Category: election reform

Book Launch: Two books on the Philippine Automated Elections

Join us at the back-to-back launching of Hacking Our Democracy by Rene B. Azurin and Was Your Vote Counted edited by Bobby M. Tuazon.

April 10-Book Launch_AES Watch

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Both books are due for distribution by National Bookstore, Solidaridad Bookshop, Popular Bookstores, UP Press, and others.

The books are priced at Php 395.00 for Hacking Our Democracy and Php 495.00 for Was Your Vote Counted. Discounts are available for bulk orders of 5 copies (5%) and 10 copies (10%).

To place your orders or for further information, please call the AES Watch secretariat at 929-9526 or send an email to


Does Smartmatic’s PCOS add value or problems to our elections? by Gus Lagman

I’ve often wondered whether the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ever asked itself the following question: Why do we want to automate our elections?

To my mind, the reasons are:

  1. To improve the ACCURACY of the counting of votes and tabulation of results
  2. To eliminate, or at least minimize, CHEATING
  3. To make the process more, not less, TRANSPARENT to the public
  4. To SPEED up the process

I intentionally put “speed” last because it obviously is the least important among the four. What’s the sense in coming up with quick results if they’re not accurate? Or, if the process were not transparent? To the wise, this is truly a “no-brainer”.

Let us now test Smartmatic’s PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) against these four criteria.


  • No mock election conducted by Smartmatic has produced an accuracy rate of 99.995% or better.
  • The Random Manual Audit (RMA) conducted after the 2010 National and Local Elections resulted in only a 99.6% accuracy rate, despite the very lenient methodology used.
  • The July 24-25, 2012 mock elections in Congress resulted in only a 97.215% accuracy rate.
  • No official report yet on the last mock elections, though the general feeling is that it could be worse.
  • During the 2010 elections, there were Final Testing and Sealing results that were erroneously transmitted for canvassing.

(The Terms of Reference, or TOR, require a 99.995% accuracy rate. This translates to an allowable error rate of only ONE mark per 20,000 marks. 99.6% translates to 80 errors per 20,000 marks; 97.215% translates to 557 errors per 20,000 marks.)

Did it, will it, prevent CHEATING?

  • The cases of Glenn Chong in Biliran, Josie dela Cruz in Bulacan, Grace Padaca in Isabela appear to prove the opposite.
  • The CF cards found in the garbage dump in Cagayan de Oro prove the ease by which the cards could be stolen.
  • The 60 PCOS machines found in the house of a Smartmatic technician in Antipolo right after the elections prove that even the machines themselves could be hi-jacked.
  • In 2010, there was an open port in PCOS. Through an open port, a techie with a laptop can connect to the unit and tamper with the software and the CF cards in the machine.
  • There are many stories going around today about offers of sure wins through manipulated results.
  • Forget about external hacking, but truly, Smartmatic’s system is very vulnerable to internal tampering.


  • Transparency is completely lost when precinct counting is automated (this is the reason why Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, and some counties in the US went back to manual precinct counting).
  • We don’t know if our ballots were read properly and our votes counted accurately.
  • There was no source code review, as mandated by law. Despite requests, public documents were also not made available to stakeholders.
  • The incomplete data in Comelec’s public website made it next to impossible to check the accuracy of canvassing.
  • Comelec has been very secretive about its plans and how it is implementing them.


  • Results in 2010 were fast … so fast that Comelec was announcing partial results on the presidential fight as early as 6:00pm of election day – one hour before the close of voting – clearly a violation of election rules.
  • Comelec was also not supposed to canvass the presidential and vice-presidential contests; only Congress could do that function – clearly, another violation, this time, of the Constitution.
  • At any rate, the results were readily accepted by the public because it was a landslide victory.
  • Because of that, PCOS was acclaimed to have been successful, but wait …
  • P-Noy was officially proclaimed June 9, 2010; Erap was officially proclaimed May 29, 1998 (the 1998 election was completely manual).
  • The key to speedy results, therefore, is not PCOS, but a landslide victory!

What is PCOS’ impact on our election processes?

  • Filing of Certificates of Candidacy had to be scheduled earlier because the names are pre-printed on the ballots.
  • And because of this, we have to contend with a long and expensive ballot.
  • Secrecy of the voting is compromised because of the very long ballot.
  • Now that the COMELEC has bought them, it has to worry about the expensive warehousing of the PCOS machines (Comelec asked for a budget of P400 million, just for warehousing!).
  • The COMELEC also has to maintain the units and this is a major and very serious concern.
  • There is the danger of automated cheating, which, if done by an insider, is easier and more effective than cheating in the manual system.
  • PCOS needs an army of technical support people.
  • We have unnecessarily relied too much on a foreign vendor – one with a questionable reputation.
  • Our elections have become vulnerable to vendor problems (Smartmatic vs Dominion).
  • COMELEC has to face accusations of incompetence and violations of the law coming from lawyers, politicians, and the IT community.
  • COMELEChad to budget almost P9 billion in additional expenses! (P11.3 billion in 2010).
  • Transparency is lost!

All these problems that COMELEC has to confront, plus additional expenses in the billions … and FOR WHAT?!

To cut down the election process by 12-24 hours!

That’s all! Generally, manual precinct counting only takes 5-12 hours. On the other hand, manual canvassing can take 25-40 days! And contrary to what some politicians, COMELEC officials, and media people keep harping on, it is in canvassing that dagdag-bawas occurs. Not in precinct counting. Lawyers are also not allowed to delay counting at the precincts. If canvassing is automated, like in 2010, lawyers would not be able to delay the process with pre-proclamation protests.

That’s why since 2008, has been saying that we should automate the canvassing and transmit the results electronically, while keeping the precinct counting manual.

To be able to transmit the Election Returns (ER) electronically, they have to be encoded using PCs and/or laptops. This exercise takes only 7-15 minutes per ER. (We’ve done “time and motion” studies on this.) Including the printing, the visual checking, the re-encoding, and an iteration of these steps, it might take 1-2 hours. Surely, less than the very conservative total of 24 hours for counting and encoding that I am allowing above.

Won’t the BEI (the teachers) complain that they have to stay longer than they did in 2010? With so much savings from the non-use of PCOS, COMELEC can double, even triple, the allowances of the teachers to compensate for the longer hours.

At this point, what should the COMELEC do?

  1. It should shift to its contingency (continuity) plan, which I hope includes: a) the transparent manual precinct counting; b) electronic transmission; and c) automated canvassing. There is still time for this, but they should not delay it, then later say (again!) that it’s too late.
  2. It should put more focus on the telecommunications problems. There were far too many transmission failures in 2010.
  3. COMELEC should stop lawyering for Smartmatic (and negotiating directly with Dominion) and instead ask its lawyers how it can return the purchased PCOS and recover the money that have been paid. Considering the many significant pieces of information that were not revealed when the purchase of the machines were being negotiated, there may be more than enough justification for legally cancelling the contract.

Let’s strengthen our democracy. Let’s conduct our elections the clean, honest, transparent, and accurate way!

This paper was quoted by Jarius Bondoc almost verbatim in his March 8 column in the Philippine Star.

Re-engineering the COMELEC by Gus Lagman

In August, 2002, Namfrel and other civil society organizations filed an impeachment complaint against then COMELEC Commissioner Luzviminda Tancangco for alleged graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust, and culpable violation of the Constitution. The complaint was endorsed by then Rep. Monico Puentevella.

Not long after the complaint was filed, CBCP-NASSA and Namfrel launched the People vs. Tancangco Movement, a multi-sectoral group that pushed for the impeachment of Tancangco. Some 100 organizations and hundreds of individuals representing civil society, the church, business, academe, and others, attended the launching.

But despite all their efforts, they only managed to convince 57 congressmen to vote in favor of the impeachment – about a dozen or so votes short of the required number, which is one-third of the House. Congress dismissed the complaint on February 3, 2003, finding it “not sufficient in substance”.

Needless to say, all those organizations supporting the impeachment were stunned and they wondered why, with all the evidences submitted, so few of the congressmen sided with the complainants. Inquiries were made and one explanation stood out: many congressmen were worried of possible retaliation from the COMELEC, considering that they and/or their supporters and partymates among the city/municipality mayors and councilors were facing election cases.  Plausible.

Namfrel’s legal counsel commented thus: “This is one strong argument for separating the two functions of the COMELEC into two distinct agencies.”

Let’s analyze that.

COMELEC has basically two functions: a) administer all elections for national and local positions and all referenda; and b) adjudicate election cases.

What qualifications should the election officials executing the two functions possess? “Function a” needs men and women who have management expertise and strong systems orientation, while “Function b” needs legal minds and a strong sense of fairness.

It is extremely difficult to find people who possess expertise in both functions. In 2010, seven lawyers composed the COMELEC.  No management man, no systems man. That’s why the automation technology chosen for the May, 2010 elections was inappropriate. That’s why the Commission faced so many problems during the implementation. That’s why the CF cards had to be replaced just one week before elections. That’s why vote counting was not transparent and therefore the results, especially in the local contests, were questionable. That’s why there were long queues during Election Day. That’s why the Random Manual Audit (RMA) resulted in an accuracy level way below the required 99.995%. Only the landslide victory of President Noynoy Aquino saved the day for us.

The COMELEC abdicated its responsibility for managing the electoral process to Smartmatic, in effect subcontracting the whole process to a private company. One of my colleagues said, “the COMELEC subcontracted our democracy to a foreign company.” And not even to a reputable one at that, if we are to believe half of the materials on Smartmatic that’s available in the Internet.  

Even the manual Barangay and SK elections in October, 2010, with only one level of consolidation, had a major problem, for which the COMELEC had to issue an apology.  Printing and delivery of the ballots were not completed, resulting in some 2,000 barangays not being able to hold elections on that day.

And today, two short months before the mid-term elections, we are still facing major problems!

I have nothing against lawyers, but their education, experience, and expertise are not what are required to run an efficient electoral process. In the almost three decades that I have been working with, or against, the COMELEC, I have only encountered one (and only one) past Chairman and maybe one or two commissioners who met the required qualifications for both functions. Obviously, searching for the right candidates is not an easy task. Add to this the political influences that enter the picture during the selection process and we get what we get today – a far-from-ideal Commission. 

On the other hand, it is difficult for a non-lawyer to handle COMELEC’s quasi-judicial function. During the ten months and nineteen days (May 3, 2011 to March 22, 2012) that I was a COMELEC Commissioner, I reviewed and signed a total of 443 resolutions of election cases assigned to the other Commissioners, plus 87 of my own decisions, including 70 that have been promulgated and 17, pending promulgation. I also issued 16 separate opinions (dissenting, concurring, separate). But to accomplish these, I had to conduct an average of two “case conferences” with the six lawyers in my staff, every week! Considering my more than 50 years of IT and systems experience, I could have better spent this time on the two committees that were assigned to me – Election Administration and Technological Capability – and deferred the adjudication of cases to those with legal experience.

If we seriously want to improve the electoral process, it really doesn’t make sense to continue on with this kind of set-up. The administration of elections and the adjudication of election protests should ideally be separated into two agencies. In fact, were it not for the clogged dockets of our judges, the latter function could even be passed on to the regular courts. Or perhaps a special “Election Court” could be established, much like the Tax Court.

Many countries have their Election Commissions functioning solely for the administration of elections. And some of them do not even have a single lawyer among the commissioners.

But there’s a major obstacle. This change will require an amendment of the Constitution. So we’ll have to wait. 

Unless … we try to simulate the ideal situation as early as now.

If the President starts appointing into the COMELEC, professionals with management and/or systems expertise, as I believe he should, and if the COMELEC en banc would pass a resolution voluntarily dividing themselves into two groups – the four lawyers (minimum number, according to our Constitution) to take care of the adjudication of election protests and the other three, to take care of the administration of elections – then the country would experience better-run automated electoral exercises from 2013 (or 2016) onwards, even as we wait for the Constitution to be amended.

I hope that the Commission considers this proposition, even if it comes from one of their most ardent critics – ME!

The original version of this article appeared in a November, 2010 issue of BusinessWorld. The author has updated the article to reflect the current situation.

Update on MGG letter to the President re: Commissioner Gus Lagman

Our letter to President Aquino re: Commissioner Gus Lagman was received by Malacanang on April 24. At the time of submission we had about 70 signatures from former government officials, civil society leaders, members of the academe, and ordinary citizens. More signatures and pledges of support have come in since then.

A concerned citizen has created an online petition based on our letter, which is gathering signatures from Filipinos all over the country and the world.

We hope that more people, in addition to the President, will be able to appreciate that this is a cause beyond the person of Gus Lagman. This is a case to help ensure that automated elections will be clean and honest; a case for putting into office persons who are competent and good; a case for providing persons with opportunities to face charges against them; a case for asserting that we are part of government and are entitled to be heard.

With Gus’ permission, we have published the e-mail Gus sent to friends after his appointment as commissioner was rejected by the Commission on Appointments. In the e-mail, Gus addresses the accusation of Sen. Enrile that NAMFREL cheated the opposition senatorial candidates in 1987 by padding the votes of each of the 24 administration candidates by 2 million votes.

Letter to the President re: Commissioner Gus Lagman

April 20, 2012

Dear Mr. President,

We are deeply disappointed in your decision not to re-appoint Augusto (Gus) Lagman as a Commissioner in the Comelec, and would like to add our voices to the clamor for you to reconsider that decision.

Mr. President, the explanation by Sec. Ricky Carandang as to the basis for your decision does not make sense – to spare Gus the humiliation of a rejection by the Commission on Appointments.

That suggests that there are valid grounds for rejecting which he would not want to make public. Yet what we get from Sec. Carandang’s statement is that there were feelers from some members of the House that Gus would be rejected by the Commission on Appointments without mentioning on what grounds. The only hint was a euphemistic reference by Sec. Carandang to a “difference of opinion” between Gus and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile with respect to the 1987 senatorial elections.

We assume that when you appointed Gus, you did a thorough background check on his integrity and competence and that he passed both tests. Gus was endorsed overwhelmingly by the IT community, by people who worked as volunteers in election watchdog organizations the past 28 years, by the business community, church groups, etc. because he was well-known in all those circles as an indefatigable volunteer who was at the center of citizen parallel count operations.

Gus has served our country well. He should be allowed to defend himself publicly from any accusation on his integrity and competence and the President should be the first to uphold that right by re- appointing him and sending out the message to his allies in the Congress that they better have valid grounds to reject him.

Does not “daan na matuwid” also mean that those who are willing to serve the government and have the integrity and competence to do so should be protected from the dirt of politics or the whims of politicians that cannot stand critical public scrutiny? Instead, Gus was unceremoniously set aside even if he was willing to be subjected to the harshest of possible treatment by the Commission of Appointments because he was confident that he could answer the accusations before the public. Are not people like him worthy of presidential support? Isn’t this a good opportunity to test the efficacy of the system of confirmation which is supposed not only to safeguard the public interest from unworthy nominees but is also designed to lay bare for the public to see whenever the process is used for self- aggrandizement and political blackmail?

Mr. President, we reiterate our appeal to you to reconsider your decision. We are certain, that Gus will serve this country and your government well at the Comelec, even as a lonely advocate of alternatives to public choices or as a trusted sentinel in the system of checks and balances in government institutions, particularly those with broad constitutional powers like the Comelec, and are, therefore, prone to abuse, corruption and backroom double-dealing. If you allow Gus to be cast aside for unsubstantiated and obscure reasons, the message to the Comelec is “business as usual”. That is going to be bad for the future of our electoral system, and disastrous for your Daan Na Tuwid.

Solita Collas-Monsod
Movement for Good Governance

Milwida M. Guevara
Former Undersecretary Department of Finance

Download a signed copy of the letter here.

If the letter captures your spirit and sentiment, please authorize us to include your name as a signatory to this letter by sending us an email. You may opt to send us an electronic copy of your signature by email or you may send us a copy of the letter with your name, designation, and signature, by fax (898-2617).

Please feel free to forward this appeal to your friends and colleagues. Kindly request them to send their authorization to me personally,

A very good man needs our support.