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The Manila Times - 2019 elections: ‘Laway’ of Venezuelans or ‘talino’ of Filipinos? (Part 9)

News & Interviews
9 May 2018

By Nelson Celis | The Manila Times

Part 9

ASIDE from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the AES Watch also filed a separate petition with the Supreme Court in February 2015 to stop the negotiated contract between Comelec and Smartmatic as it violated RA 9184. Weeks after, on April 24, 2015, the Supreme Court voted 15-0 in favor of the petitions of AES Watch and IBP concerning the diagnostics and repair contract of about 80,000 PCOS machines intended to be used in the 2016 elections. The SC declared the Comelec Resolution 9922 and the Extended Warranty Contract Program 1 null and void as the Comelec failed to justify its resort to direct contracting which would cost the government P300,000. Smartmatic then claimed that direct contracting was the only way to go, in handling the maintenance of the 80,000 PCOS machines as they were they only ones who had the authority to refurbish the PCOS machines!

But Smartmatic was wrong! Tracking back what happened in a debate between AES Watch and Smartmatic during a hearing of the joint congressional oversight committee (JCOC) on the automated election system (AES) on February 5, 2015, Cesar Flores of Smartmatic was stunned when former Commissioner Gus Lagman mentioned the history of third party maintenance (TPM) in the country and TIM. He said: “As early as the 1960s…a new industry…sprouted and that is called TPM companies. IBM (which had the largest mainframe computer installations then), objected because they didn’t want… any other company to maintain their mainframe computers…They lost and, all over the world, TPM companies were allowed to maintain IBM computers… IBM was compelled to sell parts to these companies. So, the talk about other companies or other people maintaining PCOS machines is not going to be allowed in their copyrights covering, that is not true…By the way, the local partner of Smartmatic (TIM) does third- party maintenance…Smartmatic was quoted…to have said that ‘Even Comelec can do it itself using these 80 technicians and some students.’ It’s not rocket science…” Therefore, Smartmatic was wrong in using an illogical premise about their TPM argument that only they have the authority to refurbish the PCOS machines.

Further, at a JCOC hearing on March 19, 2015 at the Senate, the author asked a simple but critical question about the forthcoming 2016 national and local elections, “How will Comelec make the PCOS count transparent?” Acting Comelec Chairman Christian Lim then simply responded, “Source code review…!” AES Watch was expecting the Comelec official to reply that the strict compliance with the technical provisions of the automation election law (RA 9369) would be the ultimate solution.

The entry of former Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista on April 28, 2015 somehow gave hope to AES Watch’s aspirations for truly secure, transparent, accurate, and reliable elections. At first, it appeared that he was supporting the Filipino IT for Elections (FIT4E), especially with his participation in the mock elections held on June 27, 2015 at the Bacoor National High School and on July 20, 2015 at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). In Bacoor, the technology used was called Precinct Automated Tallying System (PATaS), a semi-automated system using manual voting and counting in polling precincts, and automated canvassing through electronic transmission of election returns. The mock elections were successful though a known pro-Smartmatic congressman made a big thing out of a minor printer problem. At PLM, the TrAnsPArenT Election System (TAPAT) developed by the father and son tandem, the Villasantas, was another success story using tablet (android) technology. Bautista and Commissioner Rowena Guanzon personally experienced how easy it was to use TAPAT. Commissioner Guanzon remarked that unlike PCOS, TAPAT had a voter verified paper audit trail or voter receipt which a voter could use to verify if his votes were counted. On the other hand, though Bautista said that TAPAT had the potential to be used in future elections, he commented that Comelec could not experiment with using it in the 2016 elections. Aside from Comelec running out of time, he said that they needed to use a technology that had been tried and tested. Perhaps, Bautista didn’t know that the Smartmatic PCOS machines used in 2010 elections did not pass through pilot testing as required by AES law. That means that those PCOS machines were not tried-and-tested technology as far as our country is concerned.

PATaS and TAPAT were FIT4E innovations that truly reflect ‘talino’ of Filipinos. For whatever reason, those innovations were practically set aside. Whether it was coincidence or not, Comelec awarded the P2.6-billion lease contract for PCOS or vote-counting machines to Smartmatic right after Malloch Brown returned to the Philippines in July 2015; a matter of ‘laway’ in behalf of the Venezuelans.