Postscript: The five mysteries of 2013 elections

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A month after the midterm elections, mysteries still surround the electoral exercise that was marred by irregularities at every step of the way – from the final testing and sealing up to the canvassing of results. Too many questions cropped up, to the extent of putting the credibility of the entire elections in question. Even with that, Commission on Elections(Comelec) came up not with brilliant answers to those questions but with recycled tirades against critics as it insisted that everything is okay with the conduct of elections.

It is tragic for Comelec to busy itself with all sorts of gimmick prior to the elections – from the crusade on proper postering to the whimsical money ban – only to be caught flat-footed in dealing with poll automation woes despite persistent reminders from poll watchdogs. What really happened to their avowed 99.99 percent preparedness? Probably, Comelec trusted Smartmatic’s erroneous machines and canvassing system too much.

Of course Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. will never admit that the recent elections were a disaster. For him, the 2013 midterm election is the “best ever”.

Brillantes will not confess to the Filipino people that poll automation was a costly illusion – at around P1.8 billion worth of people’s money. What he did was to induce, in a lame manner, the illusion of poll automation speed through his hasty proclamation of winning senatorial candidates “based on projections” as around one-fifth of results were not yet transmitted to the Comelec server.

Even with the Comelec’s not-so-creative improvisations, the people still need plausible explanations to the questions on poll irregularities which arose in the recently conducted elections. Those questions will not rot. They will just keep on haunting the poll body and the nation every three years.

1) Source code and the terms of Dominion-Smartmatic settlement

Just days before the May 13 elections, Comelec chair Brillantes announced that Dominion, the real owner of the poll automation technology, and Smartmatic, the software vendor, have reached a settlement regarding their dispute. The announcement was made as both Dominion and Smartmatic belatedly presented to the public the supposed source code of the precint count optical scan (PCOS) machine in CD form. Without any hash code matching, how can we be sure that the supposed source code, currently in escrow at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, matches with the one in the 78,000 PCOS machines?

What are the terms of the settlement between Dominion and Smartmatic? Did the Philippine government paid any or both parties to reach such settlement?

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Perilous penchant for PCOS

first published on

Poll automation will push through in next year’s midterm elections. But here’s the caveat: the 2013 polls may be hounded by the same glitches and irregularities we experienced during the 2010 elections, thanks to the poll body’s decision to purchase and reuse the 82,000 Precint Count Optical Scan(PCOS) machines at a P1.8-billion price tag.

The PCOS purchase, which was signed on March 30 by the Comelec,was declared valid last Wednesday by the Supreme Court, now headed by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio. It should be noted that the purchase was done way beyond December 31, 2010, which is the expiration of the original contract between Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM that contains the option-to-purchase provision. But the high court argued that the contract was still valid and existing since the performance security bond posted by Smartmatic-TIM was not yet returned.

Interestingly, the SC decision was made two days after President Benigno Aquino III candidly expressed  supportfor the use of the highly flawed PCOS machines for the 2013 midterm elections.  Why wouldn’t he, when doing otherwise would also resurrect questions on the PCOS machines’ credibility and thus stir doubt on his victory in the presidential race? Indeed, the SC decision saved Aquino’s presidential victory in 2010 from potential scrutiny as the PCOS deal is cleared from legal infirmities at the very least.

The same goes for Vice PresidentJejomar Binay, who expectedlypitched in his support for the Comelec’s purchase of the counting machines. So, with the two highest elected officials and the high court stamping the seal of approval on the PCOS machines, Smartmatic-TIM seems to be almost unimpeachable in its exclusive role over the country’s poll automation.

The foreign-led consortium (90-10 in favor of Smartmatic, which actually violates 60-40 constitutional provision on joint ventures) must be really smart for formulating a brilliant contract that allowed them to cover two elections in one shot. They earned P7.2 billion for the lease of counting machines and other election-related services rendered during the 2010 automated elections. Now, they will earn P1.8 billion more for selling the machines without even going through public bidding. And the Comelec is still very happy with that. I wonder if the commissioners are really keen on the supposed security features of the PCOS machines. Or perhaps they don’t know other automated voting solutions exist aside from PCOS.  That is the problem of a Comelec whose composition did not adjust to the need of the times for poll automation.

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A test for new Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes

Published at Blogwatch

Now that veteran election lawyer Sixto Brillantesassumes his position as new Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman, the time becomes ripe for a major housecleaning. Such task is necessary if the tainted commission really wants to have a new shine.

Some may say that there’s need to do so, for last year’s automated elections had already restored the people’s trust in the poll body. Foreign embassies, multilateral agencies and the elite were in chorus in praising the previous polls as successful. But was that really the case? Poll automation was no housecleaning. The dirt actually stays with the Comelec up to this day.

Talk about the counting machines supplied by Mega Pacific Consortium which cost the government P1.3 billion but which were not put into use. The automation deal between the Comelec and the consortium was declaredvoid by the high court for violating the poll body’s own bidding rules. The planned automation of the 2004 elections did not push through. But up to this day, no one in the Comelec’s Bids and Awards Committee was held accountable in court.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who retreated from his initial bid for Comelec chairmanship, even suggestedthe poll body to use the cobweb-stricken counting machines for the next elections. I don’t know if those machines would still work properly, but I am pretty sure that such idea would only revive the ghost of the past.

“Hello Garci?” appears to have mellowed, thanks to the euphoria brought by the 2010 automated elections. But is there justice in former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano (a.ka. Garci) wandering with impunity? Sometime in July last year, Garci surfaced to deny again that he rigged of the 2004 elections in favor of former president Gloria Arroyo. But the people and the media were perhaps so high with Noynoy Aquino’s victory that no one cared about him. The former commissioner successfully retreated into the shadows again.

The men who worked closely with Garci, collectively called “Hello Garci boys,” enjoyed their freedoms better. In fact, they were well-entrenched during the May 10 polls “either as regional election directors or provincial election supervisors in Mindanao,” a report said.

As it appears, the 2010 automated elections was not as clean and transparent as most of us thought. On the contrary, it further added anomalies to the Comelec’s stock while it glossed over the controversies of the past. For one, the Special Bids and Awards Committee approved the P7.2 billion bid of Smartmatic-TIM consortiumdespite the still unresolved anomalies in the bidding process. This is aside from the fact that the consortium worked contrary to the 60-40 constitutional provision, as multinational firm Smartmatic eventually took control of the entire poll automation project.

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