The Philippine Star - Who owns and runs this ‘meet-me’ room?

By Marichu A. Villanueva | The Philippine Star

The glitches and bugs that conked the vote counting machines (VCMs) out and the ensuing almost seven hours of data outage in the transparency server when the national canvassing started right after the polling precincts closed were just a few but biggest reasons why our fourth automated elections last Monday came under fire anew.

A few days before the midterm elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has repeatedly given public reassurances of an “all systems go” to conduct on May 13 the national and local elections all over the country.

In a press conference held on May 2, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez was even quoted saying that the poll body was 95% ready. So we take it to mean the balance of 5% accounted for all these problems that the Comelec must address. But this 5% have caused all of these hullaballoos on the glitches, bugs and data outage of the transparency server casting doubts again on the election results.

The questions that beg answers from the Comelec: “Anyare?” Translation: What happened?

So many questions begging to be answered forthrightly by the Comelec headed by chairman Sheriff Abas who unfortunately leaves this task to James Jimenez as the official spokesman of the poll body. Although Jimenez is obviously the most media-savvy among them, Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon, however, is prone to bully-tactics. This she demonstrated when the seven-man Comelec convened itself as the National Board of Canvassers.

Some of the election lawyers who tried to raise legitimate concerns of their respective client-candidates got their dose of Guanzon’s high and mighty antics. While they maybe upstart election lawyers, they, too, deserve to be respected.

Speaking of questions about the just concluded midterm elections, several of them were raised during our own conversations with veteran election lawyers George Garcia and losing Otso Diretso senatorial bet Romulo “Romy” Macalintal who joined discussions on election issues in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate.

It was Garcia who first made use in public of what is now known as “meet-me-room” during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. According to Garcia, the “meet-me-room” is actually just another term for “queue server” that the Comelec has been using but has obviously kept it “secret” to the public.

“How do you call it? Is it correct to call it ‘queue server’? Is it correct to call it ‘meet-me-room’? It is called ‘meet-me-room’ server because, as they (Comelec) explained to us, this is to ensure traffic of traffic of data,” Garcia said.

According to Garcia, he raised this question last Monday night at the opening or initialization of the consolidation system of the transparency server manned by the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) at Pope Pius Center along UN Avenue in Manila. Garcia was there as the legal counsel of the Comelec-designated dominant party PDP-Laban while another lawyer-represented the Nacionalista Party as dominant minority party.

“I was there at the initialization of the machines when they guaranteed in a matter of seconds or minutes, millions of results would come out of these machines from the precincts. Only to find out that the sending suddenly cut to 0.4% after which by 4:30 in the morning, suddenly it unloaded a lot of results,” Garcia narrated to us.

“I really got worried as lawyer for several candidates on the night of election day when it took for seven hours almost when we waited for the transparency server. It should not have happened. Because once it happens, it will create doubts on the integrity of the results when you lose seven hours of transmission,” he rued.

In fairness to the Comelec, he noted, the delay of transmission was because of the more than 1,000 secure digital (SD) cards found to be defective.

“The results are not coming on time because these have to pass another (server). We should find out what data pass the server and why the system jammed. This is completely and absolutely out of the public eye,” Garcia pointed out. Garcia suggested to the Comelec to explain this in a manner that is really understandable to the people because these are highly technical matter. He recalled the presence of a “meet me room” was similarly questioned during the 2016 elections.

But we learned later on from former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal who revealed in his tweet post: “There’s been a meet-me-room since the 2010 elections. Nothing new.”

Larrazabal was the designated Comelec commissioner to take charge of our first-ever automated election system that was won in a public bidding by Smartmatic. We also invited him to join us in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay but he begged off supposedly due to an emergency meeting with a client. He made this comment the next day in his @GoyYLarrazabal Tweeter attached to a news brief quoting the Comelec spokesman’s explanation on the “meet-me-room.”

“It is a transmission router/gateway. Basically, what that means is that it is not a separate server. It is a way of making sure na managed yung flow of data coming from the field, coming from the VCMs into the transparency server,” Jimenez explained.

This is why, Garcia agreed to the planned joint congressional inquiry earlier announced by Senate president Vicente Sotto III on these election glitches. Garcia suggested Congress should demand the audit trail of election results at any given time transmitted from precincts.

“The question always of dudero at dudera (doubters), how sure are we that what were transmitted are correct or not because the transparency server just receives them. It’s unfair to the winners and unfair also to the losing candidates because everyone is asking if the results are genuine or not,” he pointed out.

Obviously, the Comelec has kept us – the public – in the dark through these years about it. So my own question to Comelec is: Who owns and runs this meet-me-room? Your guess is as good as mine.