The Manila Times : Comelec execs face charges

News & Interviews
18 May 2021

By Jomar Canlas | The Manila Times

Group claims bidding of vote counting machines anomalous

A JOINT venture group of foreign automation companies has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to stop the award of the contract for vote counting machines (VCMs) and related equipment to be used in the 2022 polls, claiming the bidding for the contract was anomalous.

Pivot International Inc. and Power Serve filed a complaint with the Comelec against the chairman and members of the poll body’s Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC) and several other officials of the poll agency.

The complaint, dated May 5, was signed by Steven Allen Beyer on behalf of Pivot and Power Serve.

The P400-million contract to supply the Comelec with Automated Election System (AES) Software for the Election Management System (EMS), VCMs and Consolidation and Canvassing System (CCS) was awarded to SMMT-TIM 2016 Inc. and Smartmatic USA Corp., who were also a joint-venture group.

Pivot and Power Serve accused of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service Jeannie Flororita, director of Comelec’s Information Technology Department; Allen Francis Abaya, SBAC chairman; John Rex Laudiangco, SBAC vice chairman; SBAC members Jovencio Balinguit, Divina Blas Perez and Abigail Claire Carbero Llacuna.

The members of the Comelec’s Technical Working Group (TWG) were also mentioned in the complaint but they were not directly identified.

The Pivot group alleged the Comelec officials conspired to commit irregularities during the bidding for VCMs.

The complaint was centered on the WORM (write once, read many) SD (secure digital) cards that were part of the purchase.

Data encoded into a WORM SD card cannot be tampered within. The card is unalterable, non-rewritable and non-erasable, the complaint explained.

It noted that during testing, the Comelec-provided VCM was unable to detect the WORM SD card that the Smartmatic group supplied. “This was because the cards were tampered when they were reformatted by the TWG, automatically triggering the write-protect mode of the cards,” it said.

When the sample SD cards were not read by the VCM, the SBAC TWG brought out another SD card, which was supposedly used during the previous elections, reformatted it in one of the computers of the SBAC-TWG and then inserted it into the VCMs.

Secure digital cards were a key element in the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Marcos, who lost the 2016 vice presidential election to Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, accused her of “massive electoral fraud, anomalies and irregularities, including pre-shading of ballots, pre-loaded secure digital cards and malfunctioning VCMs.

Marcos claimed he was leading in the count until the night of the canvassing of votes, only to find that the results shifted in Robredo’s favor the following morning.

Marcos lost by 263,473 votes.

The Comelec also relied on the EMS to collect the number and rundown of registered voters, their geographic locations and polling precinct information during the 2016 elections. The CCS automatically tallies and monitors data received from polling precincts.

The Pivot group said it was disqualified because the WORM SD cards it provided cannot be read by the Comelec’s VCM.

“First of all, it bears reiterating that the WORM SD cards provided by the joint venture were not defective,” the group said.

This was proven during the initial testing conducted by a representative of the SBAC TWG when sample SD cards were inserted in a drive connected to a computer of the SBAC TWG.

“The sample SD cards were read by the computer,” it added.

The second ground for disqualification during post-qualification was based on the claim that the group’s sample Wormable SD card had a capacity of 15 gigabytes (GB), short of the required 16 GB.

The group explained the reason for the slightly smaller usable capacity is that a small portion of the card’s actual capacity is used for internal solutions, such as file allocation, block management, error management and other internal functions, to ensure the cards function properly when used.

The Pivot group said “a closer examination of the sample SD cards will reveal that the

capacity of the SD cards was indeed 16 GB. Therefore, the disqualification of the joint venture on this basis is clearly wrong and misplaced.”

The Manila Times tried but could not reach Comelec spokesman James Jimenez for comment.