My stint as Comelec commission​er has ended – Gus Lagman

The following is an e-mail sent by Gus Lagman to friends after his appointment as commissioner was rejected by the Commission on Appointments. It has been published on the MGG website with his permission.

To my friends,

Without a new appointment, I cease to be a Comelec commissioner.

It is common knowledge among senators, Malacanang officials, and some members of the Lower House, that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Chairman of the Commission on Appointments, will reject the confirmation of my ad interim appointment as commissioner of the Commission on Elections. As such, Malacanang explained to me that they thought it best not to renew my appointment in order to save me from having to go through the ordeal of a confirmation hearing where I could be rejected. I truly appreciate their concern and, initially, I also thought that that would be best. However, after thinking about it the last few days, I am now convinced that I would much prefer to be given my day in court, i.e., go through the confirmation process despite the risk of a rejection.

JPE’s objection goes all the way back to 1987 … 25 years ago! It’s about time the truth comes out and the matter finally put to rest. The question is … what is JPE’s issue with me?

The following letter that I submitted to Sen. Koko Pimentel’s Senate committee in January, 2012, explains everything. JPE was furnished a copy of the letter and I understand that he has read it. Malacanang was also sent a copy.

January 26, 2012

Hon. Aquilino “Koko” L. Pimentel III
Senator, Republic of the Philippines and
Chairman, Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation
City of Manila

Dear Senator Pimentel:

During the January 19, 2012 Public Hearing called by the Select Oversight Committee on Suffrage joint with the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile brought up the matter of how he and the Grand Alliance for Democracy (GAD) candidates were cheated  in the 1987 Senatorial  elections.

I am aware of GAD’s belief that NAMFREL manipulated the results of the 1987 Operation Quick Count (OQC) to favor the candidates of then President Cory Aquino’s political party. Since I was involved in the management of that parallel count, I made a brief remark during the hearing, in our defense. (I managed the automated parallel counts of NAMFREL from 1984 to 2007, a total of ten elections.) I also promised to submit to the committee a detailed response and an explanation of this accusation.

What are the specifics of this issue?

After the 1987 senatorial elections, some of the losing candidates accused NAMFREL of having manipulated the results of the OQC in order to favor the administration candidates. They claimed that while the NAMFREL count was unofficial, the trend that it set was meant to prepare the public’s mind to accept the also-manipulated COMELEC results. Why NAMFREL would be put to task in such a conspiracy more than the COMELEC, whose count was official and therefore determined the winners, is still puzzling to NAMFREL to this day.

The accusation is that NAMFREL added 10,000 votes per district to each of the administration candidates. Based on 200 districts, that would mean that 2 million votes were added to each of them. To prove the claim, they produced a diskette, supposedly containing a copy of NAMFREL’s computer programs. They even showed the program listing on TV, focusing on the specific instructions that did the adding. Sure enough, there were instructions for the computer to add 10,000 votes to each of the administration candidates, presumably per district. To further prove their point, they brought attention to the program name, which was “Magic”.

With all due respect to those who believe the accusation to be true, we would like to state that they were apparently misinformed on the issue. Please consider the following:

  1. Adding 2 million votes to one candidate would be extremely difficult to hide; adding 2 million votes to each of twenty-four candidates would be too obvious. Sigurado pong bubukol ito! Especially because in 1987, there were only half the voting population today.
  2. If NAMFREL even tried to commit a small part of what was claimed, it would have faced a walk-out – short of a mutiny – of its volunteers that would have been much bigger than the 1986 walk-out at the PICC. NAMFREL’s volunteers at Greenhills were young, intelligent, and very idealistic. They would have easily detected it and strongly protested against it!
  3. If there was such an operation, it would have been a big conspiracy between COMELEC officials and NAMFREL, with Malacanang involvement. This operation would have been bigger than the “Hello Garci” fiasco, where only a million votes and one candidate were involved.
  4. The members of the Commission on Elections then were: Ramon H. Felipe, Jr., Chairman; Haydee B. Yorac; Leopoldo L. Africa; Anacleto D. Badoy; Andres R. Flores; Dario C. Rama; Tomas V. de la Cruz. On the other hand, the NAMFREL chairman then was Christian S. Monsod. It is very difficult to imagine that these people would agree to engage in any cheating.
  5. If the objective of this grand conspiracy was to make the 24 administration candidates win, (the “program” they showed on TV was supposed to add 2 million votes to each of them) then something must have gone very wrong because two candidates from the opposition won – now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former President Joseph Estrada.
  6. In 1987, “hacking” was not even a computer-related word. Make the same accusation today and the public would most likely ignore it or assume that someone hacked NAMFREL’s program before it was shown on TV. (Today, even pictures can easily be “photoshopped”.)
  7. Actually, even then, it was quite simple to disprove the accusation. NAMFREL had already published its final results at that time and our input data were still intact. All that was needed was : to re-run our program using the same input data … and that would surely have produced the same results as what we have published; and then to run their version of our program using the same input data … which would have produced results showing 2 million votes more for the administration candidates, thus proving that their version of our computer program was modified. This exercise would have easily proven the accusation to be wrong. NAMFREL publicly challenged the accusers to engage in such tests, but they never took it up. Thus, their “myth” remained alive.

And because the “myth” remained alive, some people took advantage of it. One such was Luzviminda Tancangco, who, three years later, wrote a supposedly “academic” study, which study was debunked by noted U.P. professors (Drs. Jose Encarnacion, Mercedes Concepcion, Mahar Mangahas, Raul Fabella), basically saying that it was a badly-conceived paper.

Now, what actually happened?

Apparently, two of our volunteers at Greenhills copied NAMFREL’s computer programs, added instructions to it (which, most people know now, is so easy to do; any programmer with a few months programming experience could have done it), then “sold” it to our accusers. The latter then came out in public denouncing NAMFREL for trending and for conspiring with the COMELEC to cheat.

How were they able to get a copy? Well, as in elections previous to 1987, nothing was kept secret to the volunteers. Any volunteer, therefore, who knew a little about computers, could copy any program that he wanted. Each PC that was used had a copy of the programs. (No networking yet.) Security was not an issue at that time. Obviously, now it is. An investigation that was conducted by NAMFREL’s Systems Group pointed to two of our volunteers – brothers, in fact – as the primary suspects. We didn’t have enough hard evidence, however, to bother seeking them out although we did publicly challenge them to the test mentioned earlier.

What about the program name “Magic”? Unfortunately, that was really the name that the NAMFREL programmer chose. Before he became a programmer, he was a basketball player in a minor league. According to him, his idol was Magic Johnson. He even nicknamed his first son Magic. And it was after his son that he named this particular program. Bad choice! But who would have thought that that innocent choice would put NAMFREL’s reputation in jeopardy?

I would like to thank you and the committee for this opportunity to relate the real story behind this “myth”. Should there be points in the above explanation that need to be further clarified, please let me know. I would be very happy to meet with you to make the necessary clarifications. Otherwise, I hope that this issue can finally be put to rest.

Sincerely,

Augusto C. Lagman

I was officially with the Commission for ten months and nineteen days. I believe I was able to make significant contributions to the work of the Comelec during my stay. I am preparing a report about it that I will also send to all of you soon. My only regret now that I’m gone is that being the only IT person among the Commissioners, there’s a lot more that I know I can contribute towards the improvement of its operations.

Gus Lagman

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Update on MGG letter to the President re: Commissioner Gus Lagman « The Movement for Good Governance

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