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

Waiting in vain?

Schools (like most earthly institutions) have this disturbing predilection for honoring alumni just because they have acquired positions of power and not because of what they actually do in those positions of power. This was in evidence last week when recently appointed Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes was immediately honored by his Alma Mater San Beda College even before he had done anything to reform the institution responsible for the infamous dagdag-bawas and the Smartmatic automation anomaly.

In fact, reforming the Commission on Elections does not seem to be on Mr. Brillantes's agenda. All he has done so far is signal that he intends to go along happily with the insidious move to perpetuate a shadowy cabal that will continue to wield almost total control of the automated dagdag-bawas system made possible by the foreign company Smartmatic's unsecure and untransparent software.

In an interesting letter handed to Mr. Brillantes at the testimonial dinner in his honor by a high school classmate who happens to be a luminary of the information technology community in the country and an active watcher of Philippine elections since the snap elections of 1986, Manuel Alcuaz Jr. wrote, "[I] Hope your term as Comelec Chairman is marked by wisdom, common sense, and honesty. Unfortunately, what we have been hearing smacks of a Comelec that continues to be dictated by Smartmatic." Mr. Alcuaz premises that by saying, "In the 2010 automated elections I have written many articles exposing the anomalous contract award to Smartmatic as well as the anomalous contract terms. Also wrote about needed safeguards."

Leading lights of the IT industry in the Philippines are actually frustrated -- and confused -- by the seeming deafness exhibited by Comelec officials to its warnings, observations, and detailed reports about the flawed Smartmatic system. Last Thursday, some of them decided to ventilate these publicly in front of the Comelec offices in the hope that Mr. Brillantes, being new and possibly the possessor of a more acute sense of hearing than former Comelec Chairman Jose Melo, would listen and pay attention. Disappointingly, Mr. Brillantes, who reportedly was in his office at the time, did not bother to acknowledge their presence or dispatch an offer to act on their concerns.

The Automated Election System Watch is a coalition of various concerned citizens' groups who closely monitored both the preparation and the conduct of the 2010 elections. To convey a sense of the credentials of this coalition, its composition includes groups like Transparency International-Philippines, the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, the National Secretariat for Social Action-Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Computer Professionals Union, CAUCUS-Philippine Computer Society, the Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team, the Computing Society of the Philippines, the Philippine Computer Society Foundation, the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the Concerned Citizens' Movement, the Association of Schools of Public Administration of the Philippines, the Health Alliance for Democracy, the Coordinating Council for People's Development and Governance, the Movement for Good Governance, Transparent,, and the Center for People Empowerment in Governance. Also active members of the coalition are the heads of the computer science and information technology departments of the University of the Philippines, the De La Salle University, and the Ateneo de Manila University, respectively, Dr. Jaime Caro, Dr. Rachel Roxas-Uy, and Dr. Reena Estuar.


In its official statement, AES Watch said, "post-election studies and investigations including those of the 14th Congress found the Smartmatic's PCOS technology as being, among others, fraught with technical breakdowns, transmission failures, a big number of disenfranchised voters -- from 4-7 million.... the Smartmatic's election system is inherently flawed and, if used again, will further compromise the overarching needs for accuracy, reliability, and trustworthiness in elections."

AES Watch pointedly complained, "Smartmatic, the Venezuelan marketing company contracted to provide the election computer program and machines at P7.2 billion for the May 2010 elections, and the Comelec, composed mainly of lawyers with a serious lack of IT competence, continue to ignore these independent studies and assessments. Instead, under the new Chairman, Atty. Sixto Brillantes, the Comelec decided en banc last February 1 to purchase and use the same fatally-flawed PCOS machines and technology in the coming ARMM elections scheduled in August 2011."

In what may be the desperate remnants of an appeal to Mr. Brillantes, AES Watch continued, "The Comelec continues to turn a blind eye to the fact that Smartmatic can never comply with Philippine laws because it is another foreign company -- Canadian and US-based-Dominion Voting Systems -- that owns and can solely decide to release or not, for independent review of political parties and interested groups, the election computer program including the source code. In an official letter Dominion Voting Systems, according to the IT consultant of Chairman Melo and now Chairman Brillantes, does not, and will not, authorize Smartmatic, the contracted party of Comelec, to release the source code to other interested parties including political parties. Such is contrary to RA 9369 and a defiance to the May 6 and September 21, 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court... compelling the Comelec to release the source code and other vital election documents that would help further validate earlier findings that the Smartmatic PCOS is fatally flawed and should never be used in any Philippine election again." AES Watch notes that "Dominion Voting Systems is the same Canada-based company that provided the election technology in the November 2009 special election for New York's 23rd congressional district which saw many software problems in the machines."

AES Watch asserted, "We can readily show that the Smartmatic PCOS computer program contains more bugs and errors once the Comelec releases the source code unconditionally now -- along with 20 other vital documents as directed by the Higher Court on Sept. 21, 2010." By the way, Comelec still refuses to comply with this Supreme Court decision and, inexplicably, the Supreme Court is doing nothing about this blatant snubbing of its authority. What gives?

AES Watch's statement ended with the hope "that Congress could come up with informed recommendations, placing utmost importance to accuracy, transparency, auditability, legality, and trustworthiness above all other considerations, including ensuring the 'bread and butter' of the Smartmatic marketing company and its IT, legal and varied consultants who had readily compromised the integrity of automating elections [emphasis mine]."

Will Mr. Brillantes actually try to deserve the honors prematurely conferred on him by his Alma Mater? Ah, we wait. And pray that waiting for reform to happen at the Comelec will not be like waiting for the wispy Godot: hopefully, but ultimately in vain.

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