Election Forms

Calls for manual count mount but Comelec says no

Calls for manual count mount but Comelec says no
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Widespread misreading of ballots in the testing of counting machines for Monday’s automated polls has revived calls from national and local candidates for a full manual count to ensure that no massive electronic rigging will occur on Election Day.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), however, quickly thumbed down the suggestions, saying it was confident that computerized balloting and canvassing will push through despite the technical setback of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

“We are confident that failure of election is not a problem,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.

But Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III wanted a firm assurance from the Comelec that it “will do everything within the bounds of the law” to ensure that automated elections would push through or else prepare for a manual count “as mandated by law.”

In a statement, Aquino said the misreading of the PCOS machines belied the poll agency’s claim that it is “ready.”

“The Comelec denied our proposed parallel manual count for national and selected local positions as it could open the electoral process to fraud and protest that could delay the proclamation of winners. They called it regressive and unnecessary,” he added.

4 business groups

In a joint statement, four business groups renewed their call for a full manual count for president, vice president, member of the House of Representatives, governor and mayor.

The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, and the Philippine Bar Association also urged the immediate printing of complete sets of election forms.

The manual count in all clustered precincts was a good way to “salvage the credibility of the elections,” the groups said.

In Malacañang, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson said he did not think the Comelec would “outrightly suggest a manual counting of the election returns or the results.”

“The costs of holding the automated polls may run up to P10 billion, and that’s why the Comelec cannot just scrap this,” Rogelio Peyuan said. The poll body’s bill has so far reached P7 billion.

Ms Arroyo directed Commissioner Ray Anthony Chua of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) to meet with officials of the Comelec and its private contractor, Smartmatic-TIM, to discuss the situation and suggest solutions, including possible “alternative moves.”

Senators Francis Escudero and Rodolfo Biazon on Tuesday asked the Comelec to scrap the conduct of automated polls and prepare to go manual now.

Mandatory

In a statement, Escudero, co-chair of the Congressional Poll Automation Oversight Committee, called on Comelec officials to order the printing of election paraphernalia for a mandatory, full manual count.

“The latest report about poll counting errors by the PCOS machines, at this stage of the electoral process, may very well validate long-standing concerns about the nationwide automated count of the votes to be cast on Election Day,” Escudero said.

“The Comelec must undertake preparations with utmost caution and plan for contingencies knowing that any mistake in this unprecedented exercise could cost us more than the billions spent for this project—the denial of our people’s right to elect this country’s next leaders,” he said.

In a phone interview, Biazon expressed concern that “this may be a national level thing and thus the Comelec has to come up with contingencies reverting to manual polls.”

Senatorial candidate Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, an information technology expert, said that while he favored full poll automation, the Comelec was not ready for it. He proposed that full automation be postponed when the country would be “fully” prepared for it.

In a press conference in Bacolod City, De Venecia said it was easier to cheat with the PCOS machines as shown in Monday’s testing in Makati City, in which only the votes of one mayoral candidate were counted, and in other parts of the country.

The Comelec traced the problem to wrong configuration of the compact flash cards, which contains data on precincts, and local and national contests.

Integrity of PCOS count

De Venecia said there was no assurance of the integrity of the PCOS count because some security features of the machines have been disabled.

The PCOS system log file was dubious, he said. “One can actually tamper into the system,” he added.

PEP party-list nominee Philip Piccio, who was also present in the press conference, warned that if the automated count fails on the local level, especially in volatile areas, violence could break out that could lead to bloodshed and death.

Makati mayoral candidate Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay and his sister, reelectionist Rep. Abigail Binay, had asked the Comelec to resort to manual counting following the glitches in the PCOS test run in Metro Manila.

“We cannot trust these machines to count ballots according to our real votes,” Abigail said.

Most of the PCOS machines tested by the city’s board of election inspectors encountered problems in tallying votes for local candidates on Monday afternoon.

Glitches in Manila

During the testing conducted on Sunday in Manila, most of the PCOS machines failed to read votes for the mayoral post, according to mayoral candidate Lito Atienza’s son and campaign manager.

In District 3, Arnold Atienza said the machines failed to read the votes for mayoral and congressional candidates, and votes cast for his father were credited to his toughest rival, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim.

“The trend that we see here is that the machines may have been programmed to work well for national positions, but not for local,” he said. “This is a cause for serious concern … the integrity of the elections is at stake here.”

But Commissioner Sarmiento said the poll body was not adjusting its May 10 contingency plan for the manual count. The Comelec expects manual count in only about 30 precincts of the precincts, he said.

“We are ready for that 30 percent. We can go manual for 30. But what if it exceeds 30 percent? That has to be discussed by the en banc,” Sarmiento said. With reports from Carla Gomez, Inquirer Visayas; and Kristine L. Alave, Niña Calleja, Tina G. Santos, Christine O. Avendaño, Philip C. Tubeza and Abigail L. Ho

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image

18 contentious deals taint Comelec image
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondo
The Philippine Star

How can the Comelec properly automate — when rackets distract it? Since 2008 at least 18 big-ticket expenditures have brought the poll body shame:

• ARMM poll automation 2008 — Bidding for the P600-million project flawed. Only Smartmatic-SAHI qualified at first; the only other bidder Sandz Solutions failed. Later Smartmatic-SAHI flunked technical tests. Still Comelec awarded it the contract for direct recording electronic (touch-screen) voting in Maguindanao.

• ARMM election paper — Supply of voter registration and election forms won by lowest bidding newcomer Advance Paper Corp. Then, Comelec debarred Advance because allegedly blacklisted — a falsity. Contracts handed out to higher bidders Consolidated Paper Products, Philand Industries, and Forms International, three of nine firms that have been cornering Comelec deals. Comelec lost P8 million. Ex-chairman Ben Abalos and successor Jose Melo were sued last week for approving and implementing the transaction.

• Automated Fingerprint Identification System, 2009 — P1.6-billion fingerprinting of 50 million voters supposed to be rushed in time for May 2010 election. Bidding reportedly rigged for NEC-Japan, partner of Unison, one of the nine frequent Comelec contractors. Soon after signing the deal, Comelec lengthened implementation period to three years, giving NEC-Unison P600 million in savings. But contract price stayed the same. Paper and printing contract given to Consolidated Paper.

• Carbonless paper — P180 million-P400 million worth of paper for Election Returns, Statements of Votes, and Certificates of Canvass for manual balloting. Contract reportedly given to Noah Paper Mills, one of the nine. All this will go to waste since Comelec opted for full automation.

• Watermarked paper — P800 million worth of paper for manual ballots awarded to one of the nine. No clear bidding. Now also useless with automation.

• 2010 Automated Election System — Bidding for P11.2-billion project faulty. Five bidders debarred for incomplete submissions, but Smartmatic-Total Information Management passed even if also lacking. Bid was P7.2 billion, 36 percent lower than agency budget, grounds for rejection under old Public Bidding Act. In test run, battery wire of the precinct count optical scanner shorted and burned. Still Comelec awarded contract. After which, Filipino-owned TIM nearly backed out for being eased out of control by Barbadian Smartmatic. They then reincorporated as 1920 Business Inc. In Hong Kong last Sunday the PCOS in one of 20 voting precincts rejected all ballots, resulting in 5-percent failure rate. Automation law requires 99.995-percent accuracy.

• Ballot boxes — P243,367,740-fabrication of 77,000 boxes awarded to Smartmatic without bidding, on lame excuse that only it knows the exact size of its PCOS. Original design was for transparent polycarbonate, but Comelec switched to opaque plastic to avoid sunlight soiling ballot ultraviolet markings. Boxes thus became like common trash bins. Yet price remained at P3,160 apiece, thrice costlier than the old P900-metal box.

• Ballot paper — While part of Smartmatic’s commitments under its P7.2-billion offer, the Comelec is mum if the supplier is again one of the favored nine.

• Ballot redesign — Smartmatic saved two to three inches in ballot length — consequently tons of paper — when listing of candidates was made horizontal instead of vertical. Yet Comelec did not renegotiate price cut.

• Late PCOS delivery — Smartmatic missed by two weeks its deadline to deliver first batch. Under the contract, it should have been fined one percent of contract price, or P72 million, per day of delay. But Comelec exempted it.

• Performance bond — The contract required Smartmatic to post one-percent performance bond, or P1.12 billion, based on approved budget, for the duration of the procurement. Smartmatic took out a letter of credit from HSBC in the equivalent $25.3 million to obtain Comelec’s notice to proceed. Then, with no legal basis, Comelec let Smartmatic withdraw $21 million and leave only $4.3 million.

• Ballot transport — First batch of 12 million printed ballots trucked from Quezon City to Manila for P92 million. No bidding.

• Voter education — P240 million nearly awarded sans bidding to Comelec communication consultant who owns ad agency.

• Packing paper and services — for Optical Mark Reading ballots. P180-million contract allegedly went to Synergy Corp., one of the nine.

• Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) — P480 million went to security barcode instead, but for the same low effectiveness.

• Ballot-secrecy folders — P700 million awarded to OTC Paper Corp., one of the nine, to fabricate 1.815 million “special” covers for Election Day. No bidding, only unsolicited proposal with no clear Swiss Challenge. Work was for 22 folders in 82,500 precinct clusters, when there are only 76,340 clusters. En banc approved contract on say-so of Comelec Bids and Awards Committee, then rescinded it when poll watchdog PPCRV protested.

• Ultraviolet lamps — P28-million deal first awarded to OTC Paper Corp. as lowest bidder and consolation for scrapping of P700-million folders. Precinct officers will use the lamps to read secret ballot U/V marks. This is because Smartmatic switched off the PCOS U/V reader when it couldn’t get the right mix of ink during ballot printing. Thus, this should be paid for by Smartmatic, not Comelec. After public scrutiny, Comelec called for re-bidding because the three bidders, including Philand and Embu Integrated Trading Co., had insufficient papers after all.

• Indelible ink — P77-million contract given to Texas Resources Corp. for ink to mark voters on Election Day. When PPCRV exposed Texas’s ink to be erasable, Comelec said it would hold new bidding. Then it claimed the mix was indelible after all when inkbottle was shaken before use. No, really.

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“Life is not what you see on the surface; it is lived in the depths of your experience and love.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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