Thursday, February 24, 2011 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES
Strategic Perspective -- by René B. Azurin

Comelec-Smartmatic conspiracy?

Here's a warning to all present and would-be seekers of political office: if our Commission on Elections gets to implement its plan to again use Smartmatic's automated election system in the upcoming ARMM elections, then an automated system of election rigging under the control of an elite cabal linked to foreign interests will have been effectively institutionalized in the country. If one is not part of that cabal or is ever excluded from it, then one might as well kiss his political dreams goodbye.

A conspiracy seems to be in play to make the results of all our future elections -- from vice president down to kagawad -- capable of being effortlessly arranged by a select few and sold to the highest (or preferred) bidders. Of course, this easy rigging will certainly be true also for presidential contests although, in that specific case, the outcomes thereof will continue to be dictated by decision makers across the Pacific.

Notwithstanding the already discovered flaws in the Smartmatic system and all the failures and anomalies observed and reported by citizens' monitoring groups (including nationwide organizations of information technology experts) in the use of the Smartmatic machines and system software for the May 2010 elections, it appears, from all indications, that the Comelec under new chairman Sixto Brillantes is still hell-bent on perpetuating the Smartmatic system. The next step in this process is making sure that Smartmatic's voting machines and its automated election system software are again used for the August elections in the ARMM. Comelec's justification -- parroted by Mr. Brillantes shortly after his appointment -- is that "there is no more time to go through the regular bidding process" and, in any case, using the Smartmatic machines will "entail huge savings... (because) no other bidder can match Smartmatic's offer of 33 percent of the purchase price."

Mr. Brillantes cites a resolution of the Comelec Advisory Committee recommending the use of the Smartmatic machines and system software. Significantly, the representatives of the Philippine Computer Society, the Philippine Electronics and Telecommunications Federation, and the Chief Information Officers Forum say that they were completely unaware of such a CAC meeting wherein said resolution was passed. If such a meeting was held, then it must have been one that specifically excluded persons with the technical expertise required to properly assess the performance of Smartmatic's AES system.

In fact, the Philippine Computer Society has been forced to issue a formal board resolution reiterating its strong objection to the use of the Smartmatic system for the ARMM elections. In its resolution, the PCS said that the Smartmatic system "failed to comply with RAs 8436, 8792, and 9369 together with its obligations as contracted based on the Terms of Reference of the 2009 Request for Proposal." PCS insisted that this would be their position even if "the recommendations to improve on the technical issues reported by its Technical Evaluation Committee, SysTest Labs, and the 2010 National and Local Election Project Management Office Technical Working Group" were to be considered.

In effect, Comelec has chosen to ignore the various reports prepared by the UP-based policy research group Center for People Empowerment in Governance and the multisectoral citizens' group Automated Election System Watch that detailed numerous facts and events that demonstrated the failure of the Smartmatic election system "to operate properly, securely, and accurately" in the May 2010 elections. According to CenPEG, these faults and failures "occurred nationwide" and thus "tainted the integrity, credibility, and accuracy of the PCOS machines and the election system."

Ateneo computer science professor Dr. Pablo Manalastas lists the "many errors that have to be fixed, in order to make the (Smartmatic system) compliant with the provisions of RA 9369 and Comelec's Terms of Reference." These include extensive rewrites of software code to "incorporate proper digital signing hardware... support Voter Verified Video Audit Trail on the LCD screen... (and) fix the hundreds of bugs in database access, memory allocation and deallocation, proper use of data types, etc. (as reported in the SysTest Labs certification report)." That's a lot of fixing. Dr. Manalastas says that the review and subsequent reprogramming might take one-and-a-half to two years. He adds that "Smartmatic should really stop pretending that it is an expert in election systems integration (for national elections) because the May 2010 experience proves that it is not."

Why then does Comelec keep pushing Smartmatic? This is obviously the logical continuation of the plan that began when Comelec first tailored the original bidding specifications to favor Smartmatic. As IT guru Manuel Alcuaz Jr. has taken pains to point out, Comelec introduced some pretty unusual specifications to make sure that Smartmatic would win the automation bid. For example, says Mr. Alcuaz, Comelec required that the voting machines to be offered should have been "used in an election with at least 40 million voters" because it knew "there are no elections with 40 million voters in India, Europe, the US, and Japan" and that Smartmatic-TIM could qualify because they had done an election in Brazil with 40 million voters. For another, Comelec specified that the machine offered should have been in use for four years which "eliminated many vendors that could offer newer, better, and cheaper machines." Then, Comelec specified that the machine must be EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified which caused Mr. Alcuaz to wonder, "why would this be necessary for a machine that is to be used for 12 hours every three years?" Finally, Comelec specified a 99.9995% accuracy which, Mr. Alcuaz points out, "eliminated most honest vendors, since that is impossible to achieve in a fair test." That Smartmatic itself could not pass that standard was amply demonstrated in later tests that showed that their machines could, at best, make 99.6% accuracy.

We mustn't forget that former Comelec IT director Ernie Del Rosario, an ICT professional with extensive experience in large-scale system integration, resigned when the Comelec first decided to award the automation contract to what he considered an "unqualified" Smartmatic. Mr. Del Rosario also resigned as chairman of the Comelec's Technical Working Group because he said he "couldn't stomach the way the commission was handling the automation project."

Strangely, the country's political leaders -- in both the executive and legislative branches of government -- apparently are content to let Comelec and Smartmatic play out this conspiracy to institutionalize the automated swindling of the Filipino voter. Who's really behind the conspiracy? I would think politicians and would-be politicians would be the first to want to know. If they don't seem to care now, perhaps this is because they don't fully understand the consequences for their political careers. Well, folks, don't say later that you haven't been warned.

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