Manila Bulletin – A Filipino partner for the Comelec

By Manila Bulletin

Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza has called for a revision of the nation’s Automated Election System (AES) so that only a Filipino-owned organization will be allowed to carry out the election services provided by Smartmatic in previous Philippine elections.

If the Constitution restricts the ownership and management of Philippine mass media to 100 percent Filipino firms and limits foreigners to 40 percent of telecom firms and schools, he said, the more reason Philippine elections should be in the hands of Filipinos.

The congressman’s move is the latest effort from various quarters in the last few years to correct seeming deficiencies in the system of automated elections that began in the presidential election of 2010 after the enactment of the Election Automation Law of 2006.

Automated elections did achieve the goal of speedy canvassing of results, eliminating the weeks of uncertainty that gripped the nation as it waited for the official election results. But they brought about new problems. Because computers can be hacked by experts, doubts were raised about some election results, including the senatorial election results in 2013.

A great deal of concern rose over the role of Smartmatic, which provided the counting machines used all over the country. There were charges of collusion between the Commission on Elections and Smartmatic. Among the charges in the impeachment complaint against Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista was the reported payment of millions of pesos in referral fees to the chairman made through a law firm which happened to have Smartmatic among its clients.

Congressman Atienza’s proposal does not specifically question Smartmatic’s record in elections, only that it is a company based in London, United Kingdom, that is 100 percent owned by Venezuelan citizens. He believes that national elections, which are at the heart of Philippine democracy, must not be open to possible influence by a foreign entity.

It may also be mentioned in this regard that in former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo, he charged that his votes started dwindling after an unauthorized script change in the Transparency Server was made by Smartmatic and some Comelec officials to correct the spelling of a candidate’s name.

Now that the Comelec chairman has resigned and a new one is about to be named by President Duterte, it should take a close look at its long-debated partnership with Smartmatic and consider seriously the call for a Filipino-owned and controlled provider of services and equipment in Philippine elections.

There have also been several proposals that many concerned sectors, notably the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), have made, including the manual counting of votes combined with automated transmission of precinct results to canvassing centers. This will go a long way in assuring voters that their votes are actually being counted and not just conjured up by voting machines which could be easily programmed.

The new Comelec leadership should be open to these and other proposals aimed at ensuring clean elections and removing doubts that have festered over the years. Congressman Atienza’s call for a 100 percent Filipino election technology and service provider would be a big step in this direction.

 

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