Gregorio Larrazabal

Comelec mulls sanctions vs Smartmatic for foul-ups

Comelec mulls sanctions vs Smartmatic for foul-ups
KIMBERLY JANE T. TAN
GMANews.TV

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering penalizing poll machine supplier Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) for the glitches in the automated election system that will be used during the May 10 polls.

In a chance interview with reporters, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal admitted that the poll body is thinking of how it can make the technology provider “pay” for its recent foul-ups.

The commissioner issued the statement after some precinct count optical scan (PCOS) units tested last Monday failed to read some votes accurately, forcing them to pull out and replace all the compact flash (CF) cards. (See: Some poll machines fail to read votes accurately)

On Tuesday, Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores admitted that they were at fault for “human error” in the configuration of the CF cards. (See: Smartmatic assumes responsibility for PCOS machine glitches)

Larrazabal refused to divulge, however, whether the possible penalty for the supplier would be monetary or otherwise.

“Those who are liable will be held liable. Those who are negligent will be held accountable. But for now, let us work together to ensure that the elections will work on May 10, 2010,” he said at a separate press briefing.

Poll body spokesperson James Jimenez likewise said that they have to focus first on the task at hand. “First order of business is to get this going… best to get the elections over and done with and then settle accounts,” he told GMANews.TV in a text message.

He said that there is still time later to thoroughly discuss what Smartmatic’s liabilities are.

Earlier in the day, Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima said that the technology provider can be made to answer in case of failure of elections “theoretically and hypothetically.”

She added that if their offense qualifies as electoral sabotage in the highest degree, they might even face life imprisonment. She even said that the CHR is willing to pursue the case should the situation call for it.

Flores, for his part, said that their company is “committed” to the success of the elections. He likewise said that they have no plans of abandoning the automation project.

“I also offered Comelec to take my passport, I’m more than willing to surrender it,” he said on Thursday. —JV, GMANews.TV

Smartmatic execs told: Surrender passports

Smartmatic execs told: Surrender passports
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) on Thursday urged foreign officials and employees of Smartmatic involved in the election automation project to send their passports to a Catholic bishop.

“We are calling in your bluff. Give us all your passports,” CCM co-convenor lawyer Harry Roque said in a statement.

Roque said his group will turn over the passports to Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz for safekeeping. He said Smartmatic Southeast Asia president Cesar Flores and other Smartmatic officials can send their passports to Cruz’s office at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines compound at 470 Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila.

“The Venezuelans behind Smartmatic, like us Filipinos, are predominantly Catholics. Surely, they can trust Archbishop Cruz to return their passports should there be no reason later to ensure their stay in the country,” CCM co-convenor Betina Legarda said.

Flores on Wednesday said he and other Smartmatic officials are willing to surrender their passports as an assurance that they will not flee the country amid massive glitches in the election automation process.

“If you want my passport, you can hold it in escrow,” Flores said during a press conference at the Commission on Elections’ main office in Manila.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal assured that the automated elections will push through on May 10. At least 76,000 flashcards were recalled by Comelec after PCOS machines failed to read votes for local candidates during Monday’s supposed final testing.

Flores has assured that Smartmatic-TIM will finish configuring flash cards for all PCOS machines by Friday morning. He said Smartmatic-TIM may also recycle some of the recalled flash cards if the shipments do not arrive on time.

Comelec officials, meanwhile, said if the configuration is not finished by May 10, the poll body can hold special elections in affected areas.

Comelec: Machine testing can drag until election day

Comelec: Machine testing can drag until election day
By Reynaldo Santos Jr.
abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak

MANILA, Philippines—Election machine manufacturer Smartmatic and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) revealed the possibility of the final sealing and testing of election machines dragging until election day on May 10.

Originally scheduled 3 to 7 days before the election day (from May 3 to 7), the sealing and testing was delayed after the compact flash (CF) cards of the vote counting machines experienced glitches during mock polls in various localities on Monday.

Some CF cards were found to have configuration errors, hence the failure of some precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines to accurately read and appropriate votes. Smartmatic halted the nationwide testing since then.

Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores told reporters on Wednesday that they have started with the production of CF card replacements. The testing and sealing of machines has since been moved to Thursday until morning of Monday, election day.

Around 76,000 CF cards were recalled and will be replaced with properly-configured cards. Smartmatic, however, purchased 62,000 brand new cards only. Flores explained that the remaining 14,000 will come from recalled cards that will be recycled. Those that won’t undergo recycling will be burned.

Smartmatic expects to finish today configuring around 25,000 new CF cards, which will immediately be shipped tonight. Production of the remaining 51,000 cards is expected to be finished from tomorrow until Friday morning.

Flores said that the cities of Makati, Marikina, and Parañaque, and some areas in the province in Batangas will receive the replacement cards and proceed with the sealing and testing by tomorrow. For other parts of the country, however, replacement cards are expected to arrive and be tested by Friday.

Given the new timeline, arrival and replacement of these new cards can happen as late as Monday morning, just before the election hour starts. Polling precincts are scheduled to open at 7 a.m. on election day. The boards of election inspectors are reporting for work at 6 a.m.

“We have a tighter schedule, that’s the reality of this new development,” Flores revealed. He gave assurances, however, that they are always prepared with backup plans.

Comelec commisioner Gregorio Larrazabal said that they were able to get support from the Air Force and the business sector in terms of logistics. He reported that businessmen committed 10 to 13 helicopters, while the Air Force committed “all their air access.”

As for the new schedule, he said that the extension for sealing and testing is still in line with the election automation law, which requires sealing and testing before the machines begin with its official operation.

“Even morning of May10, it could still be done. What’s important is that all machines will be tested before the elections,” Larazzabal said. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)

Philippine poll body to push ahead with May 10 vote

Philippine poll body to push ahead with May 10 vote
By Manny Mogato and Rose Francisco
Reuters

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ Commission on Elections said it would do everything to ensure national elections were held as planned on May 10, after faults with vote counting machines prompted some calls for a delay.

“Now is the time to work together as a people and as a nation,” Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said in a televised briefing.

“Those who are liable will be held liable, those who are negligent will be held accountable, but for now, let us work together to ensure that the elections will work on May 10, 2010.”

More than 76,000 memory cards from automated voting machines to be used in national and local elections on May 10 have been recalled after tests found they failed to read ballots and print accurate results.

Analysts have long expressed concern the untested system left the door open for vote fraud or in the worst case, a failed elections that could lead to instability and civil unrest.

Larrazabal said Smartmatic, the supplier of vote-counting machines, was ready to ship new and reconfigured memory cards throughout the country for tests in the next two days.

More than a dozen helicopters were made available by top private sector firms and businessmen to deliver the memory cards to 80 provinces ahead of balloting on Monday, he added.

The Philippine Air Force has also offered to help deliver the memory cards to remote islands and mountain villages to cut delivery time by 80-90 percent, Larrazabal said.

“We are committed to pull this through. There will be elections on May 10,” Cesar Flores, Smartmatic’s president for Asia, told the news conference at the Comelec office in Manila.

Flores said 40,000 new memory cards from Taiwan and another 30,000 cards from Hong Kong would arrive on Thursday to replace the faulty software in voting machines.

About 25,000 cards that were pulled from the machines would be reconfigured on Wednesday at Smartmatic’s warehouse in Laguna, south of Manila, to correctly read and tally votes, he said.

Larrazabal said the new cards would be sent, tested and sealed by the eve of the May 10 elections, when more than 50 million Filipinos are eligible to vote for president and nearly 18,000 national and local positions.

Voting machines fail

Voting machines fail
76,000 memory cards to be replaced
By Michael Lim Ubac, Tarra Quismundo, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Now, it can be told officially. The tests produced weird results.

This sent embarrassed officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its partner, Smartmatic-TIM, scrambling to save the historic computerized balloting on May 10 by recalling 76,000 compact flash (CF) cards that are in the heart of the counting machines.

“We didn’t expect this to come out, but we are responding on time,” Cesar Flores, spokesperson for Smartmatic-TIM, at a nationally televised news conference said.

Flores blamed the glitches, which first surfaced in two precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines last month at the start of advance overseas voting in Hong Kong, on “human error.”

“We are taking all measures to remedy this,” Flores said, just five days before the May 10 national and local elections.

“We are optimistic that there will be no failure of elections,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento. “We are taking all measures to remedy this.”

“I will not be honest if I will say that my confidence has not been diminished because, as I said, what will happen next?” said Henrietta de Villa, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the Comelec’s citizen’s arm.

In mock elections on Monday conducted by the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM in six towns in Occidental Mindoro, votes for presidential candidates Manny Villar and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were counted for Gilberto Teodoro Jr. of the administration party, according to the Nacionalista Party (NP).

This prompted supporters of Villar led by his NP spokesperson and senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla to rush to the Comelec office in Manila to file a complaint.

Automated cheating?

Remulla showed to reporters a tally sheet from the PCOS and a manual count.

“There were five votes for Villar, five votes for Aquino, but when it came out (in the machine), there were no votes for Villar, no votes for Noynoy and 10 votes for Teodoro,” Remulla said.

“Is this automated cheating?” he asked, adding that the inability of the machines to properly count the votes in the mock elections proved persistent talk of a failure of elections.

Comelec officials reported that in tests in three far-flung towns of Cuyo, Magsaysay and Brooke’s Point in Palawan province, the machines only read portions of the ballots containing the names of candidates for national races, according to the Inquirer’s Southern Luzon Bureau.

Similar problems occurred in tests in the provinces of Bataan and Pampanga.

Flores said that the eleventh-hour glitch surfaced Monday during testing and sealing of machines in 50 to 100 precincts to show that the automated election system is working and has no malicious data.

Cards to be replaced

He said the problem was in the flash cards, equivalent to the SIM card in cell phones.

Although the company has no final numbers on defective compact flash cards, it is moving to replace the memory cards for all the 76,000 PCOS machines already sent to regional hubs for field distribution, according to Flores.

Present at the news conference were representatives from the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) and its technical evaluation committee, and Makati City Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Elections.

The wrong tallies stemmed from the memory cards, Flores said.

He noted that the cards contained wrong “instruction” regarding the local ballot face that caused the PCOS machines to give “contradictory” readings of the names and the votes for the local contests.

Officials said the PCOS machine read the races for the national posts correctly.

Precinct-specific cards

Each PCOS machine contains a compact flash card which has the details on the specific precinct. It has the number of voters per precinct and the names of the candidates vying for local posts, among others.

For the ballots, which are precinct specific, to be read and recorded correctly, the program inside the card and the software inside the PCOS machine must work together.

During the printing of the ballots, the spacing of the local ballot face was adjusted to double space from single space, the formatting used for the national contests.

This change was not included in the compact flash card, Flores said. As such, the PCOS machine read the local ballot face as if it had a single-space format, causing the machine to wrongly allot votes to certain candidates or skip other names.

“The flash cards inside the PCOS were not able to locate certain candidates to positions,” Flores explained.

“For some reason, the configuration was telling the machine that the second row visually is actually the third row,” he said. The next row was read as a “blank space,” he said.

Who’s to blame?

Although there had been several mock elections and the PCOS machines were tested before they were dispatched, the problem was not discovered until Monday, Flores said.

He said that the ballots used in the mock elections and in the warehouse testing had different faces from the ballots that would be used on May 10.

Flores blamed the Comelec for the snafu, saying the poll body did not want to use real ballots to test the PCOS machines. The Comelec was authorized to print no more than 50.7 million ballots, the number of registered voters.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Smartmatic-TIM had 20,000 flash cards on hand, which they had started to configure with the right instructions.

The company has also ordered more memory cards from local and overseas suppliers, he added.

Flores said the problem was “surmountable.” Correcting the instruction on the memory cards is “easy,” he said, adding that the challenge the company and the Comelec face is on the delivery of these cards to the precincts.

‘It will be done’

Although the schedule was “tight,” Flores said the company would be able to change the compact flash cards starting Wednesday night.

“It is a tight schedule but it can be done and it will be done,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM had yet to finalize the delivery of the replacement cards.

Larrazabal said the Comelec was devising a procedure for the orderly recall of the flash cards to allow for an inventory. He said the Comelec would probably destroy the defective cards recalled.

Pending the replacement, the Comelec and Smartmatic canceled the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines.

Flores said the operation would resume on Thursday and Friday. Machines that will not pass the testing and sealing will not be used on May 10, he said.

New round of tests

Under the law, the testing and sealing operation of the PCOS machines is scheduled three to seven days before the elections.

“The machines from Tuesday will be tested again on Thursday. Some on May 7. All machines will be tested before Election Day,” Larrazabal said.

CAC chair Ray Roxas Chua said he did not expect defective memory cards to cause delays in the last-minute election preparations.

“We are not sugarcoating this. This is definitely a setback, but one that is not insurmountable,” said Chua, who is also information and communications technology secretary.

De Villa said she had received several calls and text messages from volunteers reporting problems with the PCOS machines in Pasay, Parañaque, Makati, Pasig and Las Piñas, and Batangas and Mindoro.

“Most of the complaints were PCOS failure, PCOS did not count, PCOS counted national (votes for national candidates) but could not read the local, all candidates for mayor except one,” De Villa said.

Problem can be fixed

She said that the Comelec had vowed to fix the problems. She expressed confidence in the automated polls and disagreed to proposals to hold a total manual count of election results. “It will just be confusing,” she said.

“And how can you validate a system with a process that is also corrupted? We wanted to automate because we were so unhappy with the manual system that has been corrupted, so why are we validating a new system with a corrupted system?” De Villa told reporters.

In the provinces, officials said unexpected problems arose during the testing and sealing of the vote-counting machines, prompting the suspension of their distribution. They said the Comelec office in Manila had sent instructions that technicians would be sent instead to fix the problems.

In San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, acting election officer Perlita Villanca told local radio dzVT that the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines had been deferred. PPCRV volunteers reported that in Magsaysay, Sta. Cruz and Sablayan towns, the machines did not count votes for a congressional candidate.

In San Fernando, the Comelec recalled PCOS machines in Central Luzon after 95 percent of some 700 units used in tests in Pampanga and Bataan failed to count votes for local candidates.

Officials said the distribution of machines in Cebu, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, in Region IV, composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan had been ordered suspended.

Comelec Director Juanito Icaro said the advice from the Comelec national office was only “to stay put” and technicians would be sent instead. With reports from Redempto D. Anda, Marrah Erika Lesaba, Maricar P. Cinco, Fernan Gianan, Mar Arguelles and Madonna T. Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Carla Gomez and Nestor Burgos Jr. and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Ryan D. Rosauro and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; Tonette Orejas, Charlene Cayabyab, Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Anselmo Roque, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Delmar Cariño and Charles Keith, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Plot to disrupt voting bared

Plot to disrupt voting bared
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Some groups are plotting to undermine the automated election system by trying to delay or prevent voting, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disclosed yesterday.

Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said some unscrupulous individuals would “purposely delay the voting in specific precincts” to disenfranchise those who vote late.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, in a press briefing, said the alleged plot was “an A-I information” although he did not name the groups involved.

“To discredit the commission and to discredit the automation is, by itself, a strategic goal because it, essentially, means that whatever comes out of it can be challenged. Ultimately, it all boils down to the theory that this election will not work,” Jimenez said in a press briefing.

Various poll watchdogs have been warning the agency that an 11-hour voting period – from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. – is not enough to allow 1,000 voters in a clustered precinct to vote. They warned that many of the voters would end up disenfranchised.

Asked if they consider the alleged plot politically motivated, Jimenez said it is.

“To discredit the elections means that you want to make sure that the outcome is in fact malleable. That the outcome can be spanned left or right depending on your particular desire,” he said.

He said that a losing candidate, in such a scenario, would have an excuse to challenge the results of the polls.

Jimenez said the Comelec had already alerted its field officials of the alleged plot.

“Disrupting an electoral proceeding is an election offense. You can be jailed. Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated in the polling places and the police who will be guarding the various precincts have been informed that this is an eventuality they have to be ready for,” he said.

The Comelec estimates that it would take a voter some seven to eight minutes to vote.

“The rule of thumb – the BEI (Board of Election Inspectors) will ask the person to speed it up after 10 to 15 minutes,” Jimenez said.

‘Psy-war’

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said any attempt to rig the poll results would be futile and dismissed as mere “psy-war” the threat of Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III to lead a people power revolt in the event of massive cheating.

“If there will be any cheating, it will be through intimidation and vote buying,” Melo said in Filipino.

Melo called on Aquino and the other candidates to just respect the process.

“It should not be like that – people power if you lose, which is very childish. We should respect the process,” Melo said.

Aquino was earlier quoted as saying that only a failure of elections would make him lose in the coming polls.

Melo said he does not believe that Aquino is intentionally scaring the public.

“It’s not really meant to scare the people. It is a psy-war against their opponents,” Melo explained.

But poll watchdog group Kontra Daya said ignoring massive cheating would be worse.

“It would be more irresponsible if the people would do nothing if their rights are being trampled upon,” Kontra Daya member Sr. Mary John Mananzan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines said.

Last check on PCOS

Meanwhile, Jimenez said the precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines would undergo final testing and sealing before election day to placate skeptics.

“In any case, we will have final testing and sealing. It is scheduled this week so we’ll see if that will happen” he added.

Jimenez was reacting to the proposal of another poll watchdog “Halalang Marangal” to open some of the ballots to independent testing. The group was concerned that a misalignment such as the one detected in the ultraviolet security ink could also be present in the ovals assigned to some candidates.

“The test ballots that we will use for testing and sealing are the same run of ballots that we are actually going to use. So whatever will be seen in the actual run, it will come out in the testing and sealing,” Jimenez maintained.

“The misalignment affected the UV badly so it is possible that the scanners cannot read reliably the shading,” Roberto Verzola, secretary-general of Halalang Marangal, told reporters.

Verzola said the PCOS machines might give inaccurate readings.

“If the ovals were misaligned, even if you carefully shade the ovals, the PCOS machine would not be able to count the votes accurately,” he said.

Verzola said the possible misreading of the votes would not be noticed by the voters as the PCOS machine would still scan the ballots.

“They disabled a security feature where the voters can confirm their votes, so the voters will not know if the machine read their votes accurately,” Verzola said.

He urged the Comelec to feed a sample of 1,700 ballots into a PCOS machine as part of an accuracy test.

The ballot count in the test must conform to the poll body’s specifications of 99.995-percent accuracy, he said.

He earlier said that independent groups such as the Department of Science and Technology and not Smartmatic should perform the tests.

And as doubts on the accuracy of the machines have been raised, the Education department has assured the public that at least one of the three public school teacher-members of the BEI in every precinct has the technological know-how to perform their task.

“The DOST Certification Program for BEIs is an important step to ensure the success of the first automated elections in the country. With all the trainings and seminars they had, our teachers are fully prepared to perform their electoral duties,” Education Secretary Mona Dumlao-Valisno said.

She said 137,200 teachers have been certified as information technology capable by the DOST.

“Hopefully this certification will reduce, if not take away any doubts on the coming May elections,” she said.

In Surigao City, Surigao del Norte Police Provincial Director Senior Superintendent Gilbert de la Cruz said his men are fully prepared for the delivery of PCOS machines starting today to 176 far-flung barangays.

“We will be escorting delivery of PCOS machines in far- flung barangays. It’s a very huge task for us due to manpower lack,” he told newsmen. “We will help make this May 10 poll automation peaceful, orderly and honest,” he said.

The Philippine Coast Guard, meanwhile, reported the arrival of 36 PCOS machines in Batanes. With Mayen Jaymalin, Helen Flores, Rainier Allan Ronda, Ben Serrano and Evelyn Macairan

Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec

Manual parallel count unnecessary—Comelec
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH 15 DAYS to go before the country embarks on its first automated polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared the parallel manual count pushed by certain sectors as unnecessary and assured the public that all safeguards were in place for credible, accurate and swift voting on May 10.

“We are working 24/7 now. It’s crunch time already,” Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said Saturday in a media briefing.

“This is the last two minutes of the preparations for the elections. Almost all Filipinos want the elections to succeed. The goal of the Comelec is to have credible elections. We will not allow [anyone] to thwart the conduct of elections on May 10,” Larrazabal said.

The technical working group is to submit its recommendations on a random manual audit to the Comelec tomorrow, completing one of the legal loose ends in the counting phase, he said.

Asked if the poll body had rejected the proposals of groups like the Makati Business Club and a loose coalition of information technology professionals to conduct a partial parallel manual count of the votes, Larrazabal and Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said a random manual audit would do the job.

A parallel manual count entails a manual recount of the ballots in all 76,300 precincts nationwide for only three elective posts—president, vice president, and mayors.

Under a random manual audit, the ballots for all positions in randomly selected 1,110 precincts nationwide will be counted.

Specified by law

A random manual audit, which is provided for in the Automated Elections Law, will ensure that the results transmitted by the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines are credible and accurate.

“The law specifies this type of automated election. Before, there were many complaints against manual elections, so we went with automated elections. Now that we’re automated, they’re saying, ‘Let’s go manual,” Larrazabal observed.

A random manual audit means the Comelec randomly will choose 5 PCOS machines from 5 precincts in each of the 222 legislative district to compare the manual results with the results reflected in the ER.

Last Friday, or two days before the April 25 deadline, the Comelec and its elections supplier, Smartmatic TIM Corp., completed the printing of 50.7 million machine-readable ballots for the computerized balloting for national and local posts.

On Saturday, the Comelec and Smartmatic TIM began the delivery of the voting machines, ballots, and ballot boxes to the regions.

On May 10, an estimated 50 million Filipinos will cast their votes for president and other posts using machine-readable ballots.

The ballots will be fed into the PCOS machines, which will record and count the marks on the ballots.

At the end of Election Day, the machines will automatically count the votes, print the results, and transmit these to the canvassing centers.

Counting at the canvassing centers will be done electronically.

Delay in proclamation

The Comelec said it expected results in local contests in less than 24 hours. Official tallies for national posts will be done in two days, a far cry from the old system that took more than a month to complete.

Proponents of the parallel manual count said it would guarantee the accuracy of the tallies computed and transmitted by the PCOS machines.

They said it would also prove that there were no malicious bugs in the PCOS software that could manipulate the election results.

But Jimenez said the parallel manual count had been “already considered” by the Comelec and did not guarantee a total and accurate reflection of the votes cast.

“The purpose of automation is to get accurate immediate results,” he said. “The parallel manual count is essentially just a regular manual election. And remember, every time we had manual elections, there were jitters that we won’t be able to finish [the count] by June 30.”

Jimenez also said the manual count scheme had many “ramifications” on the conduct of the automated polls and was “not a simple matter,” as argued by its proponents.

“Just because we are good at arguing for it does not mean the Comelec would immediately follow it. The parallel manual count should be studied. It has logistical, cost, and personnel implications,” he said, adding that it would also delay the proclamation of winners.

Larrazabal said the parallel manual count was similar to the Open Election System proposed by IT expert Gus Lagman in 2009, which the Comelec studied and rejected. (Lagman is one of the proponents of the parallel count.)

Comelec officials also stressed that the count of the PCOS machines could be audited. Larrazabal said the machines would generate a paper trail immediately after the end of the voting, which could be used in a comparison with the transmitted tallies.

‘Why only now?’

Larrazabal and Jimenez questioned the timing of the concerns raised by some civil society groups.

Jimenez said the Comelec’s critics had years to raise their fears.

“Why only now?” he said. “Is it to cause a disruption of the proceedings, to torpedo the elections?”

Jimenez also raised the possibility that the Comelec’s critics were setting the scene to question the credibility of the results.

Gary Olivar, a deputy spokesperson of President Macapagal-Arroyo, said a parallel manual count would “set us up for a very contentious outcome” of the elections.

“I will side with the Comelec on this one… Because the Comelec is the institution that is authorized and knowledgeable on this aspect, we will support [its] position on this,” Olivar said in a radio interview.

He said a parallel manual count would violate the law that requires the election process to be automated and might undermine the credibility and integrity of the process.

“What if the two counting systems came up with different outcomes, and the law says the automated count should prevail? he said.

Olivar dismissed doubts on the credibility of automated polls, saying the Comelec had “already done well, going beyond the requirements of the law by instituting the higher sample of voting units for a random manual audit.”

Target completion date

Smartmatic Asia president Cesar Flores said the company’s target was to complete delivery of key election materials and equipment by May 3.

“From now on, every day, there will be ballots leaving for different regions until May 3, when the ballots for the NCR [National Capital Region] will leave the warehouse. It’s going to be 100,000 different movements and operations,” he said.

Flores said Smartmatic TIM would track the ballots, PCOS machines, and ballot boxes until they reach the local offices.

Yesterday, ballots for 5,000 precincts in Lanao del Sur, Zambonga, Zamboanga Sibugay, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon were delivered.

The PCOS machines and ballot boxes will be sent to the precincts a week or so before the elections for testing and sealing.

Under the law, the tests are scheduled 3-7 days before the elections. With a report from Gil Cabacungan

Comelec asked: Where are spare machines?

Comelec asked: Where are spare machines?
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Where are the spare voting machines?

Poll watchdog groups Tuesday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disclose the security arrangements for the spare voting machines as they said these could be used to cheat in the May 10 elections.

Comelec officials tried to dispel their fears, saying there are safeguards in place for the security of the spare machines.

The Comelec has leased 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines from Smartmatic TIM Corp., the technology provider for the country’s very first automated elections. Only 76,300 of these machines will be posted in the voting precincts nationwide. The rest will be used as back-up in case any break down.

In a letter to Comelec Chair Jose Melo, the Compact for Peace and Democratic Elections (Compact), a consortium of non-government organizations monitoring the elections, expressed its concern that the 6,000 reserved machines could be used to transmit fake election tallies.

Sources of fake data

Compact convenor Etta Rosales said it is important for the public to know where the PCOS machines will be located on May 10 to ensure that “no monkey business is being transacted by these machines from behind the scenes.”

“With no way to check where results are coming from, or whether or not results being transmitted to the CCS are actual results from actual counting machines, spare machines can become unregulated sources of fake data,” Rosales said.

Compact also urged the Comelec to disclose the identity of the people guarding the machines and to open them to public scrutiny, noting that this was one way of preventing electoral fraud.

According to Melo, the spare machines will be guarded by the police and representatives of the political parties and election watchdog groups. All the PCOS machines will be stored in regional warehouses before the elections, he said.

A week before May 10, the machines, including the spares, will be sent to the polling centers for testing and sealing.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said a PCOS machine cannot be used to send in fake information as each machine, including the back-up, are tagged and identified to the precincts where they are assigned.

Parallel manual count

PCOS machine information is also embedded in the canvassing center system, ensuring that the transmitted results come from legitimate precincts and machines.

Compact also urged the poll body to conduct a parallel manual count of the voting.

Compact co-convenor Jun Lozada, who “blew the whistle” on the $329-million national broadband network project, said the manual count “is the only way through which we can ensure results are credible and believable.”

“It will serve as a point of comparison as well as a back-up means for checking election results in the event of a significant failure of the automated elections,” he said.

Melo said the poll body would study the proposals for a parallel count. But he said the Comelec is somewhat pessimistic about it as two counting systems for one election would be chaotic and confusing.

“You can’t have two standards for counting,” he said.

Melo: We’re 100 percent on target

Melo: We’re 100 percent on target
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—It’s all systems go, contrary to fears of skeptics.

“We are 100 percent on target,” declared Chair Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in an interview with reporters barely three weeks before the first nationwide automated elections on May 10.

He said that the Comelec was within its schedule for the deliveries of ballots, the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) voting machines, ballot boxes and other materials within this week.

“We are on target on the printing, we are ahead of schedule. The customization of the PCOS machines is going along well,” Melo said.

Ray Roxas Chua, chair of the Comelec Advisory Council and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, also expressed confidence that preparations were “on track to be able to conduct a successful automation.”

“We’re pretty confident that it will work,” he said in a recent interview with the Inquirer.

Exaggerated

Chua shrugged off fears that the automated election system was prone to modifications that could undermine results. He said that there were safeguards in the ballots, machines and in the other processes.

“If someone tries to change the results, it will show. It’s going to be difficult to alter the results,” he said.

The fear of a massive failure of elections is exaggerated, Chua said, saying the scenario is “almost impossible.”

The Comelec has leased 82,200 PCOS machines from Smartmatic-TIM Corp. that will read and scan the machine-readable ballots. About 76,300 of them will be deployed to each precinct, while the rest will be on stand by to replace those malfunctioning.

Machines being shipped out

Melo noted that freight forwarders started on Monday to ship voting machines to various regional warehouses in Mindanao. The process would be completed May 6—four days before the balloting.

The ballot boxes will also be at the precincts seven to three days before the elections for the testing and sealing of the PCOS machines to be conducted by the board of election inspectors and observed by election watchers.

The printing of the 50.7 million ballots for the May 10 elections will be completed by Thursday evening or Saturday, two days before the Comelec’s self-imposed deadline of April 25.

The verification of the ballots, which entails each ballots to be scanned by a voting machine, is expected to end a day or two after. All the ballots will be sent directly to the municipal treasurers to ensure swift delivery.

The preparations for the canvassing system have also started, Melo said.

Centralized canvassing

On Tuesday, Melo, Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Sen. Francis Escudero, chairs of the joint congressional oversight committee on the automated elections, each entered a six- to eight-character password into the software for the centralized canvassing system.

The password will lock the system, disabling modifications and changes in it, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained.

Thus, fears that the 1,772 laptops that will be used in the canvassing can be used to tamper the results are baseless, officials said.

The Comelec, Larrazabal said, is also preparing to decommission the five printers leased from Smartmatic-TIM once the printing of the ballots has been completed.

Melo will seal the machines and delete the files containing the ballot formats, Larrazabal said. “These procedures are to ensure that no files will be leaked,” he said.

“We are doing this so they won’t say that we are printing extra ballots,” Melo added.

Unfounded fears

Also Tuesday, Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr., backed the call of former Comelec Chair Christian Monsod for critics to stop heckling the poll body on its capability to manage the balloting.

Icban described as “unfounded” speculation about election failure. He pointed out that a recent survey showed that 80 percent of the people believe the automated polls was much better and easier to do than manual elections. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

Poll results to come up on big screens

Poll results to come up on big screens
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Poll watchers and watchdogs will be able to see the canvassed election results as they come in on May 10 on large screen monitors and projectors that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has agreed to install at all canvassing centers.

The Comelec agreed to put up the monitors after representatives of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and information technology groups met with Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal on Friday to discuss their proposals on the monitoring of the results of the May 10 automated national elections.

Their suggestions were aimed at ensuring that the transmitted tallies would reflect the ballots cast into the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines that would be used for the first time in the country.

The PCOS machines —82,200 were ordered from Smartmatic TIM Corp.—will read and record votes cast using machine-readable ballots. At the end of the voting day, the machines will print 30 election returns and transmit the results to various servers.

Larrazabal said the Comelec had agreed to place large-screen projectors in 1,637 municipal canvassing centers, which would show the results from the precincts after the polling ends at 6 p.m. on May 10. Kristine L. Alave