Pardon my French, but I can’t think of a more appropriate expression to describe the way this foreign company has gained almost complete control of our election processes, including those people who are supposed to safeguard them.
Let’s start with Comelec. In 2009, it awarded the contract to Smartmatic even if this bidder did not meet many of the required qualifications. Worse, other bidders who failed in those same prerequisites were disqualified. To add insult to injury, both Smartmatic and Comelec also violated the law later, when, among other infractions, they did not allow the review of the source code and they did not implement the required digital signatures in the electronically-transmitted documents.
Here’s the latest of this company’s antics. I’m quoting from one of the dailies:
“… Cesar Flores, Smartmatic president for Asia, maintained that Smartmatic had the exclusive rights over the PCOS machines, and that therefore it had sole authority to refurbish the equipment for the 2016 presidential elections.”
What hogwash! And the seven lawyers in the Commission accepted that? I didn’t read any reaction from them. Comelec bought those machines; they certainly can ask any technical group to refurbish the machines for them. It’s the same when you buy a car—you can ask any mechanic to do repairs on it—except if it’s still under warranty, then you may lose that warranty. But those PCOS machines are not under warranty!
Smartmatic did not even manufacture them. They subcontracted the hardware to Jarltech in Taiwan, then when the facility got damaged by a typhoon, they went to a manufacturer in China. The software was also subcontracted—to Dominion Voting Systems of Canada. The bid specs very clearly prohibited subcontracting of major components. And Smartmatic did not even disclose this fact to the Comelec, as required by the specs.
Why the “honorable” election Commissioners have not blacklisted this vendor is beyond me! That should have been done long ago. I said as much when I was asked to be an instant amicus curiae during oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
Comelec Advisory Council (CAC)
It seems that almost always, the CAC simply follows what they think the Comelec wants. It’s standard in IT projects to look at different alternatives, tabulating the pros and cons of each solution. Cost/benefit studies are done; also time and motion studies, when necessary. I doubt if the CAC bothered with these very important steps. I’d be interested to see their working papers.
These studies are even more important because they concern our elections and it’s a project that will cost the country billions of pesos! In the private sector, a company would go through this exercise even for projects costing less than a million pesos.
And it’s infuriating that they also want to test another technology that is the most non-transparent and would cost some three to four times more than PCOS. Why not try the semi-automated solution developed by Filipinos and which will cost only about a fourth that of PCOS?
Senators and congressmen
There are some—not many, but some—senators and congressmen who sound like salesmen for Smartmatic. They prefer to listen to and believe this foreign vendor, rather than listen to Filipino IT practitioners who are far better and more experienced than Smartmatic.
Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC)
We thought the JCOC would be the body that would put some sense into the heads of Comelec officials, but we were so disappointed. In the last hearing, one of the members of the committee said that the JCOC is not the proper venue to discuss alternative AES technologies.
R.A. 9369 says that “The oversight committee shall conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the performance of the different technologies implemented and shall make appropriate recommendations to Congress …” including providing “… for proposals as to whether … testing or adoption of new technologies which may have emerged after the 2007 elections is needed.”
Sadly, we were not even given an opportunity to present the AES technology that many IT practitioners believe is the most appropriate for Philippine elections. And the system solution that we recommend and espouse was developed by Filipinos.
In 2009, the Supreme Court allowed the Comelec to use PCOS nationwide, instead of piloting it first in two highly-urbanized cities and two provinces each in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, as R.A. 9369 requires.
In 2012, the Supreme Court allowed the Comelec to exercise the option to purchase the PCOS machines, which option the Government Procurement and Policy Board said was no longer there. Besides, owning those machines means that we have to spend for their warehousing and maintenance before each election. The Comelec has been spending millions in storing those machines and will spend more than P1 billion for refurbishing them before the 2016 elections – proof that I was right all along.
I have a lot of respect for the Supreme Court and so I will assume that it’s only their lack of technical knowledge that led them to those decisions. Because of the criticality of these decisions in our quest for the right tools that will make our elections more credible, transparent and accurate, perhaps the Supreme Court should invite an IT group composed of practitioners who are familiar with election processes, to present and explain to them the alternative election technologies.
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Such is the control that Smartmatic has over our country’s elections. Unbelievable, but so true and so scary.
If the above-mentioned groups would only be willing to sit down to listen to us, especially on a presentation of an alternative solution to what has failed miserably … twice, then we can look forward to having more accurate, transparent and credible elections in our country. There is still time for Comelec to change its mind.