safeguards

Comelec junks parallel count

Comelec junks parallel count
By Mayen Jaymalin
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – It’s official.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will only conduct a random manual audit of votes in the coming polls and not a full parallel manual count as demanded by some groups.

The decision sparked calls from various groups, including lawyers and business organizations, for street protests.

In a seven-page resolution, the Comelec denied for lack of legal basis the proposal to conduct a parallel manual count in all precincts for the positions of president, vice president, congressmen, governor and mayor.

“After having taken into consideration all the submissions of the various proponents, and after having considered the opinions of those who stand opposed, the Commission concludes that it cannot conduct a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“The attendant risks to the stability of the electoral system are too grave to be outweighed by the promised benefit of parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

“Conducting a hand count of the ballots will open up the possibility of errors in tallying, as well as provide an excellent opportunity for the perpetration of fraudulent acts,” the poll body added.

Various groups have been calling on the Comelec to allow a parallel manual count to validate the results of the first automated elections in the country.

“The language employed by the proponents of a full parallel manual count indicates that a mere difference between the results of the hand count and electronic count will be enough to trigger a full manual count of all candidates virtually scrapping the automated election system,” the Comelec said.

The Comelec pointed out candidates might demand the scrapping of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) count and a shift to manual counting and canvassing once a discrepancy is raised.

It added that a full parallel manual count would be extremely vulnerable to error as well as to dagdag-bawas (vote padding-shaving).

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, said a mere discrepancy of 10 votes could trigger manual recount and a scrapping of the electronic results of the elections.

“This discrepancy can also be done by anybody by simply smudging the ballots,” Jimenez said.

“More than any consideration of cost and effort, is what makes the commission extremely wary of accepting the proposal for a full parallel manual count,” the Comelec said.

The random manual audit would cover a smaller number or precincts compared to the parallel manual count, which was being planned for 76,340 precincts nationwide.

“The fact that random manual audit takes place in such a relatively small subset means that efforts to safeguard the process from errors and the introduction of fraud will be more effective,” the Comelec said.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said “we agree with the Comelec’s decision.”

“We will expect full and appropriate compliance with it by all parties concerned, and we continue to urge our countrymen to support Comelec and vote based only on what their conscience tells them—the two conditions for a successful and credible election,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo said the decision would allow everyone to focus “on getting the automated counting to work.”

“Everybody now can focus on their respective works to see to it that we are well prepared and ready for the first automated election,” deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan said.

Bagumbayan presidential bet Sen. Richard Gordon also welcomed the Comelec ruling and lashed out at the Makati Business Club for floating a failure of elections scenario if a parallel manual counting is not carried out.

Protests

“We will join if there will be any protest actions,” Vitalliano Nañagas, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) vice chair on the national issues committee said in a telephone interview.

“Since the PCOS machines have not been pilot-tested before in an actual election as mandated by law, the risk of the machine making mistakes at the rate higher than that provided for (one mistake out of 20,000), is quite high,” a MAP statement read.

“We are gravely concerned that without such verification of the accuracy of these machines, the election may not be accepted by the people as the true reflection of their will,” it added.

“We are not going to take this sitting down,” MBC executive director Alberto Lim said in a separate interview. “I cannot tell you our next move yet.”

The Alyansa Agrikultura and the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) also appealed to the public to protest the ruling.

“I will protest in the streets. The Comelec is useless,” PBA president Simeon Marcelo said. “They removed the number one safeguard when they eliminated the system that gives the voter a slip of paper confirming who they voted for.”

“They can elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. I will join them if they do that,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said. – With Ma. Elisa Osorio, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica, Rainier Allan Ronda, Sheila Crisostomo, Helen Flores, Mike Frialde

Palace opposes parallel manual count

Palace opposes parallel manual count
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – A spokesman for President Arroyo on Tuesday opposed a petition for a parallel manual count of the May 10 polls.

In a press conference, Deputy Presidential Spokesman Roger Peyuan said the timing of the petition is suspect, just two weeks before the country’s first ever nationwide automated poll.

“Why are we spending for automation if we will just go back to manual? What do we really want?” he asked reporters.

Peyuan added that the proposal to automate the nationwide election underwent meticulous study by various committees under the Commission on Election, Senate and Congress. He said the petition for a manual audit was only done after Comelec had finished printing all 50.9 million poll automation ballots.

“I don’t think it’s permissible at this point in time,” he said.

Various groups have called on the Comelec to implement a parallel manual count of the May 10 elections to allay fears of possible cheating in the first ever nationwide automated election. Among the groups who have supported the proposal are the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections and Philippine Bar Association.

Six of the 9 presidential candidates also sent a letter to Comelec to conduct a simplified parallel manual count for president, vice president and any of three local posts: governor, member of the House of Representatives, or mayor. The proposal said the results of the parallel manual count will be compared to the tally by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

“The credibility of automated elections has suffered because the Comelec has removed many of the safeguards that were initially set in place – a credible source code review, ultraviolet mark checking, and the authenticity check through digital signatures, among others,” read the letter.

“Credibility and acceptance of the outcome of the elections can be restored by simply adding this one step – the parallel manual count.”

The letter was signed by former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes and Nick Perlas.

Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., Bagumbayan standard-bearer Richard Gordon and former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. did not join the call.

In an interview, Gordon said he opposed the parallel manual count since he is confident that the poll automation process will work.

Teodoro, on the other hand, said he opposed a manual count since it could lead to trending.

Nacionalista Party spokesman Gilbert Remulla, meanwhile, said their group is not inclined to back a parallel manual count because “it is very late in the game.”

“We don’t know the rules and why they only want a parallel count for the president, vice president and mayor?” he said.

“It might turn out that the election fraud will happen (in the manual parallel count). What will happen in a situation when the results (of the automated count and the manual count) won’t match?

“Which will be more credible – the automated counting or the manual count which is also prone to errors.”  With a report from Philippine Star

Indelible ink deal rebidding eyed

Indelible ink deal rebidding eyed
By Sheila Crisostomo
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering conducting another bidding for the contract to supply the indelible ink to be used on election day, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said yesterday.

“There was a failure of bidding, failure in the sense that we did have an eligible bidder but the ink, upon testing, was found not to have met the specifications of the Comelec,” Jimenez said.

Two bidders vied for the contract last month but only Texas company passed the initial bidding.

The firm’s indelible ink failed the first test but it was allowed to reformulate the product. During the second test, the ink met the Comelec’s specifications.

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) member Arwin Serrano said the Comelec should not have allowed another test, and should have called for a rebidding.

Jimenez said he understands that Texas’ ink had almost passed the test, but admitted that another bid should be conducted because it would be fairer to other bidders.

He revealed that the Comelec is also studying the possibility of increasing the required silver nitrate content in the indelible ink so that it would not easily be removed from the voters’ fingers.

At present, the Comelec only requires seven percent silver nitrate in the indelible ink.

“In India, I think it’s 25 percent. But of course there are health issues that we have to take into consideration so this is being studied as of now,” he added.

Despite all these problems, the Comelec has started the distribution of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Reports obtained from the Joint Security Coordinating Center of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showed that government security personnel escorted yesterday the shipment of 907 Palawan-bound PCOS machines.

Aside from the machines, 1,111 batteries and 31 back-up generators were pulled out and loaded on two trailer trucks owned by Ace Logistics from the Smartmatic warehouse in Cabuyao, Laguna.

Poll watchdogs breathing down Comelec’s neck

Poll watchdogs have been closely monitoring the developments at the Comelec.

Kontra Daya called on the agency to junk any deal for the purchase of ultra-violet (UV) lamps with OTC Paper Supply, citing the company’s “overpriced” ballot secrecy folders.

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (Cenpeg), on the other hand, hit the Comelec for its lack of safeguards and its refusal to heed proposals from various civic organizations, leaving the elections “with few processes and features to thwart or prevent electoral fraud.”

Kontra-Daya convenor Bibet Orteza said the Comelec should “not be spending a single centavo to solve a problem caused by Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM).”

“Moreover, Comelec should not be entering into any deals with firms already implicated in overpriced contracts,” Orteza said in a statement.

Cenpeg information technology consultant Lito Averia said Comelec’s withholding of the source code review; disabling of the machines’ capability to scan the ballots’ UV security mark; non-requirement of the Board of Election Inspectors’ digital signature to attest to the accuracy of the election returns; use of an untrustworthy compilation process; lack of voter verifiability of vote counts; lack of random manual audit; and the non-categorical language of the certification of the Technical Evaluation Committee of the source code review conducted by a contractor are part of the “striptease act” that the poll body is doing which compromises the integrity of the May 10 elections.

Orteza said the Comelec should not use taxpayers’ money to purchase some 80,000 UV lamps since it was the “responsibility of Smartmatic-TIM, being the ones doing the printing of the ballots and acquiring the ink.”

Smartmatic-TIM, however, explained that the machines’ UV ink readers were “fine” but there was no time to configure them owing to the late release of the list of candidates and polling precincts that would be printed on the ballots and the late proposal of the National Printing Office to have its own security markings on the ballots.

Orteza said the joint venture should have been penalized for the problem.

“Why is Comelec quick to pick up the tab for the UV lamps? What adds insult to injury is that taxpayers will be paying for a contract with a firm already implicated in an earlier overpriced deal. It cannot be helped that this latest Comelec transaction will be viewed with suspicion,” she said.

Last Monday, the Comelec cancelled the P690-million contract with the OTC Paper Supply after finding out that the 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders were priced at an exorbitant P380 each.

“Pushing through with the deal with OTC will further undermine the damaged credibility of the Comelec. Heads must roll. The problem with Comelec is that no officials, even those involved in electoral fraud, were ever held accountable in the past. Will this trend change now?” Orteza added.

Palace: No stopping now

Meanwhile, Malacañang remained optimistic that the Comelec would be able to conduct the first-ever nationwide automated polls in the country in spite of concerns about possible electoral fraud and even a failure of elections.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar, in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan, said he was assured by the Comelec, through Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, that there are no major issues in the poll body’s efforts to implement the automated elections this May.

Olivar said the recent controversies over the procurement of equipment by the Comelec have all been addressed because of prompt intervention by the agency.

“According to him (Sarmiento), this is being investigated, this was stopped and not a single centavo was spent for this contract,” Olivar said in Filipino.

As far as the UV lamps are concerned, Sarmiento told Olivar that it was just one of many security features being used by the Comelec to help prevent fraud in the electoral process.

“So, again, this is all a matter of perception, the reality on the ground is much different and much more optimistic,” Olivar said.

“Again we ask our voters to think in terms of success, do not think in terms of failure. We can do it. We are better than what some politicians say we are,” he added. – With Jaime Laude and Marvin Sy