THE problem of the failed transmission of 9 million votes from the precincts in 2013 is not only a serious problem to confront but also a critical issue for the forthcoming 2016 national and local elections. Such huge number of votes, which is 23% of the 40 million electorate who voted, could make or break a candidate in 2016, especially the position of the President! In 2010, the failure rate of transmission was 9%. Will it be 40% in 2016? Heaven forbid!
According to Comelec, the contingency plan then– in case of failed transmission– was to manually transport and submit the PCOS machines’ compact flash (CF) cards, which contained the election returns (ERs), from the precincts to the municipal/city board of canvassing (M/CBOC). The election automation law or RA 9369 stipulates that Comelec shall electronically transmit the precinct results to the respective levels of board of canvassers and to other stakeholders. The law also states that the ERs 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 candidate. Literally, there is no provision in the law that the election results should be manually transported.Worst, there’s no Implementing Rules and Regulations that define submission of ERs to M/CBOC by hand.
The very essence of electronic transmission is to avoid the risk of possible tampering of electronic ERs. It was so unsafe in 2010 and 2013 to transport those teeny-tiny CF cards as those were susceptible to card switching or simply writing over its contents with different ER data. It can be compared to ballot snatching/switching in the past manual elections when ERs and related paraphernalia were transported to M/CBOCs.Transporting 9 million votes in 2013 was a serious issue that our candidates then were not even aware of the eminent risk at that time.
What is a contingency plan? RA 9369 stipulates that the automated election system (AES) shall be so designed as to include a continuity plan in case of a systems breakdown. or any such eventuality which shall result in the delay or nonperformance of the electoral process. For areas with no alternative transmissionin the polling center or nearby polling center, Comelec’s contingency plans were stated in their resolutions (i.e., Nos. 8839 and 9635 in 2010 and 2013, respectively)as: “…The BEI shall retrieve the Main Memory Card (i.e., CF Card) of the PCOS, place it in a sealed envelope. Write therein the words “NOT TRANSMITTED” and, accompanied by the watchers present, deliver the same to the RCG (Reception and Custody Group) of the Board of Canvassing of the city/municipality concerned, where the consolidation of the untransmitted results shall be done…”
Until now, AES Watch and other watchdogs could not comprehend why the huge number of 9 million votes just merely passed through this kind of unsecure contingency plan. Does it mean that our telecommunication companies (telcos) are not efficient then or has not covered the entire Philippine archipelago? Or, didn’t other Comelec contingency measures (e.g., using Broadband Global Area Network or BGAN) work?
However, if you ask the telcos, they said that they didn’t have any transmission problems. During the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearing on August 28, 2014, PLDT’s Atty. FlorentinoMabasa said: “We had a contract with the Smartmatic in 2010 and 2013 elections. For PLDT, we provided the connectivity to the data centers…we have 100 percent availability of that connectivity…For Smart, we have provided the sim cards. And the sim cards we don’t know where they did use it…we just provided it. So, for Smartmatic to use them in the PCOS wherever, we don’t know…we have a record of how many of those sim cards were fired up…we didn’t experience any outage on our sim cards.” Hence, it was implied in his statement that the problem was with the telco integrator, Smartmatic. But in the minds of the Comelec-Smartmatic people, the telcos were the cause of that 23% transmission failure.
In an exchange of analysis with Cong. Glenn Chong in a live TV interview, he said, “I could connect your observation with mine. On May 18, 2013, the total number of votes who voted was 39,898,992 and it went down to 31,568,679 on May 29, 2013; that is, 8,330,313 difference. And on October 30, 2013, the figure went up to 40,144,207 or 8,575,528 difference with May 29 figure! That connects with your transmission failure of 23%!” That makes sense! How can you explain the 39,898,992 votes pegged on May 18 when in fact the 8,303,313 had not been transmitted yet? Or better yet, how do you explain the rise from 31,568,679 votes to 40,144,207 after five months? The only plausible answer to three different vote counts, or the swinging of election results, at different times coincided with the untransmitted 23% results! In short, the failure of transmission did not only confuse the public, it cast doubts on the credibility of election results….Is this somehow related to the 60-30-10 phenomenon?
At this point in time, AES Watch is very much alarmed as this critical concern might happen again in 2016. AES Watch strongly recommends the following to Comelec:
Don’t let the AES provider be the telco integrator as they (e.g., Smartmatic) neither have the competence to do it nor are knowledgeable in telecommunications network management;
Test and certify that all the transmission points are all working 100% with other backup transmission facilities ready (e.g., landline, satellites, etc.);
Reconfigure the transmission point. Instead of the precinct count technology transmitting directly to M/CBOC and to the “transparency server,” let the polling center server do the transmission. That means, within the polling center, all the precincts shall be transmitting ERs to the server. This reduces the number of transmitting nodes to half or even more; that is, from 82,000 down to 40,000 or lesser. The reconfiguration is therefore simplified and more manageable. In case of a worst transmission problem, the only contingency plan is to save the ERs in the WORM-type Compact Disk (CD) to protect the same from tampering; and,
Deputize the National Telecommunications Commission to manage the telco integration. Under the 1987 Constitution, Comelec shall exercise the power to deputize law enforcement agencies and instrumentalities of the Government and it shall regulate the utilization of all franchises for the operation of public utilities.
Even the Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL) recommended in their 2010 final report that Comelec should establish clear contingency plans for PCOS machine failure or transmission failure.
Thus, electronic transmission is a means to mitigate the risk of tampering with the ERs! We need its 100% availability for a really credible 2016 elections.