JUNK Smartmatic!
AES Watch renews call for public counting with electronic transmission

June 04, 2019

JCOCJoint Congressional Oversight Committee hearing, June 4, 2019. CenPEG photo

The fraud-prone Vote Counting Machines (VCMs), previously branded Precinct Count Optical Scan or PCOS and supplied by the foreign technology company Smartmatic should never be used again in any elections in the Philippines or elsewhere. The AES Law (RA 9369) should be amended to fully comply with the constitutional mandate on public transparency in counting the votes right and primarily tap Filipino ingenuity for a fraud-free election system.

Dr. Nelson J. Celis, spokesperson for the broad election watch group, Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch), reiterated this urgent call today to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the automated election system (AES) and Comelec. The call was made amid a renewed clamor by watchdogs, legislators, and by President Rodrigo Duterte himself to junk the outsourced counting machines and stop “babying” the foreign election technology provider Smartmatic which since 2010, Celis said, has continued to violate technical provisions of the AES Law.

AES Watch is a broad coalition of 40 election watchdogs, IT experts and organizations, inter-faith groups, business associations, academe, and personalities. Convened in January 2010, AES Watch has collectively called for junking Smartmatic for its non-compliance with major security safeguards and other provisions thus casting public doubts on the transparency, trustworthiness, and accuracy of the election system.

Former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman, a co-convener of AES Watch and national president of Namfrel which early May thumbed down Comelec accreditation as a citizen arm for the mid-term 2019 polls, echoed the call. Lagman said the lack of access to election data from the Comelec will only defeat the purpose of independent audit thus making the 2019 elections again prone to terrible mishaps. At the end of counting in the 2019 polls - the fourth automated elections in the Philippines - there were reportedly 961 malfunctioning VCMs, 1,665 defective SD cards, and 1.02 million bleeding markers which Lagman said could have been detected accurately if independent access to data was allowed.

Executive Director Evita L. Jimenez of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a lead convener of AES Watch which published a 650-page study of the Smartmatic technology in 2010, said “the same massive problems of discrepancy, technical glitches and non-compliance of transparency which marred the past four automated elections - 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019— vindicated our decade-long studies on the Smartmatic-provided automated election system.”  “The PCOS now the VCM can never count our votes right because the whole system itself is inherently devoid of transparency and its programmed technology flawed,” Jimenez said 

A year before the 2010 national elections, Jimenez recalled, CenPEG with its stable of IT experts from various watchdogs, the religious community, business and academe, had asked the Comelec to release the source code for independent review.  The review of the source code by independent parties and interested groups, IT groups declared, would reveal whether Comelec and its outsource partner, Smartmatic, were compliant with the election law by ensuring the integrity, accuracy, and security of the automated polls. The source code was ordered released for expert review one year after CenPEG petitioned the Supreme Court. Compelled to comply with the SC decision, Comelec however imposed strong reservations and stringent conditions and allowed only a nominal, walk-through review.

Despite mounting complaints over the technical glitches including long periods of transmission of results in the three elections prior to the May 2019 polls, Comelec still decided to buy 97,000 of the PCOS machines for the 2019 elections. In the 2013 mid-term election, for example, about 760 million votes were “cast” by some 50 million voters with the alarming surge of 12M votes from just 1,000 precincts at the start of transmission. The incident continues to hound the credibility of the elections. “Shouldn’t the Comelec be made accountable for this grave oversight that cost the Filipino people billions of pesos and placed the credibility of every election in the country at stake?“ Jimenez asked.

Celis said that from the beginning Smartmatic with Comelec’s blessings, had been allowed five times to go scot free with the many non-compliances of the security requirements of the AES Law: first in the 2008 ARMM elections followed by the national and local elections in 2010 up to 2019; notwithstanding the non-promulgation of AES law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations since 1997, 22 years ago.  Among these non-compliances and the unresolved issues are full independent source code review, digital signatures, certifications of the AES components by the Technical Evaluation Committee, changing of characters in the transparency server in the 2016 elections, the still unresolved “60-30-10” phenomenon in the 2013 elections, the retrieval of the 76,000 compact flash cards due to inaccurate counting of all PCOS machines in 2010,  lack of continuity plan which blinded the public in 2019 elections with running election results from 6 p.m. (May 13) to 1 a.m. (May 14).

Celis, recognized for his contribution in electronics engineering, cited the recent AES Watch Score card evaluation of the AES by its experts showing how the Comelec easily disregards the Comelec Advisory Council’s (CAC) previous recommendations after every election’s disastrous performance. Among the CAC recommendations that were ignored were 1) Not to use Smartmatic’s AES from 2013 onwards (2010 recommendation); and 2) use of mixed technologies in the 2019 elections as Smartmatic was always a favored supplier (2017 recommendation).

Celis further said, the procurement system within the Comelec should be looked into, noting that until now, the same team led by the executive director “who should be in retirement already continue to determine the course of procurement” since Smartmatic was selected as technology provider in 2010.

“It’s about time the government give due recognition to effective and fraud free election system giving emphasis on Philippine sourced transparency and accountability as guiding principles (i.e. public precinct counting with people participation, electronic transmission and automated consolidation and canvassing) starting in the 2022 presidential elections.” It should start immediately with full transparency, not done secretly, Celis added.

Latest posts
Back to top Back to top >>
Telefax +6329299526 email: cenpeg@cenpeg.org; cenpeg.info@gmail.com Copyright ©2005
Center for People Empowewrment in Governance (CenPEG), Philippines. All rights reserved