The Manila Times - 2019 elections: ‘Laway’ of Venezuelans or ‘talino’ of Filipinos? (Part 1)

13 December 2017

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times 

Part 1

THE 2019 national and local elections (NLE) are fast approaching. And the Smartmatic saga of non-compliance with the Automated Election System (AES) law, or RA 9369, ineptness in conducting comprehensive testing of the AES project components, inaccurate counting and canvassing, unsecure transmission of election results etc., keep on haunting our electoral exercise in reflecting transparency, credibility and true will of the people. A basic question arises: Is the accuracy of vote count really that important? Let’s fast-rewind on what happened in Episodes I to V.

Episode I (2008). It all started in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections on August 11, 2008, when the Venezuelan company, Smartmatic, ran their Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), or touchscreen technology, in some provinces of ARMM. The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said that “there were some problems with the transmission of data, particularly in Maguindanao, and it took BEIs and Smartmatic staff a long time to realize the failure.” Due to loose systemic and procedural controls, there was also an incident report but it was not investigated when Smartmatic was able to change election results in the computer server remotely!

Episode II (2009). Comelec required paper-based AES, or optical machine recognition (OMR) technology for the 2010 elections and that the provider should be ISO9000 certified. Since Smartmatic didn’t know anything about OMR, or the commonly known Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) which we used in 2010, 2013 and 2016 NLE. Smartmatic collaborated with a Canadian PCOS company, Dominion Voting System, and an ISO9000 certified Taiwanese manufacturing company, Jarltech. During the BAC evaluation of suppliers’ eligibility, Smartmatic failed in their demonstration. Nonetheless, Smartmatic won the bidding despite not owning the technology and not being an ISO-certified company. So, what do you call Smartmatic in that regard? They purely acted as a sales agent of Dominion. ‘Laway lang ang puhunan ng Smartmatic’ and they should have been disqualified in the first place!

Episode III (2010). One week before the May 10, 2010 elections, the 76,000 PCOS machines failed to count accurately during the final testing and sealing on May 3, 2010. A case in point in Makati City: the votes of Binay and Mercado were counted in favor of Genuino. The reason behind the inaccuracy of counting was due to the non-compliance of the technical evaluation committee to institute the compensating controls recommended by the certifying body, Systest Labs. Thus, Comelec decided that all the compact flash (CF) cards on the PCOS machines be retrieved. However, AES Watch analyzed that a week would not be enough to make the PCOS machines count accurately. Through the Philippine Computer Society, they petitioned the Supreme Court to postpone the election for some weeks to give time for re-programming and re-testing. But it was denied!

Further, the mock elections only showed that the PCOS machines had 97 percent accuracy vis the required 99.995 percent; the success rate of transmitting the elections results was only 90 percent; the election results were not digitally signed; there was no source code review; there were Spanish words found in some ballot images; and the PCOS machines didn’t generate voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) or voter’s receipt.

As critical as the above are, the hash codes found in the 60 PCOS machines seized in Antipolo differed from what the Comelec had published; that is, the computer program was altered! Worse, the registered voters pegged in the databases of the Batasan and PICC computer servers were 256 million and 150 million, respectively, when in fact that we only had 50 million voters then. Good thing, Smartmatic revealed the truth that it was due to ‘error in application.’ Since no digital signatures were employed, AES Watch commented that those who served from 2010 to 2013 were proclaimed winners in violation of the AES law; that is, Sections 22 and 25 stipulate that the electronically transmitted and digitally signed election returns/certificates of canvass shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for proclaiming a winning candidate.

Weeks later, the Comelec Advisory Council recommended in its report not to use Smartmatic for the 2013 elections and beyond.

Episode IV (2011-2013). With countless violations and technical problems of Smartmatic with RA 9369, the Comelec was placed in tremendously stressful situations. AES Watch raised so many questions as to who should be liable for these nonconformities. If not Comelec,…then Smartmatic! But since then, Comelec has been so silent about it. But why? In the banking industry, they never allow service providers to implement such defective systems that would drive away its depositors.

Not waiting for the Comelec’s move, in 2011 at the University of the Philippines, AES Watch launched the Filipino IT for Elections (FIT4E) in search of the best AES solutions designed by Filipinos. Former Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes was the guest of honor and manifested his support for the FIT4E. In turn, some universities quickly prepared their prototypes so they could participate.

FIT4E supports “talino ng Pilipino” for the 2019 national and local elections. AES Watch abhors the political ways of Smartmatic, using their ‘laway’ to interfere with our democracy.

(To be continued)