PH too sophisticated for a no-el scenario?

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Jan 16 2013 10:33 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2013 07:20 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A “no-election” or “no-el” scenario is now just an issue of yesterday because the Philippines has already learned from its experiences, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said.

Still, the country has a long way to go before people will be pacified that issues of tampering, cheating and fraud could finally be erased, watchdogs said.

In an interview with ANC, Sarmiento said: “From a scale of one to ten, we’re seven. We’re doing our best and I foresee there will be no major hitches…If we delivered in 2010 despite minor flaws, we can make it in 2013.”

Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) communications and media director Ana Singson added, “while we’re in a critical path, we’re confident that things can be done.”

She admitted, however, that timelines are a bit tighter ahead of the May polls. PPCRV was accredited anew as Comelec’s citizen arm.

Comelec has recently “unbundled” the procedures in the automation process, which could have affected and moved the timelines they are following.

In the previous national election, or the 2010 presidential elections, Smartmatic monopolized a major part of the process, including the end-to-end handling of the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines.

This time, the different processes such as the transmission of poll results, installation of compact flash (CF) memory cards, provisions for marking pens, etc have been opened up to different parties.

Asked if the unbundling was a wise move for Comelec, Singson said “there are pros and cons.” While the bidding process opened up the process to third parties and ensured transparencies, she noted there are also “credible and incredible” bidders.

Comelec has also received recently criticisms of allegedly entering into sweetheart deals with Smartmatic.

'PH can be sued'

After two failed biddings for the CF cards, the contract ended in the hands of Smartmatic via a negotiated deal. The CF cards stores voting data and other instructions on how to operate the machines.

Issues of security and hacking have dogged Comelec since it first implemented the automation process. Up until now, the Automated Elections Systems (AES) Watch remains anxious.

AES Watch convenor Maricor Akol asked, “do we trust Comelec and Smartmatic that much?”

She said that instead of demanding for updates and solutions from Smartmatic, Comelec has been too lenient. She said Comelec should tell Smartmatic to work with the law in order to cover any loopholes in the machines that could lead to fraud and cheating in future elections.

She also noted the ongoing legal dispute between Smartmatic and the machines’ software developer, Dominion Voting Systems.

At a Delaware court, Smartmatic alleged that Dominion failed to put in escrow the source code and even failed to deliver a “fully functional” technology.

Akol said Smartmatic Asia Pacific President Cesar Flores assured her the firm has the capability to handle the software. She stressed, however, that Smartmatic can’t just touch the software. “It’s a licensing agreement. Dominion can sue the Philippines if we use a pirated software.”

Sarmiento tried to allay her fears, saying Comelec has received assurances that the legal dispute will not affect the elections this May. He said Smartmatic and Dominion has an agreement that their conflict will not affect the Philippine polls.

Akol can’t be swayed, nonetheless.

For Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) national secretariat Kenji Aman, as the country moves a step further towards perfecting the system, so to have the hackers. “The election violators may have an idea by now.”

He said people should not be afraid of returning to manual elections. “We don’t want to sacrifice credibility…We want to take this slowly…be meticulous in every step.”