Amid allegations of fraud in the vice-presidential race and emerging discrepancies in canvassing in the senatorial race, poll watchdogs reiterated their call to make foreign firm Smartmatic and Comelec (Commission on Elections) officials accountable for the conduct of the 2016 elections, allegedly “worse” than the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Kontra Daya and AES Watch further said that the Philippine government should withhold the remainder of the P8-Billion payment to Smartmatic due to the malfunctioning of 2,363 Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) on election day,
The VCM malfunctions disenfranchised approximately 1.5 to two million voters, according to AES Watch.
“These are new machines and they should have been running 100%,” Dr. Nelson Celis, IT expert and AES Watch spokesperson, said in a press conference yesterday at the Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila.
“Every vote not counted means a lot, especially in a tight race. We should not be content with merely counting how much votes one candidate got over the other,” said Evita Jimenez, executive director of Center for People’s Empowerment and Governance (CenPeg).
Poll watchdogs once again raised the lack of transparency caused by the failure of the Comelec to comply with the Poll Automation Law, including a Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) certification 90 days before the elections.
They supported the call of Sen. Koko Pimentel, chairman of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections, for a hold-departure order against Smartmatic officials until the incident at Novotel in Cubao, Quezon City has been thoroughly investigated.
VCMs were reported to be in the hotel although none were found in the five rooms where Smartmatic officials were staying. Watchdog groups say that it is reminiscent of the 2010 incident where 60 PCOS machines were discovered in Antipolo and caused an uproar on possible fraud.
‘Vulnerable to internal tampering’
IT experts agreed that the AES is vulnerable to fraud.
“The mechanisms whereby we can verify, validate, authenticate and audit the count are not present. This is a crucial flaw in the elections since 2010. There is no way we can tell how the machine is counting, and what the count actually is,” said Dr. Rene Azurin, AES Watch analyst and author of the book Hacking Democracy.
Former Comelec commissioner Gus Lagman meanwhile said that the AES is “vulnerable to internal tampering.” While he admitted that Comelec may have done a better job this elections than in 2013, the basic flaw of the system remains.
“Any person from Smartmatic can tamper with the results…That a foreigner could determine and control a democratic procedure like the elections, that to me is unacceptable,” he said.
He called the public website put up by Comelec as “useless,” as it only publishes unofficial results from the central server.
The group was demanding a real-time publication of official results transmitted from the VCMs to the City or Municipal Board of Canvassers, which would be the basis of proclamation of candidates.
Lagman explained that in the past, there were discrepancies noted between transmissions received by the C/MBOC, transparency, and Comelec central servers—as is now currently being observed in the senatorial race.
“A good system should not be dependent on the trustworthiness of the implementor,” Lagman said.
Meanwhile, Toti Casiño, former president of the Philippine Computer Society, called for a “full investigation” of all the SD cards physically transported from the precincts to the M/BOC. “A system log will tell what actions have been taken on that SD card,” he said.
Under Comelec Resolution No. 10087, a “Reception and Custody Group” was mandated to bring the SD cards to the M/BOC to be manually uploaded to the canvassing servers.
This allegedly makes the results vulnerable to tampering and violates the Poll Automation Law that requires official results to be electronically transmitted.
“The results we are getting right now, we don’t know if it’s accurate. The purpose of the automation is so that we can see the results, so that we are not in the blind. Right now, we are in the blind,” said Toti Casiño, former president of the Philippine Computer Society.
Meanwhile, Kontra Daya said that the 90% transmission rate being reported by the Comelec may be deceptive.
“In many cases reported by media, the VCMs could not transmit from the precincts as promised by Smartmatic. Many election returns were brought to the canvassing centers where the SD cards were manually uploaded… Comelec and Smartmatic should disclose how many returns were actually transmitted from the precincts and how many were manually brought and uploaded at the canvassing centers,” the group stated.
“By bending backwards to a foreign entity to handle our election system and failing to learn from the errors in previous poll automation exercises, Comelec in collusion with Smartmatic worsened the vulnerability of the automated elections. [It] opened the backdoors to fraud, which perpetuates the culture of violence, cheating and traditional politics that is still rampant in our country,” Kontra Daya said.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Kontra Daya convenor, clarified that they are non-partisan, and that they are pointing out the weaknesses of the AES “not just for this elections, but for the sake of future elections” as well.
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