Poll watchdog: Beware of glitches, cheating

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Workers deliver official ballots to the Moises Salvador Elementary School in Manila on Sunday as Board of Election Inspector. PHOTOS BY EDWIN MULI


By Leena C. Chua News Editor, William B. Depasupil and Ritchie A. Horario Reporters

A prominent think tank on Sunday made a final warning to voters and poll watchers to prepare for possible cheating, voting machine malfunctions and transmission glitches, downplaying assurances by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), police and military that today’s election will be honest, peaceful and orderly.

Saying that the poll automation system is powerless against cheating, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) urged thousands of citizens’ poll watchers to conduct evidence-based Bantay Presinto, Bantay PCOS, Bantay Salakay (Precinct Watch, PCOS Watch, Vote-Buying Watch).

Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG director for Policy Studies, said poll watchers should anticipate a
big number of voting machine malfunctions, transmission problems, queuing gridlocks, and power outages. He said this scenario is possible based on reports gathered by researchers and monitors of the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) who covered the final testing and sealing (FTS) of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines from May 2-10.

Tuazon said major technical failures are expected to happen “in the absence of end-to-end tests, insufficient mock elections, the low accuracy rating of the Smartmatic-marketed technology [97% versus the mandated 99.995%], and lack of contingencies.”

He added that programming errors in the form of data discrepancies, machine-ballot mismatches, and counting inaccuracies could also surface because of the disabling of major safeguards and security features.

He said initial FTS results gathered by AES Watch also showed tell-tale signs of possible tampering of election paraphernalia such as missing or tampered machine seals, incomplete instruments, delayed or non-delivery of PCOS machines, failure of some PCOS sets to re-zero, and CF cards undetected by machines.

He lamented that out of 77,829 clustered precincts, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) selected an insignificant number for the FTS, leaving a huge vacuum of uncertainties on how the rest of the PCOS machines will perform on election day.

Of the few selected FTS areas, a big number of PCOS machines failed to function while others were recalled for replacement, Tuazon said.

“The transmission system is a huge vulnerability on election day. This is because the transmission of election returns to the canvassing and consolidation centers and other destinations has never been tested adequately or addressed significantly despite transmission failures during the Feb. 2 mock elections. Comelec also refused to conduct another round of mock polls, and did not include transmission tests during FTS operations last week,” Tuazon said.

In May 2010, CenPEG documented a huge number of PCOS transmission failures due to connectivity problems whether accidental or deliberate, forcing Boards of Election Inspectors to bring the machines and CF cards to canvassing centers.

“This part of the chain of custody where PCOS machines and CF cards are transported to canvassing centers by road, waters, and mountain trails is vulnerable to fraud,” Tuazon warned.

He lamented that vote buying has also worsened not only because today’s mid-term election is critical to the 2016 presidential derby but because local elections have become more intense.

AES Watch said vote buying has become “massive, bolder, and openly brazen with voters themselves lining up publicly to receive envelopes containing money in the guise of poll watch fees.” While in previous elections each voter was given from P50-P100, voters now get from P500-P1,000 in some provinces or up to P2,000 per voter in some cities such as in Pangasinan.

In Camarines Sur, “Mother’s Day” and “birthday” are used to cover up the herding of big numbers of voters for meals, drinking, and money inside hotels, beach resorts, and even schools. In other provinces such as Palawan, vote buying and “partying” are taking place at cockpits, AES Watch said.

“By and large, the election outcome will be decided by widespread vote buying especially in local positions and poll automation will not be able to deter that. But the election results will still generate an unprecedented number of election protests because of the flawed process. The Comelec failed to comply with several provisions of RA 9369 such as the source code review,” Tuazon said.

Vote buying in Cavite
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has ordered a thorough investigation of the vote buying complaint filed against Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla and 13 others.

According to De Lima, prosecutors will investigate the case in coordination with the police and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Remulla, who is a reelec­tionist under the Lakas-NUCD party, was charged before the Cavite Prosecutor’s Office by poll watchdog Alyansa ng mga Botanteng Kabitenyo Laban sa Dayaan (ABKD 2013).

Thirteen others were also charged with violating Section 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code, or the anti-vote buying provision, before the Cavite Provincial Prosecutors’ Office headed by Chief Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco.

In a sworn statement, three members of ABKD 2013 said they received envelopes, each containing P200 and Remulla’s photo, during a supposed voters’ education meeting held at the University of Perpetual Help gymnasium on April 6. The attendees were allegedly told they would be receiving more if they would vote straight for the ‘Super Team.’

Judgment day
In today’s elections, voters will choose officials for over 18,000 positions. Twelve Senate posts have to be filled, and the rest are for members of the House of Representatives, provincial governors and vice governors, mayors and other local officials.

Voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will choose a regional governor, a regional vice governor, and 24 regional assemblymen.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), through its spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, on Sunday said they look forward to a peaceful, orderly and honest elections.

“There may have been pockets of violence, but the whole system—the voting process—is protected. We don’t see any major disruptions in tomorrow’s elections,” Tutaan said.

The AFP’s preparations, in coordination With the Philippine National Police (PNP), include contingencies for possible election-related situations.

Tutaan appealed to all candidates, particularly in areas of concern, to abide by the covenant of peace they signed.

The military and the police were put on red alert days before today’s polls. All soldiers and policemen were banned from any partisan political activity.

Tutaan added that any military personnel caught siding with certain politicians would be punished in accordance with election and military laws.

With reports from Jomar Canlas and Ritchie Horario

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