A group of information technology (IT) professionals yesterday expressed fears of an “automated Garci” or high-tech cheating in the May 10 elections and called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider their proposal for a simplified parallel count in order to ensure the polls’ credibility
The IT experts, who spoke to media in a press conference initiated by the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), said recent developments have made many people wary and fearful of the possibility of a partial or even a total system failure, noting that the systems and processes that are in place are not fail-safe.
“While we agree with this observation, our concern today is more focused on the high probability of massive cheating in selected areas involving national, local and even party list positions,” said Augusto “Gus” Lagman, lead convenor of TransparentElections.Org.
Despite their apprehensions, he and other concerned IT professionals have chosen to cooperate with the Comelec “to give the Automated Election System (AES) a chance to succeed.” Some members of the group have been involved in the crafting of the Automated Election Law.
Ma. Corazon Akol, president of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation (PhilNITS) and former president of the Philippine Electronics and Telecoms Foundation (PETEF), said Filipinos may be lulled into thinking that the May 10 elections would be free from cheating because it will be using “high tech” machines and computerized systems.
“The truth is that the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines, the operating and transmission programs and the whole system itself can be rigged, without our even knowing how or where the new and sophisticated “dagdag-bawas” scheme might be perpetrated,” she stressed.
The group presented several reasons for saying there is “grave and present danger” in the exercise of the Filipinos’ right of suffrage in the coming May 10 automated elections.
They cited a high probability that, a system “fully administered and constrolled by government insiders and their vendors” (quoting an election watchdog in the ISA), without adequate safeguards and full transparency, can contain hidden commands for the software and/or computer to execute.
They said these commands can be inserted in any of the computer programs contained in any of the PCOS machines or the computers that will be used to transmit the election results from the municipality and provincial sites. Pre-set results stored in the Compact Flash (CF) cards, tampering of digital results during transmission and results manipulation through canvassing programs are “not only feasible but also highly probable,” they added.
For expediency’s sake, they said, many safeguards set in place by law, as defined by “our colleagues in the IT industry,” were disregarded, removed or replaced with vulnerable alternatives. They noted that the pilot testing of the system was not done; the source code review, as strictly defined by law, was not granted; on-the-spot verification by the voter and the UV detector were disabled; and, controlled access features were disregarded.
Ma. Cristina Coronel, president of the Philippine Software Industry Association (PSIA), explained that their proposal for a simplified parallel count would only involve counting the votes for the president, the vice president and mayor.
She said the group’s time and motion studies indicated that it would only take about three hours for a precinct with 500 voters and five hours for a precinct with 1,000 voters to do the parallel count. She also gave assurance that it would not constitute a drain on government resources.
“Unless we do a full count at all precincts, of at least the top two positions, we cannot say with confidence that the coming elections in May is free fro any form of cheating,” she added.
The group appealed to Comelec chairman Jose Melo and the rest of the commission to sit down with them for a dialogue soon, as “time is running out,” so that together they can implement the recommendation and agree on solutions to both legal and logistics concerns.