Ex-Comelec adviser asks all commissioners to resign
CenPEG News
March 11, 2016

A former Comelec adviser today told all poll commissioners led by Andres Bautista to resign if they cannot implement the Supreme Court (SC) order on voter receipts.

Lawyer Roger Quevedo, former member of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) who also teaches law at UP, said all three Comelec administrations since 2009 headed by Jose Melo, Sixto Brillantes, Jr., and now Andres Bautista have refused to comply with RA 9369’s minimum system requirements and safeguards including the voter verifiability paper trail audit (VVPAT) and voter receipts.

Quevedo is also a member of the poll watchdog, Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch).

The commissioners have admitted as much for being non-compliant with the election law, Quevedo said. Proof, he said, was former Chairman Brillantes’ recent remark that the requirements will just have to be implemented in the next 2019 elections anyway.

“The law is the law and there’s no such thing as law being ‘harsh,’” Quevedo said adding that if they cannot do their job well they should resign en masse for being “incompetent and ill-prepared” like previous Comelec regimes.

Election failure

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) also said both Smartmatic and Comelec should be blamed for any election failure if the recent high court ruling on voter receipt is not implemented on time. CenPEG made the statement in reaction to Smartmatic’s warning that if the May 9 election is not postponed there will be “election failure.” Executives of Smartmatic, the UK-based marketing company, were quoted in the media today asking for more time, more money, and training if the SC ruling requiring voter receipt is to be enforced.

Prof. Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG director for policy studies, said had the tandem Comelec and Smartmatic been complying with the law (RA 9369) in installing the minimum system requirements and safeguards since 2010 such scenario like “election failure” will not happen. “Now that they are being ordered to implement just one simple legal requirement they now point their fingers at the SC for pressing the panic button,” Tuazon said.

Technically and legally speaking, Tuazon said, Comelec and Smartmatic caused election failures in both the 2010 and 2013 elections with the poll results being marred by transmission glitches, inaccuracies, program errors, and disenfranchisement of big numbers of voters – among other problems – thus undermining the credibility of those elections. There were no implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to guide preparations for election nor were there source code reviews, digital signatures to authenticate election returns (ERs), secured election data, and accurate random manual audit (RMA).

For the coming May elections, test certifications have not been issued by the DOST’s Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) way past the deadline of February 9 while Comelec has yet to test the election system in real mock elections. At this point, the automated election system (AES) supplied by Smartmatic that will run the elections is not certified as being “all-systems go.”

With Comelec’s blessings, Smartmatic never had any intention to comply with the law since it turns out their billions-peso worth of technology did not have the minimum features such as VVPAT voter receipts as required by law. Had they complied with the law, Tuazon said, the VVPAT voter receipt is assumed to be embedded in the system and there should be no trouble in just activating it out of respect for the SC order.

In fact, in a demo before the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) last February 16 the voter counting machine (VCM) was shown to have the VVPAT feature and voter receipts were printed. (Comelec decided to disable the features, however.)

Voter receipt doable

Dr. Nelson Celis, CenPEG Fellow and AES Watch spokesman, said “The VVPAT is a means for the voter to check if votes are accurately counted by the VCM. Despite the Comelec’s argument that they have insufficient time to prepare with only two months remaining until the elections, Comelec could still easily enable the VCM feature of printing the VVPAT just like what was successfully demonstrated in the last JCOC hearing in February. Only a switch is needed in order to turn that feature on. What the Comelec has to prepare are the guidelines and procedures to ensure that the VVPAT is not taken out of the precinct. Authorized watchers may be deployed in the precincts to ensure that the voter would drop his/her VVPAT in a separate box, similar to the yellow ballot box used during the manual elections. Comelec may even impose sanctions if a voter does not follow such guidelines.”

Citing the manifestation of election advocate, former Rep. Glenn Chong, in the last JCOC hearing, Celis said the printing of the VVPAT or ‘receipt’ by a calculated average of 470 voters per clustered precinct would save one hour of operations considering the 7 a.m. -7 p.m. or 12 hours of operations in the 2010 and 2013 elections. That is, Celis said, operations would be finished by 6 p.m.

The average number of voters was computed based on 54.3 million registered voters with a projected turnout rate of 80% using 92,509 VCMs. Further, the JCOC demonstration during the JCOC hearing showed that Comelec was able to successfully print the VVPAT. Hence, the only concern left for Comelec is the procurement of papers for the VVPAT.

“They can facilitate the emergency procurement of VVPAT papers as they are already used in it. And that’s in time before May 9 elections,” Celis said. “Postponement of elections is a no no!"

The excuse used by Comelec that the voter receipt will be used for “vote buying” and will prolong the election is absurd, Tuazon said. As proposed by election watchdog AES Watch, the receipt can just be thrown into a bin inside the precinct. Vote buying actually takes place before the precinct voting and such cheating on a massive scale cannot be prevented by any system whether modern or manual, not even by Comelec, he said.

In fact, it is the failure to install safeguards and other requirements that makes poll automation vulnerable to electronic fraud or cheating as has been proven in many election protests in the Philippines and other countries, Tuazon added.

CenPEG Executive Director Evita L. Jimenez said Comelec and Smartmatic are the “real election saboteurs” due to countless delays in at least 11 preparations including ballot printing, completion of source code review, and mock elections. “Are they not the ones creating the ‘No-El’ scenario?” she said.

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