The search is on for a new chair for the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Let us hope enough passion is invested in this search. The next chair will have to be compelling enough to revive trust in our electoral system.
The present composition of the Comelec has, to be blunt, been less than inspiring. The poll body seems to lack passion and energy, a crusading spirit and relentlessness in addressing the issues that continue to plague our electoral process. It does not seem to have the conviction to see right triumph over wrong, for all grievances to be satisfied and all doubts relieved.
We know, despite the sheen of new technologies applied recently, the management of our electoral process suffers many flaws. Corruption is deep-seated. Syndicates proliferate. What else could be the reason so many Comelec officials were murdered, apparently by paid assassins?
To its credit, the present composition of the Comelec did accomplish the automation of our elections, working hard against the clock. But that very process of automation raised a new set of issues that the Comelec seems reluctant to address.
Immediately after the close of last May’s polls, scores of losing candidates went public, claiming there was fraud in the automated system. Some candidates reported being approached by syndicates offering to rig the results for a hefty fee. In a good number of the reported cases, the electoral upsets were indeed quite spectacular.
The first post-proclamation protest was filed by Manila mayoral candidate Lito Atienza. The protest was filed on the basis of documentary evidence showing strange dates imprinted on the returns and strange markings on many ballots. The documents supporting the claim of electronic fraud were disclosed in the Congressional hearings weeks after the close of polls.
This first protest is a litmus test for the integrity or vulnerability of the electronic system adopted in the last election. Scores of other protests charging that the system is vulnerable have since been filed.
To be sure, the Comelec has an interest in convincing the public that the electronic system used to automate the last polls is sufficiently secure and absolutely reliable. But that interest is better served by urgently addressing all the complaints filed rather than by resorting to deadly delay in processing the cases filed.
The case filed by Atienza is strengthened by the findings of the random manual audit conducted by the PPCRV. While that manual audit found the results of the national elections to be generally fair, it also took note of the “double-digit discrepancies” in the results for the City of Manila, specifically for the post of mayor.
Attending to Atienza’s protest has been made even more urgent by an apparent attempt to destroy the ballots used in the last elections in the city. The ballots were soaked in storage, accelerating the process of decomposition. If they are not recounted soon, the vital pieces of evidence will be lost.
It is difficult to believe the soaking of the securely stored ballots happened accidentally. If anyone is out to destroy these ballots, a second attempt could happen.
Yet, 8 months after the Atienza protest was filed, the manual recount the protestant seeks has not yet happened. It seems there is reluctance on the part of the Comelec to do this recount. A reversal of the outcome will obviously discredit the much-vaunted secure technology used in the last polls — and possibly reused in the next.
It could also be that there are powerful — and moneyed — forces slowing down the process and averting what could be damning outcomes.
Strange things are happening in this case.
To begin with, the protestant was required to put in a P10 million deposit on short notice to cover the costs of the protest. Although appalled by the deposit requirement, Atienza nevertheless scraped together the cash of deposited it with the Comelec. This protest was, for him, something more than just finding out who really won in the contest for Mayor of Manila. It was about probing the integrity of the system used for automating our polls.
Several motions before the Comelec en banc by the protestant over the past few months have gone unheeded. The most pressing of these motions is to commence with the recount of the soaked ballots in storage before they degrade into uselessness. Comelec Resolution 9104, issued shortly after the protest was filed could not be deemed in effect because the poll body has not caused its publication as required by law.
When some sign of life was finally exhibited by the Comelec regarding this case, it came in the form of an order “implementing” the unpublished Resolution 9104. This order, issued December 1, 2010, covers the “configuration of new CF cards or recount CF cards” as well as the creation of “ballot image CF cards” for purposes of the protest. The costs for doing so will be borne by the protestant.
The recently issued order runs against the grain of Resolution 9104, which clears the way for a manual recount of the ballots in all the 1,441 contested precincts.
Atienza is, to put it lightly, baffled by this latest order. It is precisely the PCOS count that he is questioning. Now the Comelec wants a PCOS count.
The protestant is not questioning the validity of the ballots. He is questioning the integrity of the electronic count. He is, in fact, asking the Comelec to proceed with haste on the manual recount because the ballots are quickly deteriorating. In our jurisprudence, the ballot is the final reference for the voters’ actual voice.
The Comelec, it seems, does not get it. Worse, someone might be trying very hard not to get it.
‘Atienza’s basis for his protest against Lim is the reported results of the Random Manual Audit (RMA), conducted by the Commission on Elections through RMA chair Henrietta de Villa.’
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 8804 dated March 22, 2010 (In re: Comelec rules of procedure on disputes in an automated election system in connection with the may 10, 2010 elections) reads as follows:
“Section 3. Compensation of the members of the Recount Committee. – The Commission shall fix the compensation of the members of the Committee including the fees for supplies and materials at One Thousand Five Hundred Pesos (1,500) per clustered precinct. . .”
What Lito Atienza cannot understand is why, despite the very clear wording of the pertinent Comelec resolution, he was told to pay P9,979,500.00 for the 6,6653 established precincts even when there are only 1,441 clustered precincts and thus, according to the rules as stated by the pertinent Comelec resolution, he should be paying only P2,161,500.00 (1,441 clustered precincts x P1,500).
At any rate, because he wants to know the real results of the election for mayor in Manila, he was wiling to put up (under protest) the almost P10 million that the Comelec required before they would start the manual recount of the votes from 1,441 clustered precincts.
(Under election regulations, a candidate for mayor in Manila is allowed to spend only P3 per voter. It seems very strange then that what the Comelec asks the candidate to spend for a recount is much more than what he was allowed to spend for his candidacy. What Atienza was told to pay amounts to P14.42 per voter for the 692,183 who voted for mayor in the 2010 election.)
What does this buy? Ten chairmen for the ten committees that will do the actual counting, several recorders, typists and ballot box custodians in each committee. These are Comelc personnel who will be making much, much more than what they usually make. Chairmen will take home P345,956 monthly; the rest (recorders, typists and custodians) P159,672 monthly for the duration of the manual count!
Former Manila City Mayor Lito Atienza’s basis for his protest against Mayor Alfredo Lim is the reported results of the Random Manual Audit (RMA), conducted by the Commission on Elections through RMA chair Henrietta de Villa.
According to Atienza, the reports showed that the RMA noted “large variances for the Manila mayoral race that were allegedly due to voting-machine error” and specifically pointed to Manila mayoral race that “showed problems in the counting.”
The RMA validation team “could not identify the reason for the large variances, even after the retrieval and opening of the ballot boxes,” according to Atienza.
Atienza earlier also asked the Comelec to expedite the release of the order for the immediate retrieval of the ballot boxes containing the ballots of his protested precincts in order to start the revision and recount of the ballots.
Atienza complained: “The preliminary conference was conducted by the Comelec’s First Division on June 28 where the parties submitted their respective positions on how to expedite the resolution of this protest. And during the said conference, the Comelec assured us that the appropriate order to collect the ballot boxes and create revision committees will be issued accordingly. However, after more than one month of waiting, the Comelec has not yet issued the said order to my damage and prejudice since it is now causing undue delay in the resolution of my protest.
“My lawyers and supporters have also complained about the presence of armed men who terrorized and threatened our watchers guarding the ballot boxes, which are presently deposited at the Museong Pambata. I am afraid that the integrity of these ballot boxes might be endangered or compromised because our watchers have observed that some unauthorized people were given access to the Museong Pambata without giving the same privilege to our watchers.”
The recount is expected to take at least two months. Whether or not Atienza can overturn Lim’s margin of 214,816 votes after he garnered 181,094 votes against Lim’s 395,910, the protest will validate either the stated fears of losing politicians that the results of the first computerized elections were compromised or it will prove that our first computerized polls was a triumphant success.
In the case of Atienza, he is finding support from friends and associates who have contributed to the close to P10 million that Atienza paid Comelec to get to the truth of what really happened on May 10, 2010 in the City of Manila.
Locsin: May polls flawed
He won’t recommend automation in 2013
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. Monday admitted to being mistaken in his rosy outlook of electronic elections, saying that he was against employing the automated system used on May 10 in future electoral exercises unless loopholes were plugged.
Locsin is the chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, which on Sunday released a report based on its hearings that painted a far from ideal picture of the recently concluded automated elections.
The hearings took up the complaints of local candidates who claimed that they lost because of electoral fraud.
Interviewed over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), Locsin said Monday that cheating done under the automated system could be untraceable, unlike in manual elections where money and hard work could uncover a fake ballot.
Despite Locsin’s statements, others stuck to their championing of the automated election system.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, an active participant in the hearings of Locsin’s committee, said that none of the allegations of fraud were backed by concrete proof.
So as far as he was concerned, automation was a success unless evidence to the contrary would crop up.
“Until that would come out, I would certainly say automation was a success despite being from the opposition,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview, noting that he was a constant presence at the committee hearings, which focused on allegations of poll fraud.
He said the P7 billion spent for the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines was money well spent.
Eating own words
Locsin acknowledged that he was eating his words.
“You realize of course that I’m swallowing the words that I said over the past 12 months. I really fought for automation. Well, I’m willing to swallow my pride,” he said over ANC.
Locsin said he was mistaken when he said that the voting equipment, known as the PCOS machines, could not be manipulated.
“I would say one thing: Fortunately, a lot of people believe me and I was wrong when I was boasting that the machine cannot be rigged. There were not that many people who tried to cheat with machines but those who did knew about it, did it,” he said.
Reset PCOS to zero
Locsin said vote-rigging could have been done by resetting the PCOS machines to zero and then scanning ballots again. This was known through the explanations of Smartmatic, the technology provider of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“They should have told me though that their machine was capable of being reset to zero. I have no idea it was that easy to do it. The reason also why none of us, including myself, ever thought about that is that the critics of automation kept focusing on other issues,” he said.
Audit logs also revealed that voting in some places began at 10 p.m., he said.
Locsin said Smartmatic’s explanation about the different date and time stamps on election returns was inadequate.
He said Smartmatic had assured him that the machine would record cheating, but then it later said that the different date and time stamps were of no moment.
If cheating was conducted, there was also active participation of the Board of Election Inspectors and the Comelec, he said.
“So I think, in the end, Director [Jose] Tolentino said it well: ‘Machines don’t cheat, it’s people who cheat and people can use the machine to cheat.’ As long as the people Comelec uses are cheaters, then they can cheat the machines,” Locsin said.
He also said cheating under automated and manual polls was very different, with manual polls providing a way to uncover concrete evidence.
“The difference between cheating in manual is that at the end of the road, if you have the money and the time, you can check whether the handwritten ballot is real or not,” he said.
“Whereas, in this kind of machine, all you have are shaded ballots. Now a shaded ballot that is falsely shaded and a shaded ballot that is genuinely shaded are indistinguishable from each other,” he added.
Locsin said that unless these concerns were addressed, he would not push for automated election in 2013.
“And my recommendation is that unless we are unable to plug all these loopholes, I would strongly discourage automated elections in 2013,” he said.
Monday, 17 May 2010 00:00
BY DAN MARIANO
The Automated Election System (AES) came out with the results of the voting last Monday in a way that stupefied the entire nation. Just hours after the polls closed, the AES began churning out election results at a rate that surprised even the system’s most enthusiastic proponents.
Here, at last, is the answer to the country’s election woes—or so it seemed. Even the most rabid detractors of the AES claimed they were only too happy to eat crow—ecstatic to have been shown to be wrong. Or were they?
Days later, however, hints of irregularity started to surface. Before the week ended, charges of electronic dagdag-bawas, or vote padding and shaving, began to resound in various parts of the country.
The reporting of election results seemed so incredibly fast that many of the losing candidates were stunned into inaction. They did not know what hit them.
Meanwhile, some of the election winners gloated in their victory, praising to high heavens the AES for validating their own pre-election projections of victory.
It all seemed too good to be true—and, in certain cases, the AES probably is.
Last week, former environment secretary Lito Atienza handed out to newsmen photocopies of a document, titled “Election Returns (ER) for Local Positions” from Clustered Precinct 3901383 – 0828A 0828B 0928C 0829A in Barangay 205, Tondo, Manila.
The ER showed re-electionist Alfredo Lim drubbing his rivals Atienza and former police chief Avelino Razon. Lim got 302 votes, Atienza 71 and Razon 67.
Lim’s vice mayoral partner Francisco Domagoso, a.k.a. Isko Moreno, was shown doing the same thing to his rivals, led by Atienza’s running mate Ma. Lourdes Isip Garcia.
This was the result in Tondo, as well as in many other parts of the Manila, despite pre-election surveys done by a respectable pollster that showed Atienza leading Lim by seven percentage points.
“According to the results generated by the PCOS [Precinct Count Optical Scan] machines, I was clobbered two-to-one even in my home district of San Andres Bukid,” he said incredulously.
When Atienza began complaining that he and his Buhayin ang Maynila party were victims of election fraud, they were pooh-poohed for “sour-graping.”
After all, it has long been said that in this country nobody loses in elections; they are only cheated. However, unlike other, similarly situated candidates, Atienza has been able to show proof.
On April 27, a City Hall employee blew the whistle on what she called was a plan to rig election results in the nation’s capital. Ronilda Reluya, a computer operator assigned to the city government’s Electronic Data Processing (EDP) unit, presented what she described as copies of fake election results in the First District of Manila.
The EDP is directly under the Office of the Mayor. According to Reluya, the fake election results, which showed a landslide victory for Lim’s slate, were prepared at the same office. She added that she personally witnessed how several City Hall employees put together the spurious documents.
Despite requests from Atienza and others for an investigation, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) all but ignored Reluya’s revelation.
It was at about this time that Atienza said he began to worry. Although he eventually secured the endorsement of the bloc-voting Iglesia Ni Cristo as well as other religious congregations and civic organizations, the former three-term mayor could not shake off the feeling of impending disaster.
Sure enough, the election results from the clustered precinct in Tondo and other parts of Manila indicated that Lim and his party had won by the proverbial mile.
A closer look at the documents, however, showed that whoever was responsible for giving Lim and his party a landslide victory had failed to cover their tracks completely.
Attached to the ER is a certification from the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) attesting that they “witnessed the voting of the precinct and that the votes obtained by each candidate appearing in these election returns are true as generated by the [PCOS] machine.”
The certification was signed by BEI Chairwoman Carolyn Estella, member Amparo Ongkiko, poll clerk Rosie Poral, watchers Madelyn Candao (LP), Rose Danica Dayrit (PMP) and Jesusa Tolentino (NPC).
The problem is that the BEI certification bore the time stamp, “Wed Apr 28 13:11:46 2010,” indicating that it was accomplished 12 days before Election Day!
Atienza told newsmen he was in possession of similar documents, evidence of what he called “prefabricated” ERs.
Atienza said that he plans to file a protest before the Comelec directed, not against any of his political rivals, but “against the process itself, against the AES.”
He said that he also intends to petition the poll body to complete its audit—via manual count—of election results in Manila as reflected in the PCOS machines in 30 polling precincts randomly selected in the presence of all the election stakeholders.
Atienza added that, while the documents in his possession pertain to apparent irregularities in Manila, he is ready to collaborate with other parties who feel they have been similarly victimized by “prefab ERs” in other parts of the country.
“Perhaps we could consider filing a class-action suit against Smartmatic-TIM,” he said, referring to the consortium that provided the technology, machines and technical personnel, which made AES possible.
Atienza also said that several weeks before E-Day he had been approached by “someone who claimed he could electronically manipulate the election results—in exchange for a huge sum of money, but I quickly dismissed the offer.”
He added: “Going by the lopsided election results in Manila, I can only surmise that the fellow was able to persuade some other candidates.”