ways. Unless we have strict, transparent and unblemished auditing procedure, “anyone with access to the central count machine can hack an election.”
In this highly contentious, hard-fought vice-presidential race, COMELEC must accomplish its constitutional mandates of 1) enforcing and administering all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of elections, 2) deciding all questions affecting elections; and 3) ensuring “free, orderly, HONEST, peaceful, CREDIBLE and informed elections.”
We should not accept on mere blind faith the representations of the contractor and reflected data on their machines. The burden of proof should be upon them, and COMELEC as well, that the integrity of the system was not compromised.
COMELEC should not allow that “the secrecy of the ballot be turned into the secrecy of the vote count.”
Congress shall shortly convene into a National Board of Canvassers for the election results of the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency.
[The second and last part will be published tomorrow.]