File photo shows Filipinos standing in a line to cast their votes in Pagasa Island, which is part of the disputed Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea located off the coast of the western Philippines.
By Leena C Chua & Jhoanna Ballaran /Manila Times
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has described the May 13, 2013 elections “the best of the best,” but to poll watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch, it was far worse than the electoral exercise held in 2010.
AES Watch, a group of organisations, institutions, non-government organisations, IT professionals, researchers, and academics that monitored the two automated elections, noted that there were more errors, far more serious delays in the transmission of votes and a higher number of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that malfunctioned compared to the elections in 2010.
It added that the Comelec not only ignored provisions of the election law, it also allowed members of political dynasties to further entrench themselves through massive vote buying.
“By committing more errors than those recorded in 2010, by making arbitrary and highly-irregular decisions during canvassing, and proclaiming presumed winning candidates prematurely, the Comelec has turned the second automated elections from bad to worse—a technology and political disaster,” the group said.
It added that in 2010, a significant number of clustered precincts in provinces and cities had delayed transmissions of up to two days. This year, 18,187 clustered precincts or 23% of the total number failed to transmit election returns four days after the elections, “affecting if not potentially disenfranchising 8.6mn voters.”
The group said the transmission delays opened the whole system to data manipulation and election rigging. Also, more than 50% of the 1,173 problems verified by AES Watch were PCOS-related, ranging from initialisation errors, machine breakdown to hardware problems and ballot rejection. Also, 1,432 monitored clustered precincts from all over the country had either PCOS or transmission problems, which could be translated to 1.432mn compromised votes.
“Compared to 2010, there are more data discrepancies as well as open and brazen possible manipulation of election data at the stage of canvassing and consolidation. For example, the ultra-fast and inflated Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) count caused by program error, the highly-suspicious intervention of Smartmatic technicians in fixing the program and deletion of an election return (ER) file, the 44-hour lull at 69% of ERs, and the absence of random manual audit (RMA) results five days after election,” it said. It added that in 2010, the poll body’s non-compliance of major election law provisions happened before the polls. This year, such violations, which include the absence of independent source code review, were repeated, and errors were replicated on a larger scale.
“We are witness as well to arbitrary and highly-questionable post-election decisions such as proclaiming “winning” senatorial candidates based only on 20% of canvassed election results.
This is compounded by the decision to transport un-transmitted compact flash (CF) cards direct to the National Board of Canvassers (NboC), thus bypassing the legal ladderised canvassing—a procedure that is also prone to human tampering. All these raise the issue whether Comelec is not only short-cutting the process but is also dictating the results of the election in violation of the people’s right of suffrage. Comelec has leaped beyond what it is supposed to do—to administer the elections and protect the people’s sovereign voice; now it has become the anointer for who deserves to win,” AES Watch said in a statement.
Weeks before the election, the group had called for a full, parallel manual counting of votes to establish the accuracy and credibility of the elections. The request was flatly rejected by the Comelec.
“The May 2013 election was a mockery of the poll automation law, a grave violation of voters’ rights to have their votes counted according to law and with accuracy. Just like in 2010, the implementation of the second automated election cannot pass the standards of the IT industry.
“How can the elections be credible when it is conducted by a most un-transparent Comelec led by an incredibly insensitive chairman who is prone to arbitrary decisions and abuse of authority? A defenseless electorate has been subjected to the whims and caprices of a powerful triumvirate of the Comelec-Smartmatic-PPCRV leadership which tries time and again to cover up and justify the serious glitches and non-compliance of basic and major security requirements to make poll automation work well for the people and the integrity of the election process. What happened in the 2013 polls, poses a serious breach of security, transparency and integrity,” AES Watch said.
Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr described the second automated election a success and the best of all the polls held in the country, many of which were tainted with doubt, chaos, and violence.
“There are defects and there are some irregularities… but compared to the past elections, this should be one of the best elections,” Brillantes told reporters. A few hours before voting precincts closed last Monday, the Comelec chief announced that the elections were generally okay. He said out of the 78,000 PCOS machines deployed, only 258 malfunctioned, far less than the 400 machines that failed during the first automated elections in 2010.
Brillantes dismissed reports on PCOS glitches, saying they were blown out of proportion by the media. “There are certain reports which have been blown out of proportion by media. There are actually glitches but most of them are small,” he said.
But Brillantes’ assessment of the recently-concluded electoral exercise was far from what happened on the ground last week—from the casting of votes on Monday to the counting and the awfully slow transmission of Certificates of Canvass (CoCs) that delayed the national canvassing of votes.
The same old problems greeted voters—long lines in polling precincts, missing names of registered voters, the inclusion of the names of dead people in the voters’ list, easily erased indelible ink, power failures, pre-shaded ballots and delayed delivery of election paraphernalia were reported in various parts of the country.
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