PHILIPPINES: ELECTION WATCHDOG SLAMS GOVERNTMENT’S INDIFFERENCE ON NEED TO REVIEW AUTOMATED ELECTIONS

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Date: 21 November Type: News Source: Bulatlat Keywords: automation, elections, fraud, transparency, accountabilty

MANILA – Disasters and other present-day controversies might have eclipsed the electoral controversies that erupted six months ago (in May 2013 elections), but as UP President and first spokesman of AES Watch Alfredo E. Pascual said, “it is important to revisit the question of integrity of the May 2013 elections.” The next election, an even bigger one, is already fast approaching.

AES Watch or Automated Elections Watch is an election watchdog whose first assessment of the election’s conduct, issued five days after the elections, had summed it up as “a technological and political disaster.” Six months later, the group reported it found only further confirmation of tell-tale signs of a failed second automated election in the country.

The Philippines have so far conducted two automated elections — the first one in 2010, where Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was proclaimed the president, and the second one was in May 13 this year, when senators were proclaimed ahead of officially canvassed ballots. In both elections, AES Watch and other electoral watchdogs such as Kontra-Daya have complained of massive problems and questionable conduct in the handling of automated elections. Taken together, all these render the election results questionable, but despite suggestions and recommendations to improve the transparency and accuracy of automated polls, electoral watchdogs such as AES Watch complained of the “wall of indifference” of concerned government agencies.

Foretelling more wholesale, systemic electoral fraud

This early, observers have noted many indications pointing to politicians’ preparations for the 2016 elections, where the next president of the country would also be decided. Without poll reforms though, “deliberate mistakes and violations by poll managers and the technology supplier” may again result in an election with doubtful credibility, warned the AES Watch during its second 2013 election assessment and conference. Held last week in UP Diliman, it coincided with the second to the last day in which the Joint Congressional Advisory Committee (JCOC) could start to act. The JCOC is the oversight committee mandated to assess the poll automation, legislate to repair the system, and heed the clamor for the electoral reform.

Panelists of AES Watch observed that the JCOC had been very hesitant and seemingly uninterested even in convening itself. In fact, AES Watch noted that JCOC just allowed the six-month period after the mid-term elections to pass without conducting an assessment or proposing repairs in poll automation. “It did not take action,” a representative of AES Watch told Bulatlat.com.

Although AES Watch has issued it assessment of the May 13, 2013 automated elections “as a political and technological” blunder last May 18, it has followed up with further investigations, which revealed the following:

• There is an unexplained “huge discrepancy of 59 million votes between the Comelec list of winning senatorial candidates (issued June 5, 2013) and the Comelec public access website” (which, before it was taken down, showed last data update on May 17, 2013).

Pablo Manalastas, IT Fellow of Center for People Empowerment in Governance, called these mysterious millions of votes “the missing numbers,” or “what the Comelec is hiding from us.” Comparing the votes reported in the Comelec list and in its own public access website, Manalastas noted that about one in every four voters who voted had not been counted. This translated, he said, to 9.9 million disenfranchised voters. He found also some “weird” cases like precincts having only 10 voters or less, when the Comelec itself said there were at least 1,000 voters per precinct.

• “There are attempts to cover up the election blunders and anomalies through post-election excess ballot printing and the killing of two reporters who exposed the news.”

Lawyer Melchor Magdamo, former Comelec legal counsel turned whistleblower, said that more than the required number of “emergency ballots,” or ballots prepared in excess of expected 52-plus million voters, millions more appeared to have been printed and, according to pictures inside the printing press allegedly contracted by the government to print the official ballots, the printed surplus ballots were labeled as earmarked for areas that corresponded to problematic precincts. Included in these precincts, he said, were those who had “transmission problems.”

• “There exists the suspicious 60-30-10 final share of canvassed votes among President Aquino’s team, rival UNA and all other candidates.” Some have dismissed this trend citing the theory of large numbers, or saying that once numbers or totals get that big, trends or averages ultimately develop. But even when these numbers (or votes) were broken down into its smaller units, the trend still appeared, defying expectations of differences such as change in ranking of certain candidates in their home ground. At all levels of the canvassed votes from the clustered precincts to municipalities/cities, provinces, regions and the national canvas, the 60-30-10 trend showed, according to AES Watch.

Based on the presentation of Dr Felix P. Muga II, Ateneo Math teacher, regarding the 60-30-10 trend in votes, using these results can’t establish that fraud were indeed committed, but it showed something questionable regarding the election data.

As AES Watch said in its statement, the 60-30-10 results remain questionable and disturbing more so since there has been no conclusive review of the missing voting source code, no credible random manual audit of the election, and because of the disabling by Comelec and Smartmatic of various safeguards and accuracy requirements mandated by law;

• Last May’s automated polls did not make use of digital signatures in electronically transmitting election returns and certificates of canvas. As such, based on the country’s election law, AES Watch said” there is no legal basis for proclaiming ‘winning’ candidates.”

Digital signature is already “an available technology” in the country, aside from it being stipulated as required by law in automated polls, said Nelson Celis, an engineer and co-convener of AES Watch. The government through the Department of Science and Technology has launched the Digital Certification Center in 2011 with the Korean International Cooperation Agency’s $2.3-million donation, Celis said. Given all that, he asked why is it that during the 2010 and 2013 elections, the government did not use digital signatures? Use of digital signatures is perceived as crucial for security or for checking tampering by others not privy to the digital signature.

• Contrary to the mandate of the Omnibus Election Code (Dec. 206, Article XVIII) and of RA 9369, there had been no public or transparent and uninterrupted counting of votes, said AES Watch. It added that the midterm election canvassing was marked by long interruptions and tampering of the program through “encrypting.”

Shadow of illegitimacy to persist in would-be ‘winners’ of 2016 elections? Unless all the problems of accuracy, transparency and credibility of the voting and counting system are addressed, AES Watch warned that the results of the next automated polls “will remain to be contested and the proclaimed winners will continue to hold office under a shadow of illegitimacy.”

In May 2013, both AES Watch and Kontra Daya and other citizens’ election watchdogs demanded a parallel manual count of votes. After May 13, AES Watch also demanded the opening of all ballot boxes for a recount. But all these were ignored by the Comelec, whose chairman Sixto Brillantes even praised the conduct of the election by zeroing in on the speed of counting and proclamation of ‘winning candidates.’

AES Watch and Kontra Daya have both demanded that the Smartmatic PCOS be junked now. Angelito S. Averia, IT security expert with the Transparent Election.org, proposed manual voting and manual counting – citing how the people can better guard, understand and audit its processes – and focus the automation only on transmission and canvassing, but with digital signatures and other security features. Both the audience and members of AES Watch agreed in last week’s conference that as shown in recent barangay elections, manual voting and manual counting can be speedily done, with all processes watched by all concerned parties and disputes settled immediately as it arose.

If Filipino IT professionals can provide IT services to the likes of Boeing and Visa, it can provide IT services for Philippines elections, members of the AES Watch said. In fact, in 2008, when the Comelec paid P58 million ($1.348 million) to Smartmatic for a canvassing and consolidating software (CCS), then Comelec’s IT department under Augusto “Gus” Lagman had reportedly developed with the DOST and STI software developers another CCS at just P600,000 ($13,950) cost to the government.

“The Filipino IT community and other citizen’s election stakeholders should be involved in designing a new election system compliant with IT standards and best practices, with the right of suffrage, and with the demands of transparency, reliability and auditability,” AES Watch said in a statement. They added that the right to vote should never be compromised in favour of a privatized, unreliable and unsecured modern technology.

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