MANILA – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes almost walked out of a congressional hearing on election preparedness in apparent exasperation over criticisms of the automated election system (AES).
Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on the Automated Election System chairman Alan Peter Cayetano had just recognized election watchdogs Corazon Akol of AESWatch and Evita Jimenez of Cenpeg for their questions and observations on the mock elections and AES when Brillantes asked to be excused from the hearing.
Jimenez noted before the panel that so much attention has been focused on the allegedly problematic ballot used in the mock elections that were rejected by a PCOS machine when there are other problems.
She earlier noted that the source code review of the software has not been done and there is no certification on the software and other problems that she feared would lead to more ballot jams and problems with the CF cards of PCOS machines on election day.
"We've heard this 100 times. We've been doing our job. Paulit-ulit na ho. If we’re going to repeat this, can I step out? They keep repeating," Brillantes said.
Cayetano appealed for patience from the chairman, so he didn't leave the session hall.
Brillantes added that the certification report on the software would be in by next week, begging the indulgence of the committee to wait for the certification before they delve into these issues as these will be answered by the reports.
Akol, however, said, "We'll keep repeating 100 times more till you answer the questions."
Akol proposes an end-to-end simulation of the whole process.
Referring to Jimenez and Cenpeg, Brillantes noted that Jimenez doesn't report to Comelec every day to get their side.
"She comes once every year but who are these people why should we inform them who are they?"
Brillantes said the poll body will update the JCOC and watchdogs can just get information from the JCOC. Brillantes even took a swipe at Cenpeg.
"Why do we have to inform them do we have an obligation to inform them every day? Why do we have to address all your concerns? Do they want me to come to them. I don't even know their organization. Cenpeg is foreign funded that's the only thing I know."
Brillantes added, "We don't want to debate with them all."
The poll chief would later on apologize for his outburst.
Akol, however, maintained that the Comelec violated the automated election law provisions like the source code review and digital signatures.
"We want you to comply with the law. There's a breach of contract."
Akol maintained that as a taxpayer, she and the public have the right to be informed.
Jimenez said Cenpeg has been meeting with Comelec since 2010.
She defended her group, noting that as researchers, they are allowed to get funding from independent organizations. Jimenez maintained they can do indigenous technology for elections in the Philippines the way other countries are doing.
Jimenez insisted that IT experts can help the Comelec, which is composed mainly of lawyers. Jimenez maintained that the PCOS machines and the consolidation and canvassing system are vulnerable without the source code review and testing.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares is proposing an April 12 mock election to further test the system.
Colmenares earlier proposed that if not another mock election, Comelec should hold another trial at the House or Senate as a confidence building measure for candidates.
Earlier during the hearing, lawmakers grilled poll body officials on the results of the mock elections as well as the preparations for the elections.
Cayetano said that even during the campaign break, the JCOC will send observers to check out preparations as well as mock polls and other testing that the Comelec may do.
Brillantes maintained that what had been reported over the media on the mock elections were just "initial perceptions."
Comelec Executive Director and Project management office chief Jose Tolentino briefed the lawmakers on the preparations, assuring them that the preparations are on track.
Asked about the rejection of ballots during the mock elections, Tolentino said that once the PCOS machine was replaced, the ballots were accepted.
He added that during the final testing and sealing, actual ballots will be used.
Tolentino attributed the jamming of ballots during the mock polls to the failure of the voters to gingerly feed the ballot to the PCOS machine. He added that the Comelec will soon start an information campaign about this.
Tolentino maintained there was no problem with the ballot size or thickness but he submitted the rejected ballot for testing.
Tolentino also explained that the problem of transmission during the mock elections was because they did not use a virtual private network which will be used during the actual elections.
Brillantes maintained that the "instances where we had problems is problem of voter, the one casting vote, when pushed hard it won’t go in. We have started a very important aspect, voter’s education we have gone into it, we’re in the process of training trainors who will go into provinces to start demonstration of PCOS how to vote all training."
Another mock election?
Brillantes, however, was cold to the idea of another mock election.
"Immediately after the mock elections because of so many reports, I mentioned I will try to consult the en banc whether we will have another one. That's why I announced we might. If we go back into another mock elections, it will create more problems, anyway, we will have final testing where all machines will be tested a week before elections. We will make a decision as soon as we complete the report. ‘Di pa sigurado but we might decide, if we do, it should be within February."
Brillantes noted that there are so many reasons for rejection of ballots, ranging from improper feeding to misshading to spurious ballots.
Barzaga and Cayetano proposed to have a fixed threshold in terms of shading the ovals to avoid confusion and rejection.
Brillantes announced they have procured bigger marking pens.
Upon questioning by Colmenares, Tolentino admitted that due to the 3-year hiatus between elections, the PCOS machines won't be in perfect condition.
Tolentino, however, said the Comelec bought only working machines.
About 1,200 machines from 2010 were not bought by the commission.
Asked if the 2013 ballot is the same as 2010, no one from the NPO or Smartmatic would categorically say so.
Neither will any of the 2 assure the lawmakers that the ballots will not be rejected by the PCOS machines.
Brillantes maintained that all official ballots that will be printed will be tested with a PCOS machine and he said so far, none has been rejected.
"Sinasabi niyo baka may problema sa thickness, may ‘di tinanggap 1-2 pero huwag natin gawin conlusion, we’re checking on this now. Wala pa hong ‘di tinatanggap na official ballot para ‘di tayo nagkakanerbiyos."