Is the Comelec dragging the nation to a new round of political uncertainty because of its ill-preparedness in administering the May 9 elections?
Many voters refuse to bite Comelec’s claim that it is 100% ready for the elections, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said today. The reason, Prof. Bobby M. Tuazon, CenPEG’s director for policy studies, said is that the automated election system (AES) that will run the elections is fraught with dangers and vulnerabilities, with many loose ends remaining unsolved since 2010.
In fact, Tuazon said, the new AES is not cut out to ensure accurate, secured, and credible election results. Instead, its deficiencies and vulnerabilities will make electronic fraud involving national positions – as well as local positions – more likely to happen on election day. These deficiencies will aggravate the tensions and threats of coup as national candidates jockey for the presidential post – one of the most hotly-contested races with high stakes in recent history, he said.
“Comelec claims it is 100% ready, but Chairman Andres Bautista was actually mum on whether readiness means compliance with the minimum system requirements,” Tuazon said. “Truth is, Comelec today is as ill-prepared as the two previous poll bodies were in 2010 and 2013.”
If it were to run on a race track, Tuazon said, the automation system will hit a bumpy road and will not reach the finish line for the following reasons:
First, the AES is not certified as fit and ready to go: Certification by the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) should have been issued on February 9 confirming successful field tests, completion of source code reviews and that the source code as reviewed is the same as that used in the machines, credible mock elections, and other requirements. Can you trust a system that has no clean bill of health?
Dr. Nelson J. Celis, CenPEG Fellow and spokesperson of the election watch group AES Watch, also said the absence of TEC certification puts the entire election system at “critical risk level.”
Second, the proclamation of winning candidates will be questioned not only because election returns (ERs) – as in 2010 and 2013 – will not be digitally-signed by the BEIs but that Comelec itself through Resolution 10083 circumvented the law by directing all SD cards “imported” from the 92,509 precinct VCMs to the city/municipality board of canvassers (C/MBOCs). This means, precinct-transmitted ERs will no longer be the basis for proclamation but SD cards manually delivered to the C/MBOCs. Comelec Commission Robert Christian Lim admitted on TV last night that Resolution 10083 was issued in anticipation of widespread transmission failures on election day.
But Resolution 10083, Tuazon said, virtually subjects the election data (SD cards) to manipulation, switching, and snatching – reminiscent of ballot box thefts under the manual system. Tuazon agreed with former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal who fears that the new rule will also cause the delay of proclamations with the expected glitches in the importation of SD cards from 92,509 cluster precincts to the cities and municipalities.
Third, to date no protocols have been issued on how to check the hash codes used in the VCMs and CCS. None of recent resolutions from Comelec cite the checking of hash codes in the pre-voting Initialization Report and ERs or, if any, how to settle any discrepancy between the source codes held in escrow at the Bangko Sentral and the hash codes. If no contingency measure is released to address this major issue soon, Tuazon said, expect widespread protests especially by poll watchers on election day since there’s no way to know the integrity of the VCMs.
Fourth, until now Comelec has given no satisfactory answer or security measures placed to protect the integrity of the election database of 55 million voters as a result of the Comelec website hacking last March 27. The hacking opened wide cheating opportunities such as changes in registration and vote manipulation, as shown in numerous fraud incidents in the U.S. due to voter data hacking, Tuazon added. With the website hacking, how can voters trust the whole systems to be used on May 9?
Dr. Celis, the former Commissioner of the Y2K Commission that prevented the “LOVE” virus in 1999, proposed that to mitigate the high risk of another hacking, ERs from the VCMs should be posted directly to accredited public websites, he said. Contingency measures must be put in place to ensure that ERs from all 92,509 precincts can still be transmitted.
Fifth, the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) may not be certified as complete and successful since, according to Commissioner Lim yesterday, only 12% of the VCMs have been tested as of May 4 – with the FTS scheduled to end on May 6. Several incidents of paper jam, unprepared BEIs, and votes for one candidate swapped to another marked the FTS in many provinces. With the FTS being unfinished nor certified as 100% ready, will the voters trust the 92,509 VCMs on election day?
Election watchdogs, like the Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch), have called on the Comelec to immediately put up contingency measures in the light of the poll body’s poor preparations. But with just three days remaining before the elections, Tuazon said, it has become more compelling for the poll watchers, voters, and candidates themselves to protect their votes and prepare for the worst.
Comelec, Tuazon said, has not learned hard lessons after two automated elections – 2010 and 2013. The present commission had three years to prepare for the 2016 election but what it has done is primarily to ensure the favoured Smartmatic company wins most biddings thus leaving the automation system half-cooked and in bad taste.
(The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) is a policy think tank organization based in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. CenPEG is the lead convening group behind the AES Watch, comprised of 40-plus clean election advocates, academic scholars, IT professionals, management system groups, and others.)