Category: editorials

Shape up, Comelec by Solita Collas-Monsod

May I ask why it is that nine days after elections, the PPCRV’s tally still covers barely 90% of the election returns? Surely by this time all 76,000 PCOS machines should have been able to transmit the results electronically. That is, after all, part of what an Automated Election System is all about. After all, the Comelec itself had originally stated that two days after the elections, the tally would be complete.

PPCRV has a lot to answer for, as far as I am concerned, particularly because it opposed (successfully) the accreditation of Namfrel which has more than 27 years and at least eight national elections’ worth of counting experience under its belt, compared to PPCRV’s zero experience. At the same time, Comelec also has a lot to answer for because it allowed PPCRV to conduct a public count, even if its accreditation — at least originally anyway, was limited to a count for internal purposes only. If I remember correctly, Comelec’s reason for not accrediting Namfrel was because the elections would be automated, and everybody would have access to the transmitted election returns, so Namfrel raison d’etre was gone. Or some such rot.

Moreover, in the non-automated days, Namfrel had to depend on its volunteers (PPCRV among them) to transmit the manually accomplished official ERs — which was an inherently difficult task because it was entitled to only the seventh or eighth copy which was barely legible — remember, those were the days of carbon copies. Yet it still was able to come up with 80% of the count before the official canvassing took place. Now, PPCRV had access to the fourth PRINTED copy of the ER, aside from, of course, the ERs transmitted to the Pius Center’s server as well as those provided by the Comelec Central Server. Surely it should have been able to do better than 90%? Or is one asking too much?

By the way, Comelec Commissioner Larrazabal told me last Friday night (May 14) that, actually, 98% of the ERs had already been transmitted and received — but the problem was that they were in different servers (Comelec Central Server, Pius/KBP server, City/Municipal Server). This is because there were transmission problems, and some ERs would transmit to one but not to the others, and vice-versa. When I asked if that meant that we would have the results of the 98% available on Saturday, he said no — but they would be available on Sunday (May 16). But as of 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 19, only 90% of the ERs have been tallied, with the PPCRV ready to close shop. Couldn’t the PPCRV have tried to latch on to that additional 8%? Or more to the point, why couldn’t the Comelec download that additional 8% to the PPCRV the way it did the other 90%? Whatever happened to Comelec’s boast that with an automated system, the public would know the results, albeit unofficially, within two days (pardon the nagging)?

Moreover, it was my understanding that the PPCRV was supposed to have been in-charge of monitoring the Random Manual Audit or RMA — of the five precincts per congressional district chosen at random with great fanfare the day before election day. These precincts were to have their ballots manually counted (by a different BEI) right after the machine count. It was a process that should have taken two hours (if three names were counted — President, Vice-President and Mayor) according to the time and motion study conducted by the IT experts. And it was important because it would be an indicator — although not a foolproof one (a hash test of all the machines, I am told, would be the best) — of possible internal rigging of the PCOS machines.

Well, here we are, nine days after election day, and the RMA results aren’t out yet. Reportedly, only 600 of the 1,100 or so precincts have already been audited — this was supposed to have been done on election day, you understand. Why didn’t the PPCRV, which was supposed to be monitoring this, scream about it? But then again, the political parties should have been screaming their heads off, too. The PPCRV was supposed to be watching out for the interests of the voters — to see that their choices were recorded faithfully. The political parties were supposed to be watching out for the interests of their candidates — to see that they would not be cheated.

But in the final analysis, while the PPCRV and the political parties may have fallen down on their jobs, the main responsibility for free , fair and honest elections lies with the Comelec. And even as the Comelec seems to have equated speed with honesty, it has itself fallen down even just on the speed part.

Because, let’s face it: The only reason we are now so sure that Noynoy Aquino is our president-elect is not because of Comelec’s speed, but only because the margin between Noynoy and his nearest rival, with 90% of the votes tallied, is a little over five million, which is about the same as the number of still uncounted (or more accurately, unreported votes), assuming a 75% voter turnout ratio. Which means that even if all the uncounted votes went to Erap Estrada, there would be at most a tie. And again, let’s face it — surely at least some of those unreported votes will also be going to Noynoy.

Or put it in another way: If the presidential race had been closer, the way the Roxas-Binay contest has shaped up to be, the public would still, at this point, have no idea, even with an automated election system, who the winner would be — because at least five million votes have still to be counted/reported, nine days after the election. Of course, if the majority party Lakas-Kampi, and the dominant minority Liberal Party had all the municipal and city certificates of canvas, they should themselves know by now. But we are, after all, talking about what an automated election system should be able to produce in terms of speed, as far as the public is concerned. They are entitled to that, having forked over P11 billion for the project.

The Comelec should be commended? Please. And I am just talking speed. The honesty or accuracy of the results (accurate in terms of reflecting the people’s will) is even more important, and the Comelec hasn’t even begun to resolve that issue, if only through the RMA. Already, talk is rife about politicians having been approached by people offering them specific election results in their favor (complete with percentages for each candidate) in exchange for monetary considerations (P15 million for mayor, P50 for governor, negotiable, 20% down, 80% on delivery). Merely a scam? Maybe. But those who refused to deal ended up on the losing side — in spite of favorable surveys done by credible organizations) — and claim that the winners won with the same percentages offered them, and they lost with the same percentages specified.

Shape up, Comelec.

Assessment of the May 10 Elections by Gus Lagman

Several of my friends asked me what my assessment was about the conduct of the May 10, 2010 elections. I have always answered thus:

I am very happy that Manila started receiving the data not long after the polls closed and that the result of the presidential elections was resolved early. That was truly amazing and almost unbelievable!

Nonetheless, I still maintain my original position that the technology chosen by the Comelec had a high probability of failure and that, because counting was not public, it would be easy to automate wholesale cheating. That neither seemed to have happened in the last elections does not mean that these statements are no longer true.

This is the reason why when asked during a TV talk show midnight of election day if I were willing to “eat my words”, I unhesitatingly said, “No, of course not!”

Why didn’t it fail? First, the teachers, who were the members of the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEI), performed extremely well. Theirs was a Herculean task, fraught with all kinds of problems, yet they delivered. We truly must salute them. Second, the voters were determined to make the system work. They so wanted their voices to be heard, their votes to be counted, that they stayed on despite the very long queues at the precincts. I definitely subscribe to Conrad de Quiros’ interpretation of this current political situation as being an EDSA masquerading as an election. And third, a large logistics company with a wide geographic coverage came in the last minute, to help deliver more than 50% of the PCOS machines and later, the re-configured CF cards.

And what about wholesale cheating, did it happen? No doubt it could have happened. What saved the day for us was the large margin of Noynoy Aquino in the surveys. There was no way the public would have accepted contrary results. If only for this, there’s reason to keep running those surveys. Without them, any result would have to be accepted, no matter how disappointing, for there wouldn’t be any basis for contradicting it and launching protest action. (Even Cory Aquino needed a basis for claiming victory during the snap elections. That was the Namfrel count.)

An incontrovertible proof that wholesale cheating could have happened and that it’s far easier to launch such, is the fiasco that happened on May 3, 2010. Smartmatic had to replace all the CF cards because they were not counting the votes correctly. (Meaning ALL 76,300 machines were corrupted.) This would not have been discovered had those 350 (according to some reports) PCOS machines not been tested on that day. An intentionally embedded “cheating program” would have been more difficult to detect as it could “hide” itself during testing.

While there are some people who have congratulated the Comelec and Smartmatic, I definitely will not do so. In fact, I would demand that they explain to the Filipino people the following:

  1. Why didn’t the Comelec make the source code “immediately” available to political parties and groups, as R.A. 9369 mandates? Why did they pay Systest Labs P72 million and give them more than four months to review the code, yet would only give the local experts, who were going to do the review for free, only three months? And why all the restrictions on the said review? It’s no wonder the local IT experts “walked away” from the effort.
  2. The Systest Labs report was submitted to the Comelec in February. Why wasn’t the report released to the public soon after? The unofficial copy that many somehow received showed many shortcomings in the Smartmatic system that should have prevented its being certified.
  3. Why did Comelec allow Smartmatic to generate all the BEI electronic signatures without giving the teachers an option to change them? This gave Smartmatic ready access to all the PCOS machines, even from a remote area.
  4. Why weren’t the PCOS and CF cards tested much earlier? Major errors that threaten the success and credibility of elections should not happen ONE WEEK before elections. How sure are we that all CF cards were replaced? Was the reconfiguration of the cards done in the presence of qualified watchers?
  5. What did Comelec/Smartmatic do with the erroneous CF cards? They have evidential value and should be subjected to forensic review.
  6. Why did the Comelec canvass the president and vice-president results? According to our Constitution, only Congress can perform that function, even as private entities are allowed to do unofficial counts. All the commissioners are lawyers and should know about this specific provision. They were more than halfway done when they realized this and that was the only time they stopped.
  7. The random manual audit was supposed to have started immediately after the precinct count. How come the results have yet to be released one week after the elections?
  8. The voter turn-out, according to the Comelec, was around 75%. That’s 5-10% short of expectations. This translates to 2.5 to 5 million voters who, because of inefficient precinct clustering, might have been disenfranchised. That’s way too high!
  9. The Comelec said that PCOS would prevent traditional ways of cheating, like ballot box switching. But there are a lot of talks now that there might have been CF card switching, something that’s obviously much easier to do, considering its size.
  10. In a meeting a few weeks before the elections, Commissioner Larrazabal mentioned that most of the P4.1 billion, that is the difference between the approved budget of P11.3 billion and Smartmatic’s quote of P7.2 billion, have likewise been spent. Comelec should make these expenses public. Was it a case of awarding a contract to a lowest bidder, only to grant additional contracts to that same bidder later?

No, I’m not about to exonerate the Comelec and Smartmatic of wrongdoing. As a friend said, “flying a plane with technical issues and landing it safely, does not make the pilot or the airline free from liability.” And they certainly owe the Filipino people an explanation to the above questions.

We were plain lucky. The election results were generally credible … despite the Comelec! But it was a costly system — not only in terms of money (P7.2 billion), but also in terms of voting secrecy, which was sacrificed, and public counting, which was ignored.

Gus Lagman is a convenor of the Movement for Good Governance, lead convenor of TransparentElections.Org. Ph, former president of Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines (ITFP), former president of Philippine Computer Society (CSP), and former Technology Chief of NAMFREL.

Editorial: A promising election solution by Ernesto Ordoñez

Manual precinct tallying

Our initial confidence in the Automated Election System (AES) has been shaken. Some say the AES may be worse than our fully manual voting system because of the easy way it can be rigged. With only four weeks to go before elections, many are now desperately looking for a solution.

Because they represented all the agricultural sub-sectors, which compose 40 percent of the voting population, the Alyansa Agrikultura was once again invited to the March 25 hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on Automated Elections.

Having participated in three prior hearings, the Alyansa leaders eagerly anticipated this hearing. This is because Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., who co-chairs the JCOC with Sen. Francis Escudero, had requested Comelec Chair Jose Melo to respond to the Alyansa’s March 4 letter in a subsequent hearing.

In this letter, the Alyansa cited the necessity of having the legally required audit procedure before, rather than after, the proclamation. It also recommended an audit procedure formulated with the input of Mahar Mangahas, head of the Social Weather Stations, and Baltazar Endriga, founder of SGV’s Computer Audit Division.

Unfortunately, the JCOC hearing was canceled and Comelec has not yet responded to the Alyansa proposal. What is worse is that Comelec still maintains its position that the audit should be done after proclamation. The farmers ask, “Ano pa ang gagawin sa damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” (“What will you do with the grass if the horse is already dead?”) The Comelec answers, “Use this as a basis for filing a protest.”
We all know this takes years to resolve. The Comelec response makes a mockery of the intended use of the audit.

Parallel count

Serendipitously, the Comelec’s delayed response to the Alyansa audit proposal has given a group of highly respected Information Technology (IT) professionals the opportunity to come up with a solution that addresses many of the AES problems.

Gus Lagman, TransparentElections lead convenor and former Information Technology Association of the Philippines president, said, “We propose an industry practice which all new computer programs must undergo to help ensure their usefulness: a parallel run.”

Initially, to save time, Lagman had proposed a manual count in every precinct for only two positions: the president and the vice president. An Alyansa leader suggested that the additional position of mayor be included.

Lagman quickly accepted this and said, “This way, in areas where the interest in the national candidates is lacking, the supporters of the mayoral candidates will monitor closely the manual counting because their candidates’ futures are at stake.”

Mechanics

A Precinct Computer Optical Scan or PCOS machine has an average of 600 voters. The new “parallel run” proposal is that, after the voting closes, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) does what it has been doing all these past years: manually count the votes; but this time, only for president, vice president, and mayor. This takes an average of three hours, certainly a small price to pay for helping ensure an honest count.

If the manual count is approximately the same as the computer count, it can be assumed that the computer was not rigged. The computer count for all the candidates can then be sent immediately for proclamation purposes.

But in cases (we hope there will be few) where the computer count is very different from the manual count, which has been properly monitored by several parties at the precinct level, suspicions of rigging may be valid. A complete manual count must then be done for all positions. The result of this manual count, not the defective computer count, will subsequently be transmitted as the official count for proclamation purposes.
This may take an additional four days: two days for the complete manual count and two days for transmission to the municipalities. But even then, only for these cases, the 42 days it takes for the old system of voting will still significantly be decreased to 7 days.

This is because the transmission from local to national will continue to be done electronically using the AES in a day or two, instead of the former manually transmitted time of 40 days.

Conclusion

As Philippine Software Industry Association President, Ma. Cristina Coronel, and Automated Election System (AES) Watch spokesperson Angel Averia argue, a parallel run is an accepted required industry practice for all new computer programs. Why not do this for the new AES program that will impact our democracy and possibly change our lives?

If the JCOC and the Comelec support this parallel count proposal, it will be an effective deterrent to rigging the elections. This is because the parallel count will expose any such possible rigging in every single precinct.

With its implementation, the farmers, who constitute the largest voting sector in the country, will again be confident that their votes will be accurately counted in the increasingly controversial elections, and consequently their hope for a better life fulfilled.

The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, and Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112.

News: Mariano: “Overcoming apathy the biggest challenge”

Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak: In 2004, Darwin Mariano was an Aksyon Demokratiko youth leader for then presidential candidate Raul Roco. Today, he subsists by working for the corporate social unit of a cement firm. After work, he devotes his time and energy to the Movement for Good Governance (MGG), a new group seeking to build a 10-million constituency of voters who will choose competent candidates advocating the cause of reforming government. Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak had a chat with him last February 3 at the launching of the MGG.

Q. What’s the difference between MGG and other groups seeking reforms?

A. I think it’s the timing. For the first time, people genuinely feel that short cuts no longer work, and that real substantive change has to come from ordinary people, groups from all areas, all sectors, all areas of the country, coming together to work on the things that we agree on, the things that we have in common, the goals that we have in common rather than focus on the things that make us different.

The KRAs [Key Result Areas] are very simple, and which is why I think it’s also different and why it’s potentially very powerful: 10 million people who will sign up and commit to helping reform-oriented candidates, candidates who agree to debate and defend their record and be judged against a clear criteria. And then an election process wherein the results at the precinct level are made public so that you prevent or deter those who want to cheat at the canvassing. So very easy, so I think it’s easy for people to come together and rally around a movement whose objective is clear.

Q. What is your biggest challenge?

A. I think overcoming apathy. The people who are here are people who have never given up hope. Unfortunately, I think that’s not always true, and I think what you only need to do is to show people, bring them in to connect and contact with others who have not given up hope and they rediscover the hope that they have in themselves.

Q. It would seem from this small gathering that you have not reached a critical mass?

A. Yes, that’s why we keep pushing. It’s hardest at this stage where you’re pushing, when you’re starting. But we’re far bigger now than when we started. There’s no one history, no one past to the organization. At the end of the day, it’s still a fight worth fighting. It’s a journey worth taking for everyone.

Q. It would seem the MGG still lacks the support of the masses?

A. No, there are many youth organizations. We’re already starting to build a group in the urban poor. I think what’s important is to get the support of the middle class because they will provide the resources, manpower, money to help bankroll the broad campaign needed for change. Without the middle classes’ support, mahihirapan tayo, and that’s what we’re trying to attract people with activities like this.

Q. In 2004, you were a youth leader for Raul Roco’s Aksyon Demokratiko. What’s the difference between being a partisan campaigner and helping the MGG?

A. I’m doing this in my personal capacity. I think it’s easier to get people to support it because it’s not personality-based. I’m not selling a candidate, I’m selling an idea. And in fact, it’s an improvement also from the type of politics that you want to support, from a personality-centered politics. No matter how qualified the candidate is, you’re trying to rally everyone to support ideas, to support advocacies. Hopefully, in the process, you move everyone.