Category: election reform

Reasons to renew Gus Lagman’s appointment By Solita Collas-Monsod

In the interest of justice and fair play. In the interest of safeguarding the Philippine electoral system. In the interest of truth. Any and all of the above are reasons to justify the imperative to renew the appointment of Augusto “Gus” Lagman to the Commission on Elections, until such time as the Commission on Appointments (CA) passes on the merits of his nomination to the position.

Why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment to the Comelec serve in the interest of safeguarding the country’s electoral system? Let me count the ways.

First of all, Gus is arguably the most experienced among the present Comelec members in working for clean, honest and fair elections. He was active with the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections practically from its inception at the end of 1983 and was in charge of Namfrel’s Operation Quick Count (OQC), a parallel unofficial count based on official precinct results. He remained a Namfrel volunteer in charge of OQC for at least nine separate electoral exercises.

Second, Gus was at the forefront of the move to automate elections, together with the local IT community, of which he was an acknowledged leader. He studied the systems, their advantages and disadvantages, the safeguards necessary, and the financial resources that were required. So if anyone knows the ins and outs of automation, Gus is it.

He was sincere in trying to help the Comelec from the outside, but had the tiresome habit of blowing the whistle when Comelec contracts were overpriced, or when products and services were being contracted unnecessarily or in an irregular manner. It was he and his group who filed suit in the Supreme Court (in 2001) to nullify a contract crafted by Benjamin Abalos for automated voting machines—a suit he won, to Abalos’ great chagrin. In other words, he seems to be among the first to have recognized Abalos’ penchant for arranging contracts that would later turn out to be disadvantageous to us.

Why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment to the Comelec serve in the interest of justice and fair play? Here’s the answer: His predecessors in the Comelec (his was the most recent appointment) all had their day in court, so to speak, in the sense of having been given the opportunity to appear before the CA and submit to its scrutiny, even if it meant the repeated renewal of their ad interim appointments.

Examples: people like Manolo Gorospe (of “Kissing Lolo” notoriety), whose “ad interim” appointment was renewed at least nine times by President Fidel Ramos before the CA confirmed him. Or Luz Tancangco, who accused Namfrel of rigging the 1987 elections, but whose “research” and “analysis” were torn to bits by her colleagues in the academe (UP), who pointed to her sloppy methodology and conclusions unsupported by the data. In other words, there was no basis for finding that Namfrel cheated. Nevertheless, she too, had her day in court with the CA, which, one is sorry to say, confirmed her appointment (her “padron” was a presidential brother-in-law).

In contrast, Gus Lagman with an impeccable reputation in the IT community and civil society, has not been given the opportunity to face his detractors and defend himself in the CA. Supposedly because Malacañang wants to spare him from the “humiliation” of rejection by the CA (hey, folks, Gus is a big boy, and can take the blows).

And what does Malacañang say is the reason Gus will be rejected? Because, believe it or not, there is a “difference of opinion” between Gus and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) with respect to the 1987 senatorial elections.

Rejected because of a difference of opinion? Incredible.

Finally, why should the renewal of Gus’ appointment be in the interest of truth? Answer: Because the CA hearings will, hopefully, bring it out. Assuming that the “difference of opinion” between him and JPE regarding elections held 25 years ago is indeed the reason for his rejection, we will find out what exactly is this difference of opinion.

Apparently, Gus (and Namfrel) is accused of cheating the opposition senatorial candidates in 1987—by padding the votes of each of the 24 administration candidates by 2 million votes. The basis for this belief? A computer diskette supposedly from Namfrel headquarters, which gives explicit instructions (how convenient!) to that effect.

The charge was made by Homobono Adaza at that time (even while the Quick Count was still going on). My daughter, Toby, was in OQC, and she recalls how strict Gus was with regard to validating precinct tally forms before posting them on the board. In any case, when apprised of the charge, Gus had a simple answer: He invited Adaza to bring his “diskette,” and compared its “count” with the Namfrel one. Gus gave three conditions: that the audit be done by an independent auditor, that the recount be done in front of the media, and that should the Adaza diskette prove to be fake, there be a public apology from the opposition candidates. There was no response to his invitation (the Tancangco charges—discredited—came four years later).

Understand, Reader, that if indeed Gus was involved in those machinations, the implication is that Cory Aquino (who was President then), her Comelec, and Namfrel were all in conspiracy to cheat the public.

Which would mean that Namfrel and its hundreds of thousands of volunteers participated in cheating, that Cory and people power were a sham, that Cory was a cheat, and that Marcos must therefore have won the election in 1986.

A revision of history. With P-Noy’s blessing, albeit unwitting.

This article appeared in Prof. Monsod’s column “Get Real” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on April 20, 2012.

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.


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

MGG supports competitive public bidding for 2013 AES; Calls for disqualification of Smartmatic-TIM


MGG supports competitive public bidding for 2013 AES; Calls for disqualification of Smartmatic-TIM

The Movement for Good Governance (MGG), a coalition of reform advocates, joined the urgent call of various citizen groups for a more secure Automated Election System (AES) for the 2013 polls.

MGG, through its Chair, Solita “Winnie” Monsod, expressed the view that Smartmatic-TIM’s track record made entering into another contract with the technology provider simply unacceptable.

“The major technical and procedural lapses during the 2010 automated elections raise serious questions on the credibility of Smartmatic to secure its system against unauthorized network intrusions and unwitting loss of information,” said Monsod.

“A repeat performance by Smartmatic would once again throw into question the integrity of election results. As responsible citizens of this country we cannot allow the voting results to be compromised.”

MGG’s position is based on discussions with its affiliated organizations that were actively involved in monitoring the 2010 automated elections, namely: the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), TransparentElections.Org.Ph, AES Watch, the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), Tanggulang Demokrasya (TanDem), the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), and Alyansa Agrikultura.

MGG fully supports the recommendation of the Comelec Advisory Committee (CAC) to have a competitive public bidding for the 2013 AES.

The Movement also backs the recommendations of the CAC calling for the adoption of following technical features in the 2013 AES which were not provided by Smartmatic in 2010 AES:

  1. Use of standard and verifiable digital signatures for the machines and personnel and provision for accurate, reliable and universal time stamps;
  2. Appropriately secured machine access facilities and forensics of the hardware;
  3. Availability of on-screen voter verification of his/her vote;
  4. Scanner should store the raw scanned date and provide ballot authentication feature, with printouts showing serial numbers, time stamps and unique machine identifiable features;
  5. Source code and circuit schematics should be open for review, including audit logs.

“We should learn from the lessons of the past lest the vulnerabilities in the AES be used by some unscrupulous operators to manipulate the results of future elections,” said Ma. Corazon Akol of TransparentElections.Org.Ph, who is also the President of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation (PhilNITS).

“We sincerely hope the Brillantes Commision does not repeat the errors of the Melo Commision,” added Ernest Ordoñez, Chair of Alyansa Agrikultura.

MGG and its affiliates believe that the Comelec should continue to explore a total solution meeting the basic technical requirements of accuracy, reliability, auditability and transparency decreed by the poll automation law.

Available for download:

In the news:

Comelec’s response:

MGG Expresses “Strong Objection” to COMELEC Purchase of PCOS Machines


MGG Expresses “Strong Objection” to COMELEC Purchase of PCOS Machines,
Cites “Many Deficiencies of Smartmatic”

The Movement for Good Governance (MGG), a coalition of reform advocates, joins the watchdog groups Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) and TransparentElections.Org.Ph in expressing its “strong objection” to a planned move by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to purchase the same Smartmatic PCOS machines that were used in the 2010 elections.

MGG, through its Chair, noted economist, professor, and media personality, Solita “Winnie” Monsod, expressed the view that such a move would again throw into question the integrity of election results.

As Monsod pointed out, “there are numerous legal and technical grounds for our objection, and as responsible citizens of this country we cannot allow the voting results to be compromised.”

MGG appeals to the COMELEC not to enter into another contract with Smartmatic, citing position papers by LENTE and TransparentElections.Org.Ph. Both LENTE and TransparentElections.Org.Ph were actively involved in monitoring the 2010 automated elections and draw from the expertise of their members in the law and information technology fields. Neither group is politically aligned.

MGG shares LENTE’s position that the COMELEC can no longer exercise its option to purchase the Smartmatic PCOS machines.

According to LENTE, there are legal impediments such as the fact that the option no longer exists. Under the contract, the option expired on December 31, 2010. Any extension of the period to exercise the option beyond December 31, 2010 amounts to a new contract that requires new bidding under the Government Procurement Reform Act or R.A. 9184

MGG also supports TransparentElections.Org.Ph’s position that Smartmatic failed to meet the obligations initially agreed upon in the Terms of Reference (TOR) given by the COMELEC when it bid out the Automated Election System (AES) for the 2010 National Elections and should therefore no longer be considered as a contractor.

TransparentElections.Org.Ph listed ten deficiencies of the Automated Election System (AES) of Smartmatic that were observed during the conduct of the 2010 elections, among which are the following: the failure to detect fake ballots, the removal of the Voter Vote Verification from the PCOS machine, the disabling of the Digital Signature, and the failure to certify “99.995% accuracy” of the PCOS machines. For the latter, this was “not done for each and all units before use in the elections,” according to Ma. Corazon Akol of TransparentElections.Org.Ph, who is also the President of the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation (PhilNITS).

“Any one of these deficiencies could have compromised the integrity of the system. Given that many of these deficiencies were PCOS-related, we see absolutely no reason why we should support the use of these same PCOS machines in the 2013 elections,” Monsod pointed out. “These are serious threats to the validity of any vote cast on these machines.”

“Prudence dictates that Smartmatic ought to be blacklisted. We should learn from the lessons of the past lest the vulnerabilities in the AES be used by some unscrupulous operators to manipulate the results of future elections,” said Akol.

Monsod reiterated, “We urge the COMELEC to heed our call for Smartmatic to be banned and blacklisted from automating the 2013 elections.”

The position papers of LENTE and TransparentElections.Org.Ph will be made available on the MGG website. For more information, or to tie up with the MGG for election-related activities leading up to the 2013 polls, contact Aissa Ereñeta of the MGG Secretariat at 898-2617.

Available for download:

Why doesn’t the COMELEC trust Filipino IT professionals? by Gus Lagman

The last time I checked, all members of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) are bona fide Filipinos, as they should be, according to the Philippine Constitution. Yet, from the way they made decisions in the past two years, one would think they were not. Their major decisions have mostly favored foreign companies, which led us to think that they don’t trust Filipino IT professionals. Let’s review some of those decisions:

First, the COMELEC chose a solution that was completely foreign – foreign hardware, foreign software, foreign integrator/implementor. On November 12, 2008, we presented to the commissioners a local solution which, at its most elaborate version, would have cost the taxpayers only a third of the P11.3 billion that the COMELEC spent on the automation of the May 10, 2010 elections. We presented this PC-based solution to the commissioners, not as vendors, but as a group of Filipino IT professionals who believe that should the COMELEC espouse this solution, it can then simply source the PCs locally and outsource the implementation to local systems integrators. (A significant benefit is that all the purchased PCs can be donated to public schools after every election, while at the same time avoiding the costly warehousing of the equipment in between elections.)

After our presentation, Chairman Melo remarked, “This is a good solution; if we don’t get the budget we’re asking for, we can use this.” Our jaws dropped upon hearing that remark. At that time, the COMELEC was still asking for a budget of more than P20 billion. The solution we presented would only cost P3-4 billion. We all thought that if they believed our solution was good, then why even bother asking for such a huge budget.

Second, TIM, at one point, wanted to back out of the joint venture for the reason that while they would own 60% of the joint venture company, control would mostly be in the hands of Smartmatic, the foreign company. Instead of rectifying this anomaly, the COMELEC prevailed upon TIM, the Filipino company, to accept this arrangement, or be brought to court.

Third, Section 12 of Republic Act 9369 says, “Once an AES technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof.” On the other hand, Section 9 says, “The Committee shall certify, through an established international certification entity … not later than three months before the date of the electoral exercises, categorically stating that the AES, including its hardware and software components, is operating properly, securely, and accurately, …” (Emphases supplied)

What these two paragraphs in the law mean is that the source code of the Automated Election System (AES) technology should have been made available for review by Filipino IT professionals (who were going to review the code free of charge), through their political parties, as early as July, 2009 and to an established international certification entity not later than October 9, 2010 (allowing for a four-month review), thus favoring the locals, timing-wise.

But what did the COMELEC do? It awarded a P70 million contract to Systest Labs, an American company, in October, 2009, and sent word to the locals that they will have to wait until Systest finishes its review and submits its report, before the COMELEC would make the source code available to the locals. To add insult to injury, while COMELEC made all the necessary documents available to Systest for their intensive review in their US offices, it would only make the documents available to the locals under a controlled environment. Rightfully, the locals eventually boycotted that review.

Fourth, the COMELEC recently asked the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), yet another foreign organization, to audit the manner by which automation was implemented in the last elections, while denying the Center for People Empowerment on Governance (CenPEG), a U.P.-based organization, documents that it needs to do a comprehensive evaluation of the the same elections. Saying that the COMELEC probably wants an unbiased opinion as the reason for its asking a foreign organization to do the audit, does not hold water; in fact, it is a naive, yet insulting statement. What made it conclude that IFES is unbiased and CenPEG is not?

So, what’s with the COMELEC and why doesn’t it trust Filipino IT professionals? Doesn’t it know that this attitude sends the wrong message abroad? For the last thirty years, Filipino software companies have been spending much of their capital in marketing their services to companies in the western world. To assist these companies, the software industry has been asking the government to contract out its large IT projects to local systems integrators in order that the latter could use the experience in marketing abroad. And the government has responded positively to this plea. Government agencies such as the LRA, SSS, DFA, BIR, and many others, have contracted out most of their major development work to local systems integrators.

Except the incumbent COMELEC.

This COMELEC effectively awarded the election automation contract to a foreign company which has no experience in an election exercise of this magnitude, that uses paper-based ballots. This inexperience, many IT practitioners believe, could have been one of the reasons for the major problems the project encountered during the election process. But thanks to our COMELEC, this foreign company was given its first experience in this kind of system – experience that it can now use to market the same services in other countries, like Indonesia. (Perhaps, as a friendly neighbor and co-member in the ASEAN, we should warn Indonesia about the many problems that were encountered in our May elections.)

And by the way, yet another reason why the COMELEC should not even entertain thoughts of purchasing the PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines that were used during the May, 2010 elections is that the Philippines would forever be hostage to the foreign company which owns the Intellectual Property Rights to the software that runs each and every unit.

This article appears in the Opinion pages of the September 21, 2010 issue of BusinessWorld.