IT seems it is on a one-way, no exit highway towards Smartmatic with whatever machines it offers – PCOS or OPMARK, or what-have-they. These machines have more than their share of criticism and have, in the case of PCOS, proved less than trustworthy with the obstacles towards revealing the source code, the disarming of security devices, and the mysterious presence in unwarranted places (private house in Antipolo) as well as cards from them found under a bridge in Cagayan de Oro. It is enough to make the naïve suspicious and the suspicious angry and the general public doubtful.
Comelec has to prove that it is open for the best and to have more than one party to show up at biddings. Why are there not enough bidders? Why did previous interested parties drop off? Why is it that only Smartmatic was left standing despite its less than sterling record in 2012? This must be explained in as transparent a way as possible.
I have always looked forward and waited for the day when we would have faster and cleaner election results. I was the Namfrel Chair for Mandaluyong City for almost 15 years from 1984. I know all about the precinct counting and have witnessed ballot boxes being snatched or burned, goons threatening election watchers, intimidation and mayhem in the bad old days, which I hope are now in the past. Yet whatever it took — the long hours, disorder, crowds, discomfort — we all saw precincts counting the ballots in front of whoever wanted to witness it. The problem then was in the next step of the process, the canvassing on the municipal, city or provincial level, where wholesale fraud was committed far from witnesses and with no evidence to prove the cheating. Thus came the maneuver called dagdag-bawas where operators in or out of the Comelec were involved in moving votes wholesale one way or the other. Precinct results were thus ignored and cheaters got the results they wanted far from witnesses.
But when automation came with the PCOS machines on the precinct level just swallowing the ballots and nevermore to be seen and much less counted before witnesses in the precincts, we felt that we had entered the unknown and just had to accept whatever results no matter how alien they felt to the people on the precinct level.
Automation all the way with the machines on the ascendant and yet with evident discrepancies is what we got. Voting was supposed to end at 3pm or later depending on the number of voters left inside the polling place that had to be accommodated. Yet in certain parts of Metro Manila electoral machines were suspiciously spewing out votes way past the reasonable hour sometimes as late as 10:30pm even though the canvassing had started and was almost complete.
It may be said that the fault was human not mechanical. But if the at- fault humans do the depredations through machines that have had their security devices disabled and whatever else were supposed to be in place to insure a correct tally, how can we rely on the accuracy of the results?
What we need to see and be assured of is that Comelec is competently addressing these issues and not just following the pattern of the past and dilly-dallying about confronting them. With the loss of time, the pressure builds up and then ad hoc solutions or a return to the unsatisfactory past ways become the easy way out. I really do not see why Comelec refuses to try the local solutions offered by private citizens or even well-known computer experts who are familiar with the circumstances of our elections. On one demonstration, which the Comelec deigned to allow one group using manual counting on the precinct level, when the precinct count took time, Comelec immediately junked the method saying it took too long. Of course, manual counting takes time but if witnesses are satisfied, it is worth the time. That is the only stage where time in that suggested local-inspired method will be needed after which the results are canvassed mechanically and rapidly. And there is a precinct level record that the public has witnessed and can compare with the canvass results, if needed. It is the canvassing that took too long that raises doubts because there is no general public to witness and certify that no manipulation happened. Voters need assurance that their votes have been counted correctly.
Also, if the above local methods need refining, why does Comelec not give them suggestions, time and assistance to do so? If they give Smartmatic the time of day, give the locals the same.
Aside from the doubts, there is the question of how much taxpayers’ money is being thrown into the election. From the billions we spent the last time around, there has been no collective trust gathered from the experience from the general citizenry. Money thrown at a problem does not solve the problem unless there is some expertise, open-mindedness and honesty in solving it.
I am sorry to say that Comelec actuations up to this point and from way in the past are not reassuring.